OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma representative has been directed by a national veterans organization to remove any references to being a member on his biographic information.
On Monday, a letter was sent to Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow from the Disabled American Veterans group notifying Ritze he would be removed from the membership rolls of DAV.
The letter, signed by national adjutant Marc Burgess, addressed Ritze's claim his membership was considered "an honorary gift life membership in the DAV."
However, Burgress further explained Article III of the DAV's constitution "prohibits honorary members which is further substantiated in Article 11, Section 11.1 of our national bylaws."
Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Wagoner, said he had suspicions last year.
"I noticed that Dr. Ritze and several other veterans in the chamber would salute the flag, but Dr. Ritze always had the disabled American veterans cover, we call it a cover, cap with the Purple Heart, with the Screaming Eagle which is one of the Army airborne units," McDugle said. "Seeing that, you assume he’s a disabled American veteran who’s earned a Purple Heart and we were at some kind of an event one time and he looked at me and he said, 'Kevin, what are you those wings on your jacket? ' And it struck me as odd, because someone coming from a Screaming Eagle background should well know what these are."
The online publication NonDoc reports they contacted the DAV in March. An administrator told NonDoc that Ritze had appeared in the group's membership data.
McDugle said he contacted the FBI. An investigation found Ritze had been in the military in a reserve unit but was not wounded, according to McDugle. He said, after Ritze's military history was questioned, lawmakers also wanted to verify other pieces of his background.
"Anytime the Eagle Scouts would come to the House floor, he’d stand up with the Eagle Scouts because he’s an Eagle Scout. He would be on video with the Eagle Scouts, and we called the Eagle Scout National and they have no record of him," McDugle said. "When I went to Dr. Ritze, I said, 'Listen, they don’t have a record of you being an Eagle Scout.' [He’d answer] 'Oh, I was in so long ago, they probably lost my paperwork.'"
News 4 made multiple attempts to contact Ritze for a comment on Thursday. His secretary at the state capitol said she would pass along our message and email. We have also called and texted the representative. Knocks on the door at his business in Broken Arrow went unanswered.
While McDugle said he commends the DAV for taking action, he still has questions.
"How did he get that membership card?" he said. "Who actually knew that he wasn’t disabled and applied for that card for him?"
We took those questions to the DAV.
Ed Hartman, an inspector general with the DAV, told News 4 on Thursday that Ritze had been a member for the past 30 years. His initial application was paid for by a charter that has not been active for the last 20 years.
According to Hartman, Ritze signed the application indicating he was either: a former prisoner of war, wounded from battle, received compensation from Veterans Affairs or received a Purple Heart.
News 4 reached out to the Eagle Scouts on Thursday for a comment. We have not heard back.