10News Investigates: Fake Knoxville military academy

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KNOXVILLE – A former U.S. Army medic now living in Tennessee is seeking personal and financial information from dozens of veterans across the Southeast by promising them work at a start-up military academy in Knoxville that isn’t open nor will open, according to a WBIR 10News investigation.

Larry Gregory Grantham, who also goes by the name Greg Drew, has a long criminal history tied mostly to fraud, theft and practicing medicine without a license.

Since the beginning of the year, he’s reached out to as many as 40 veterans and told them he will open a campus for “troubled” students at Knoxville College, the former private school in Mechanicsville whose campus is riddled with dilapidated buildings, a number of veterans have told WBIR.

Grantham even met with some of the veterans at the college’s 40-acre campus in recent months and took them on a tour that school officials say was “unauthorized” and done without the board of trustee’s knowledge.

Jane Redmond, the college’s management team leader, said Grantham approached school officials about using the campus a few months ago and the college’s board of trustees declined. She said Grantham wanted to buy the whole campus, but members “are not entertaining his proposal.”

Still, Grantham has continued to tell veterans that he wants them to work as drill instructors and teachers at the supposed academy. He also told them that they will earn $62,000 annually, as well as, benefits and a $900 housing stipend.

In some cases, he has asked the veterans for banking information, as well as pictures of themselves in uniform and personal military records.

Many of them also received letters of intent to hire.

WBIR obtained copies of the letters. They were sent by Elizabeth Bankwell, who claims to be a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and the academy’s director of human resources.

WBIR 10News could find no public records that suggests Bankwell exists. In addition, the email address used to contact Bankwell – ebankwell@tmaknoxville.edu – does not work.

In the letters, Bankwell notes that the new employees were recruited by “Col. Greg Drew” and that they will work at “Tennessee Military Academy – Knoxville.”

Grantham also goes by the pseudonym Greg Drew. He is not a colonel.

Grantham declined multiple requests to comment.

His landlord told WBIR he evicted him and his roommate, John “Jack” Drew, on April 30. Records show that John Drew now works for Lifeguard Ambulance Service in Nashville, and Grantham works for the Red Cross in Nashville.

Jack Drew, who also went on the tours of Knoxville College, declined multiple opportunities to comment.

VETERANS SAY THEY WERE TRICKED

Atlanta resident Andrew Harrison, who served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2014, met Grantham when they both worked for a company that transported medical patients across the country.

In early March, Grantham asked him to work at the proposed academy.

Grantham then met with Harrison, his wife and another potential recruit at Knoxville College.

He sold them on a story that he had financial backers who were going to rehab the college and open an academy to give troubled students one more chance to turn their lives around before incarceration.

He said Grantham was very convincing.

“He seemed like he had been there before which buildings were open and which buildings were locked,” the 26-year-old Harrison said. “It was all very elaborate. I didn’t get any red flags. Some people, when they lie, you can pick apart what they’re saying. But everything he asked me, everything he told me, it just kind of fell into place. If I had a questions he and a three to five minute answer for what was going to happen.”

Harrison told Grantham about his friend Derek Sohmer, a Monroe County resident who served in the U.S Air Force from 2012 to 2015.

Grantham contacted Sohmer and repeated the same story.

Grantham talked about a $42 million renovation plan for Knoxville College and his plans to house up to 2,600 students from grades six to 12, according to Sohemer. The students would come from a juvenile detention center in Memphis.

“The story was – all these kids were going to be kids who this was their last opportunity to fly right before they went to jail,” Sohmer said. “Our jobs were to be drill instructors like a military academy – break the kids and instill discipline and leadership and stuff in them.”

Sohmer said he grew concerned when he was offered a salary without first meeting Grantham.

But, he said, he said the emails others received “looked legit.”

Then Grantham started missing meetings with those who were supposed to work at the academy.

At the same time, Grantham also asked them for pictures of themselves in uniform, duty information and discharge papers.

“I’m thinking . . . that he’s just trying to get our identities and use them for obviously no good reason,” Sohmer said. “I’m thinking it’s just like an identity scam more than anything.”

He added: “I just knew it was a hoax. Taking advantage of veterans.”

Harrison, who currently works as an EMT, agreed.

“I was literally about to uproot my entire family,” he said. “My wife had already quit her job. We lost our housing – we were set to go.”

Harrison said he considered Grantham a friend.

“There were certainly things I thought were sketchy about him but he seemed like a pretty nice guy, so I didn’t think anything too bad,” he added.

Harrison and Sohmer said they were on a group text message with Grantham and about a dozen others. They provided WBIR with copies of the texts.

Sohmer believes “30 to 40” veterans were contacted by Grantham to work at the academy.

WHO IS GRANTHAM?

Public records suggest that Grantham served as a medic in the U.S. Army in the late 1990s, including a stint at Camp Bedrock in Bosnia with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Combat Medics.

Grantham’s last public address lists Chattanooga. His Facebook page – which is under the name Greg Drew – says he moved to Knoxville in January. He’s since moved to Nashville.

Grantham has also held a number of EMT-related jobs during the past decade and posted under the pseudonym Greg Drew on social message boards since at least 2012

In addition, he been in and out of jail and prison.

Records from Florida and Georgia show that state and federal authorities arrested Grantham roughly 10 times in the past 16 years for practicing medicine without a license, theft, trespassing, burglary and violation of probation.

In January 2009, a Florida federal grand jury indicted him on one count of pretending to be a federal officer.

“(Grantham) falsely represented that he was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army,” the indictment states.

A federal judge in July 2010 sentenced him to 18 months in prison and one year of supervised release.

During his sentencing, prosecutors said Grantham had intervened in a “naval disciplinary matter” in Key West, Florida, by claiming to be a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a medical officer in the Special Forces, according to a statement by Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Grantham even succeeding in delaying the proceedings before investigators determined that he was impersonating an officer.

During Grantham’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors produced a fabricated medical diploma in Grantham’s name and phony U.S. Department of Defense records for him.

They also produced a doctor’s coat and U.S. Army Special Forces military fatigues, “neither of which were genuine, bearing Grantham’s name that were received from a search of (his) apartment,” Ferrer said in a statement.

In addition, testimony at the hearing noted that mere weeks before his sentencing, Grantham was in an Atlanta-area hospital pretending to be a surgeon with the hospital.

The hospital’s security manager testified that he had received a copy of a fraudulent hospital badge bearing Grantham’s name and photograph, “as well as indications that Grantham had been in secured areas of the hospital and may have had records accessible only to hospital staff,” prosecutors said.

More recently – in late 2014 – Grantham reached out to Friends to the Forlorn, a dog rescue group in Clarkston, Georgia and told employees he needed a home for a dead soldier’s pet, according to Atlanta media reports.

He said a National Guard member died in a car accident, yet authorities have no record of such as crash.

When Atlanta reporters reached out to Grantham, he told them he’d never been arrested.

Records obtained by WBIR 10News prove otherwise.

VETERANS AFFAIRS: IT WAS ‘ELABORATE’

Nathan Weinbaum, the Blount County veterans service officer, said older veterans – not younger ones – are often are targets of scams, most of them tied to pension benefits and programs.

Still, he said, “everyone has to be careful because there are people in this world who will try to take advantage of your sensitive information for their own gain.”

Weinbaum said some warning signs are easy to spot.

“When things happen or get started, the veteran community would know, and this (academy) would be a big deal,” he said. “If the veteran community doesn’t know about this, then that’s one red flag because the Knoxville veteran community is very supportive of new veteran project. And when something is missing there – that is a big red flag.”

The U.S. Navy veteran also said those who suspect fraud should look into whether the organization has a web site or a Facebook page. He also said to check job listings online rather than just depend on a single person for the information.

Weinbaum added that he was upset about Grantham’s proposed plan and that those who feel they’ve been targeted should contact authorities.

“It’s sad, it’s unfortunate that a veteran who understood what it’s like to serve their country would take advantage of someone else was looking for an opportunity to better themselves,” he said. “Something this elaborate doesn’t happen a lot.”

(© 2016 WBIR)

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