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Politics & Policy

Political activist whose fake death fooled San Francisco says he’s alive in Mexico

An investigation by The Standard could not find any records of political activist Richard Parina's death or his distinguished military record. In an interview Thursday, Parina said he's alive—and in Mexico.

An elderly man in a vest and cap salutes, against a yellow grungy background.
Richard Parina, previously thought to be dead and memorialized by many San Francisco political leaders, blamed reports of his death on an “adopted nephew.” | Source: Illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard; photo courtesy SFGovTV

Reports of San Francisco political activist and purported war hero Richard Parina’s death weren’t just greatly exaggerated. Rather, they were outright lies in an elaborate and bizarre hoax that fooled even prominent political figures.

In an hourlong phone interview Thursday that was at times apologetic but more often full of venom and vitriol, Parina said that he was not in the grave but instead in Mexico over the last six weeks. This contradicts what many people in San Francisco had been led to believe since the 78-year-old’s death was announced over social media on Jan. 18. 

Parina admitted that he had repeatedly lied to people about growing up in the city, going to war in Vietnam and Iraq, and receiving multiple Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, confirming a previous report by The Standard. He shared a photo of himself taken on March 7, which showed him with his beard shaven and wearing a T-shirt of Refuse Refuse, a neighborhood cleanup organization.

Richard Parina called himself a Vietnam War veteran while talking about rising attacks on seniors in San Francisco at a Police Commission meeting on July 19, 2023. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

Over at least the last two years, Parina had not only claimed to be a Vietnam veteran in conversations and emails, but he also proudly wore a veterans ballcap at public meetings and while canvassing for moderate Democrat political campaigns. Instead, he said he served in the Army Reserves, which could not be verified.

“I fucked up and stole fucking valor,” Parina said Thursday. “And I put it on my hat, and I’m as sorry as I’ve ever been in my whole fucking life that I did that.”

Word of Parina’s death began to spread in January when a person claiming to be his nephew tweeted that Parina had died the prior night after attending a political debate in the Mission District. An outpouring of condolences ensued, and Supervisor Matt Dorsey eulogized Parina in a speech during a Board of Supervisors meeting.

Parina’s friends started receiving emails from an account that claimed to be Parina’s widow. The messages from “Joslin Clooney Parina” discussed arranging a celebration of life at an Embarcadero restaurant—while also offering to support political causes in the city.

However, the memorial never happened, Parina’s family members no-showed at events, money promised for political campaigns didn’t materialize and rumors began to spread that Parina was, in fact, alive. 

A speaker addresses an audience in a meeting room with rows of chairs and wall certificates.
Richard Parina, far left, speaks at an event for Democratic County Central Committee candidates at St. Anthony's in January. | Source: Courtesy Sebastian Luke

An investigation by The Standard could not find any death records for Parina, and the military said it could not locate records validating his claims of being a war hero who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. The Standard also was unable to substantiate that Joslin Clooney Parina or Parina’s nephew exist, or that Parina recently married. 

Concerns also arose over Parina’s claims that he’d raised $1.3 million for a group called the Catholic Alumni PAC. Before disappearing, he told a reporter from The Standard and numerous associates that he was going to fund moderate political campaigns focused on public safety.

On Thursday, Parina said his fundraising claims were real, but he had “no idea” what happened to the money. He said that he is in ill health and bought medications with money he had pledged to give judge candidate Albert “Chip” Zecher. Zecher could not be reached for comment.

The PAC money was supposedly drawn from retired police and fire officials, a North Beach restaurateur and former tech execs. Parina refused to name anyone involved in the effort.

Parina blames adopted nephew: ‘It’s crazy, man’

On Thursday, Parina told The Standard that he was unaware that many people thought he was dead until The Standard’s story was published last week. He blamed the ruse on an “adopted nephew” whom he refused to identify. He claimed this person was an alcoholic but offered no explanation for why they would concoct such a story. 

