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When the respectful young man came to the door and said he was writing a book of World War II stories, retired Adm. Maurice Rindskopf welcomed him in.

And when he offered to mount Rindskopf's medals in a shadow box, the veteran gladly handed them over.That was the last he saw of them.

When Rindskopf got the shadow box two months later, the medal he was awarded for duty on a submarine that sank or damaged 23 Japanese ships was replaced by a cheap imitation.

"This submarine pin is a $5 pin you can buy in many stores. My pin was 10 carat gold," Rindskopf said.

Rindskopf is one of more than a dozen veterans across the country who prosecutors say were approached by Stephen Pyne and duped out of their medals.

Pyne, 35, a budget official for rural Carroll County north of Baltimore, was charged Wednesday with stealing military decorations from Rindskopf and two other retired military officers around Annapolis. But prosecutors say they have heard of similar scams from veterans in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New Jersey and Texas.

"He approached me in his very sincere way," Rindskopf said. "I just couldn't believe I was that gullible. I felt like a fool."

A raid on Pyne's home turned up ribbons, swords, epaulets and medals including Purple Hearts, Distinguished Flying Crosses, Navy Crosses and Medals of Honor, the nation's highest military award, prosecutors say.

"There may be people out there who don't know that they have lost their medals," prosecutor Frank Weathersbee said.

While prosecutors don't know the value of the items seized from Pyne's house, investigator David Cordle said he believes Pyne already has sold about $25,000 worth of military decorations.

Edward F. Murphy, president of the Medal of Honor Historical Society in Scottsdale, Ariz., said military medals are sold openly all the time.

A Purple Heart can go for as little as $5, a Medal of Honor for as much as $10,000, he said.

Pyne was charged with three counts of theft, each count punishable by 15 years in prison. He has until Friday to turn himself in.

Pyne did not have a listed phone number and was not at work Wednesday.

Cordle said Pyne has been cooperating with authorities.

Retired Navy Capt. Joseph Taussig said Pyne claimed to be the grandson of a deceased Navy admiral.

"His reputed grandfather was a close friend of mine," Taussig said. "There was no reason in the world not to believe him."