NEW ORLEANS -- State Fire Marshal Butch Browning retired Tuesday, but there a lot is more to Browning's sudden departure than what was officially announced.
"There's nothing more disgraceful than trying to present yourself as someone who served in the military when you didn't it,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-New Orleans.
When we caught up with Scalise last week, he did not mince words about the Stolen Valor Act, a federal law that prohibits anyone from wearing military commendations they didn't earn.
We posed the question as part of a 4 Investigates story into Fire Marshal Butch Browning, who was, and continues to be, the subject of a state inspector general's probe into complaints about the popular fire official.
Among the complaints confirmed by Channel 4, Browning has been seen on multiple occasions wearing military ribbons, even though he never served in the military.
"Anyone who would actually don a uniform or don medals they didn't earn, that's the number one violation to serving your country,” said Navy veteran Brian Robinson. “I think it's very disrespectful."
"As Marines, we take pride in what we wear. Marines don't hand out ribbons like candy. You have to earn it,” said Lt. Col. Rob Wilson of the Marine Corps. “So if you if didn't earn it and you're wearing it, that should be punishable."
Without mentioning Browning by name, veterans we spoke to at a job fair last week were quick to condemn anyone who commits the federal misdemeanor. So was Bill Detweiler, past national commander of the American Legion.
"He should have more respect for the men and women that gave him the opportunity for his appointment. Because you can thank a lot of people for a lot of things, but you thank the veterans of this country for your freedoms. That's not to be disrespected,” he said.
Channel 4 learned about the state investigation last month. By that time the inspector general and office of state police had been looking into complaints about Browning for nearly five months.
"There's no question that he's been under intense scrutiny for many months, and he knows that,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Goyeneche should know. He filed the original complaint.
"We've been informed that Mr. Browning never served in the military, yet he was wearing military ribbons awarded to every branch of the military service that span World War II, the Korean war and the Kosovo campaign,” Goyeneche said. “That's problematic."
Browning's departure was announced in a press release Tuesday afternoon by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The statement did not address the state investigation, simply stating that Browning was leaving for a job in the private sector.
But state police spokesman Cpt. Doug Cain confirmed the investigation by the inspector general, as well as a companion probe by the state police.
"The timing of it is an indication that maybe a political decision was made,” Goyeneche said. “That it may be in everyone's best interest for him to leave his position with the state."
In a telephone interview with WAFB in Baton Rouge, Browning acknowledged the ribbons, saying he received them from the Gonzales Fire Department, where he once served as chief. But he said he was unaware of a state investigation.
A spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal simply wished Browning the best of luck in the private sector.