“If he just kept his big mouth shut, nobody would have paid any attention,” Parina said, laughing as he talked. “He created all these characters. It’s crazy, man. Out of thin fucking air!”

Parina said he is now living in Mexico with his wife and has no plans to come back to San Francisco. He claimed his “nephew” had impersonated his “widow” in emails. Email accounts used by Parina’s purported nephew and a person claiming to be a former attorney and Parina family representative have been deactivated.

A tweet from someone named Richard Francis discussing a Silver Star document that turned out to be fake.
A screenshot of a tweet sent by someone claiming to be Richard Parina's nephew, who admitted that Parina was not a war hero before deleting their account.

Parina told The Standard he is dealing with Alzheimer’s and fibrosis, among other maladies caused by years of alcoholism. However, Parina also sent an email this week to a San Francisco associate saying he was on his deathbed in San José del Cabo but noting “the golf and food is super.” 

Parina claimed he worked for a consulting firm for roughly four decades but said he could not identify the company because it would jeopardize his retirement money. He also said he started a “military memorabilia business” with the purported nephew who announced that he was dead.

When confronted with inconsistencies in his story—as well as concerns about what happened to the money he allegedly raised—Parina grew angry.

“I don’t give a fuck what you write,” he said. “If you don’t think I’m credible, I don’t give a shit. I’m trying to give you an accurate portrayal of what the fuck happened.”

Richard Parina, who has a beard and wears sunglasses and a cap, holds up a picture of the Golden Gate bridge with trees.
Richard Parina was a recognizable political activist in San Francisco. His purported death exposed that he never went to Vietnam or received any medals. | Source: X

Parina also had choice words for many of the political volunteers whom he’d worked alongside during Dorsey’s 2022 supervisor campaign and the recall of then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin that year.

“These are all new friends that I made in the last few years,” he said. “But you know what, they don’t fucking matter.”

Dorsey said he was “saddened” by the situation but felt better knowing Parina is alive.

“If he ever needs support or anything, it’s still there,” Dorsey said. “He didn’t need to make anything up to be appreciated in the community he worked hard to serve.”

‘My first family won’t have a damn thing to do with me’

Anthony Anderson, a former staff sergeant in the Army who created the website Guardian of Valor to identify people who lie about their military records, said the damage caused by Parina and other people of his ilk should not be taken lightly.

“When someone falsely claims to have served in the military or exaggerates their accomplishments, it not only undermines the sacrifices made by real veterans but also cheapens the value of the honors and awards they have earned,” said Anderson.

A document that claims to be a Silver Star certificate for Richard Parina.
A picture of a document Richard Parina sent to people claiming that he received a Silver Star for his heroism in Vietnam on Feb. 23, 1969. | Source: Courtesy

Anderson also noted that the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 strictly prohibits people who lie about receiving certain medals for heroism in wars—such as a Purple Heart or Silver Star—from receiving benefits such as money or political favors.

“These awards are some of the highest honors a service member can receive, and they represent significant sacrifices made in service to their country,” Anderson said. “By falsely claiming these awards, Parina not only disrespected the veterans who have earned them but also took advantage of the public’s trust and admiration for those who have served.”

Parina made many false claims before disappearing in January, including that he attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory (he went to Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose) and that his ex-wife died of colon cancer in 2006 (she is still very much alive).

“My first family won’t have a damn thing to do with me,” Parina said Thursday.

William Slomanson, a Navy veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and now is a professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, compared the bizarre twists and turns in Parina’s story to New York’s disgraced former Rep. George Santos, who was found to have repeatedly lied about his resume before being elected to Congress and later expelled.

But even Santos never claimed to be a war hero.

“I suspect people in this type of situation are thinking, ‘I have a First Amendment right, and it’s a victimless crime,’” Slomanson said. “But every day I see somebody without a leg or an arm or blind [from war], I would point to those people.”

No one answered the door Thursday at Parina’s apartment on Post Street in San Francisco. When shown a picture of Parina, a security guard near the entrance of the building said he didn’t recognize the man.