WASHINGTON -- Ray Giunta has been publicly called out for illegally taking $10,200 from a cemetery board, falsely claiming to have advanced degrees and diagnosing young people as having mental disorders despite not being a doctor. But on Wednesday, he will get a coveted perch at the Pentagon, as a guest speaker at the Defense Department's prayer breakfast.
"Arming a well known Christian fundamentalist scam-artist like Giunta with an homage so profound as to be the designated special guest speaker at this highly visible Pentagon religious event is simply beyond the pale of acceptability and literally strains credulity," said Michael Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is calling on the Pentagon to revoke Giunta's invitation.
Giunta is scheduled to address the Pentagon's Prayer Breakfast at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a flier for the event.
Giunta's official bio with Ambassador Christian Motivational Speakers says he is a co-founder and chaplain of We Care Ministries, as well as encouragement pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Central Christian Church told The Huffington Post Giunta has not been affiliated with them since 2006.
In 2008, the Las Vegas Sun did an extensive article on Giunta, who was a respected member of the local community and known as "Dr. Ray." A church sent him on medical mission trips and county officials gave him a contract to provide drug and alcohol counseling to teens.
But Giunta wasn't a doctor; he purchased a Ph.D. for a few hundred dollars online, and he occasionally wore a lab coat and stethoscope, the Sun reported.
In the mid-1990s, Giunta served as director of the California Cemetery Board. As the Sun reported, a state audit found that he "took more than $10,200 in cemetery trust funds intended for graveyard upkeep from the owner of a cemetery that he regulated. Giunta opened a bank account with the money and wrote more than $5,800 worth of checks to his wife, Cathy, credit card companies, a child care provider, a dry cleaner, the phone company and We Care Ministries."
Giunta responded that the money was intended as payment for repairs that We Care Ministries made at the cemetery, but said he shouldn't have mixed the money with personal funds.
In 2005, Giunta volunteered with a group aimed at helping young pyromaniacs, sponsored by the Fire Prevention Association of Nevada. Giunta, according to the Sun, went far beyond the usual counseling, diagnosing children with mental disorders and recommending treatment -- despite his lack of any advanced degree.
Weinstein and MRFF, which is dedicated to protecting military members' religious freedoms, first became aware of Giunta's speaking slot when the group's clients stationed at the Pentagon complained about the event. MRFF, on behalf of these 211 members of the armed forces, is demanding that the Pentagon revoke its invitation to Giunta. Of MRFF's clients, 189 are practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics.
Further, MRFF wants an investigation into who was involved in inviting Giunta and how the event came about.
A major who works on the Army staff at the Pentagon and is one of MRFF's clients told The Huffington Post he was deeply disturbed by Giunta's planned appearance, for the harm it could do to the Defense Department and the larger message it conveyed. He requested anonymity for fear of repercussions.
"My concern is that we're going to ruin the Pentagon's reputation, the DOD reputation, for the sake of this guy," said the major. "With the way things are with budget cuts and everything else going on, we can't afford to sully our reputation -- certainly not by associating with folks like this."
He added that he was worried that Giunta's appearance was part of a larger effort by some people in the military to turn members of the armed forces into "warriors for God."
"That's not our mission," he added. "We have a constitutional mission, not a religious mission."
In January, MRFF claimed victory when Lt. Gen. William Boykin, famous for his strident anti-Muslim speeches, pulled out of a planned Feb. 8 appearance at West Point as part of the National Day of Prayer. MRFF, VoteVets.org and other groups called for the cancellation of his speech.
A speakers bureau formerly associated with Giunta, when contacted for comment, said it no longer represents him.
When asked by The Huffington Post about the decision to bring in Giunta and MRFF's demand that his invitation be withdrawn, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon responded, "The Office of the Pentagon Chaplain supports the free exercise of religion of all faith groups represented by Pentagon personnel and regularly invites speakers from diverse faith groups to speak about their experiences and perspectives to Pentagon employees."
View Pentagon Prayer Breakfast Flyer: