NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 5/10/2011 1:29:52 PM ET 2011-05-10T17:29:52

A pastor who regaled family and parishioners with tales from his time in the Navy SEALs is backtracking after his story turned out to be nothing more than a self-described "ego-builder," according to reports.

Rev. Jim Moats, a 59-year-old pastor at the Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Pa., was exposed after The Patriot-News interviewed him for a story about life in the elite force.

It didn't take long for readers to spot the missing elements in Moats' account.

"His story was full of gaping holes that any SEAL could see straight through,” explained Jason Ertola, 39, in an email to The Patriot-News. “It is very infuriating to have these posers claim the honor that many good men have earned and died for.”

Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who says he has access to the database containing the names of all SEALs, told The Patriot-News that the pastor was never part of the team and had never served in Vietnam, another claim by Moats.

Story: The secret team that killed bin Laden

Shipley called Moats on Sunday evening to confront him on the issue, and shortly after, Moats came clean, explaining that he had served in the Navy, but not in Vietnam, as he had previously stated.

“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” Shipley told The Patriot-News.

Shipley said Moats’ story about being re-assigned to kitchen duty and about being waterboarded were lifted from the Steven Seagal movie “Under Siege,” while his reference to being hit by SEAL instructors was vintage “GI Jane.”

Shipley told ABC News that reports of people falsely claiming to be veterans of the SEALS have "skyrocketed" since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Story: Inside the SEAL team that 'doesn't exist'

According to a report, Moats' sons — who served in Iraq together — made a plaque for their father honoring the elite fighting force and related Navy units. Although it doesn't bear his name, the honor hung on the pastor's wall, inviting questions. He had never before corrected wrong impressions.

According to The Patriot-News, his interest in the SEALs never went beyond a conversation with a supervisor.

Moats said he lived his dream vicariously, through his sons.

“It’s an ego-builder, and it’s just simply wrong. In that sense I’ve been living this lie for the past five years,” he said.

Moats promised to explain himself in full during Wednesday night's service.

"I bring a shame and a reproach upon the name of Christ, I bring a shame and a reproach upon my church, and I bring a shame and a reproach upon my family," he told The Patriot-News.

It's unclear if Moats could face legal trouble for his lie.

According to The Patriot-News, the pastor owned a gold Trident — a medal awarded to those who complete SEAL training — but that he purchased it at a military surplus store.

Although the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made it a federal offense to falsely claim to have received military honors such as the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, part of the valor act was struck down as unconstitutional.

U.S. law protects against unauthorized wearing of military uniforms, but there's no law protecting against people who merely say they are part of the armed services.

Click here to read more about this story in the Patriot-News.

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