FORT MYERS – An unusual copyright infringement lawsuit--that included outlandish claims of terrorist plots and child pornography from a national veterans group, and drew a counterclaim for libel and defamation--may have come to a sudden, and tragic, end when its embattled plaintiff died in a plane crash only days after his release from jail.
Daniel A. Bernath, 68, of Fort Myers was killed in the Jan. 22 crash. According to a Fort Myers News-Press report. Bernath’s two-seat Vans RV-12 airplane crashed in a wooded area of Bonita Springs.
Daniel A. Bernath | The News Press
Described by the website Oregonlive as a Social Security lawyer, Bernath’s prior troubles included a reported scuffle in an elevator with a judge in Portland, Oregon, in 2010.
In 2015, Bernath filed a copyright-infringement suit against Mark Cameron Seavey, later amending the complaint to include the infliction of emotional distress. Seavey, an inactive attorney and media specialist, blogger and reporter for the American Legion, answered that suit by filing a claim against Bernath alleging libel and defamation.
The American Legion interceded and filed a cross-complaint.
Bernath alleged that a blog run by Seavey illegally published photos belonging to him and that Seavey was part of a terrorist plot that tortured veterans and hosted child pornography on his blog.
Allegations against Bernath included making false claims about being a former U.S. Navy SEAL, posing as a U.S. Navy chief petty officer and engaging in a harassment campaign against Navy SEAL veterans who exposed him, including cyberstalking.
On Dec. 27, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida awarded Seavey $500,000, special damages of $135,000 and attorney fees of $195,000. The American Legion was awarded $300,000 in general and punitive damages. The total amount was approximately $1.3 million.
Bernath filed an appeal Jan. 8 even though he had been incarcerated since September in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was released from custody just a few days before his death.
Seavey declined to comment on the case because of the Jan. 22 crash.
The federal Stolen Valor Act amended in 2013 makes it a crime to make false claims about military service for money or personal gain.
“Lying about your military record is more pervasive than you think,” American Veterans (AMVets) spokesman John Hoellwarth told the Florida Record. “The Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs cracks down on fraudulent claims all the time.”
Hoellwarth, who helped get the Stolen Valor Act passed in Congress, said posers often brag about their fictional exploits to impress or lie to achieve veterans’ benefits.
“There’s a whole spectrum of pathology to this lying,” he said.
Hoellwarth said such cases are often seasonal in nature.
"When there's a parade in town on Memorial Day, they come out and that's when they get caught," he said.