There's little dispute that Steel Davis served his country as a soldier.
The 45-year-old Butte County resident served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the Army from 1993 through 1996, helping to put down riots among prisoners there and surviving a gunshot wound that grazed his temple when another soldier accidentally fired his pistol.
He signed up for the California National Guard several times after that, and asked to be sent into combat in Afghanistan in 2005, where he served as a gunner on a Humvee protecting convoys. He served two stints in Afghanistan, and earned nearly two dozen commendations and medals for his service.
But he ran into trouble when he was stateside and assigned duty as a recruiter for the guard.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
"While Mr. Davis was a very good soldier, he was not a very good recruiter," Davis' Sacramento lawyer, Michael D. Long, explained in documents filed in federal court. "He often failed to make his recruiting quotas."
On Thursday morning, Davis' solution to that problem earned him a 33-month sentence in federal prison.
"You are to be commended for your service to this country," U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley told Davis at his sentencing at the federal courthouse in downtown Sacramento.
But, Nunley added, "you did use your position in the National Guard to profit."
The sentence follows an eight-day trial that ended Feb. 1 with Davis being convicted of eight counts of wire fraud for a scheme during which he collected tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses for falsely claiming to have recruited new guard members.
According to the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento, Davis took advantage of a guard program that paid recruiting assistants $1,000 for each person they convinced to enlist, and another $1,000 when that individual reported for boot camp.
Davis wasn't eligible for payments under that program because he was a full-time recruiter, but he gave the names of walk-in enlistees to accomplices who were eligible for such payments, then split the proceeds with them after they filed paperwork claiming they had convinced the recruits to enlist, prosecutors say.
Davis was indicted in February 2015 by a federal grand jury that accused him of carrying out the scheme from March 2008 through January 2011.
Prosecutors say a conservative estimate is that his efforts led the U.S. government to pay out at least $36,000 in bogus bonuses, and that when investigators began closing in on him he told his co-conspirators "to stonewall law enforcement and not cooperate."
He took a different approach at trial, when he testified that he was a victim in the whole ordeal.
"He did not simply deny guilt or explain his intent," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Morris and Katherine Lydon wrote in court documents filed last week. "Instead, he testified emphatically that he was innocent, that his co-conspirators had perhaps stolen the personal identifying information from him at karaoke nights or other social interactions, and that his co-conspirators were lying."
Davis "ensnared fellow soldiers in his fraudulent scheme," prosecutors wrote, and "when they came clean and testified against him at trial, he claimed they were lying."
Nunley said he also believed Davis had lied at trial, but added that he would allow Davis, who is expected to appeal his conviction, to remain free until he surrenders to begin serving his sentence on July 23.
The prosecution is one of numerous similar cases, including eight others that have resulted in convictions since 2014, the U.S. attorney's office says.