Matthew Pucino was a Green Beret Sergeant who was killed in Afghanistan four years ago, but women continued to receive messages from him on Facebook and dating websites.
Cheektowaga Police say 28-year-old Brandon Ashraf was pretending to be Pucino, and he was busted after the sister of the fallen soldier contacted authorities saying someone had stolen her late brother’s identity.
Sgt. Pucino was a celebrated war hero who lost his life to a roadside bomb. Lisa Haglof, Pucino’s sister, found someone posing as her brother on Facebook.
“It’s absolutely despicable that somebody would do this. This is somebody that died for their country, died for everybody in it, put his life on the line and you’re going to betray his name and his memory like that?” Haglof said.
Police arrested Brandon Ashraf, a firefighter with the Pine Hill Fire Department, and charged him with criminal impersonation.
Cheektowaga Police Capt. James Speyer said, “Basically what he was doing was using the photos to misrepresent himself, and he would meet women online and try to get dates. In one case he actually agreed to meet the woman in Florida.”
Police say Ashraf was also using the online dating site “Plenty of Fish” and that he would contact women using Sgt. Pucino’s photos and information, but that he would conceal his own face.
“They never formally met him. They Skyped with him, although he would never show his actual face on Skype either. He would stay in the background, said that his phone didn’t work, you know, the camera wasn’t working,” Capt. Speyer said.
Sgt. Pucino’s relatives received tips from Facebook interactions that the impostor was from Cheektowaga. Ashraf was arraigned on Tuesday, and when News 4 went to his home, his parents said they knew nothing about it. His mom, Sheila Ashraf, showed our reporter her son’s firefighting trophies and said he has a good heart, but never felt he could measure up in life.
“No matter what good he does, he just doesn’t feel like it’s enough. I mean, he always wants to do more, and be more,” Sheila said.
Capt. Speyer added, “He indicated that he was sorry and he indicated that he realized he shouldn’t have done so, but he carried it on for almost two years.”
Police charged Ashraf with criminal impersonation, a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, he could face a year in jail. Capt. Speyer says they were able to charge Ashraf criminally because he was using someone else’s identity for personal gain. In this case, Ashraf was able to meet women online and set up future dates with them.
Sgt. Pacino’s sister wants people to be vigilant about online impersonators.
“Google your loved ones names, constantly have people on the lookout for perpetrators, people that would pose as their loved one,” Haglof said.
Sgt. Pucino has a foundation in his name that benefits soldiers and their families. You can learn more about him here: matthewpucinofoundation.org.