HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- A Huntington Beach, Calif., man was arraigned Wednesday on charges that he impersonated a firefighter at disasters such as the World Trade Center collapse and hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Jim Campbell, 45, pleaded not guilty in the Central Justice Center to one misdemeanor count of impersonating a firefighter and to two felony counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. He faces up to three years, eight months, in state prison, all but six months of that due to the gun charges, Deputy District Attorney Andre Manssourian said.
Officials say Campbell posed as a paramedic captain and helicopter pilot to gain access to disaster scenes.
Campbell said after the arraignment that he didn't obstruct official efforts at the scenes.
"I was crawling under collapsed buildings, pulling people out from under collapsed structures," he said.
Campbell's lawyer mentioned a shooting by a retired Anaheim policeman Monday for a comparison.
"Here's a man that's been retired from the Anaheim police force for 31 years who identifies himself as a police officer and shoots someone, and it's OK because he's a member of the club," Scott Well said. "But my client is out saving lives and rescuing people, and he's being prosecuted."
Campbell was arrested Sept. 7 after a search of his home that capped a two-month investigation by the District Attorney's Office.
"Somebody in his circle started to get suspicious about whether he was in any of the L.A. fire agencies he said he was and started asking around," Manssourian said. "When it came to the attention of that agency, it sent up a red flag."
Campbell owns a company called Frontline Safety Products, which sells firefighting equipment and offers CPR courses. The news of his arrest "has all but destroyed his business," Well said.
"He led people to believe in his sales pitches by fraudulently representing himself as a firefighter," Manssourian said at the time of Campbell's arrest.
Campbell didn't lie when he called himself a firefighter, Well said, mentioning his training in various aspects of firefighting and his volunteer work.
"Even when somebody's a volunteer firefighter, there's a process to go through," Manssourian said when asked whether Campbell's actions were malicious. "Don't just show up on the front lines and start fighting fires. Even a volunteer firefighter is in a position of trust. If a person is in a position of trust, the state has right to know if that person is a multiple convicted felon."
Campbell was a paramedic in Arizona but lost his license after a 1987 conviction for stealing a credit card. He moved to California in 1995 to work as a paramedic again but was fired in 1997 for not disclosing his felony arrest record, officials said.
Campbell said he's always wanted to be a firefighter, but the felony conviction kept him from going further."I spent money on a credit card that wasn't mine to try to impress a girl that was out of my league," Campbell said.