Christmas is all about giving, and police say that every person who dropped some money in Jeffrey Bass's collection can thought they were helping make a soldier's holiday a little merrier.
But Bass, 19, a private first class in the New Jersey National Guard's 160th Engineers detachment, donned his uniform to take advantage of shoppers' holiday spirit, police said.
Yesterday and Monday in Runnemede, Camden County, he asked his fellow Americans to help "give our troops overseas a Christmas," according to a crudely written note on his can.
Even in this troubled economy, police say, people dug deep and shelled out $60 before he got caught. Police say they weren't sure what Bass was going to do with the money, but it definitely wasn't headed to Iraq.
"It's really disgusting," said Runnemede Police Lt. Paul Dailey.
Bass was arrested outside a Rite Aid in a borough shopping center yesterday afternoon and charged with theft by deception. He was later released pending a municipal court hearing in January.
Dailey said Bass had camped out in front of the Rite Aid for two days, inside a shopping center off of Evesham Road, and hadn't had a problem until he was spotted by other members of the National Guard, who confronted him.
"They called us and said they were watching him," Dailey said.
When police arrived, they found Bass in full uniform, which included a beret and name tag.
"He said he that he had gotten a job but the business went under and he was out of work," Dailey said. "He said 'I have no money, I was desperate.' "
Dailey said Bass told police he had served in Afghanistan before returning to Runnemede, where he lived on the Black Horse Pike near 3rd Avenue. They later found out that he never had served in Afghanistan.
Kryn Westhoven, a spokesman for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said Bass will go through the military-justice system after his civilian case is completed. He could be court-martialed, Westhoven added.
Dailey said that it's common for nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army, to send people out collecting donations during the holidays, and cautioned that anyone who felt unsure could donate directly to the agency.
"There's people who are doing this for legitimate reasons, for troops or kids," Dailey said.
No one answered at the phone number Bass had scribbled on his collection can. Bass could not be reached for comment. *