LAWRENCE — Employees brewing the morning coffee watched stunned as FBI agents and Lawrence police walked into Top Donut at 6:30 yesterday to arrest School Committeeman James Stokes on a charge that he forged his own military discharge record.

“Why don’t you stand up, Jimmy?” police Lt. Shawn Conway suggested before introducing those with him as federal agents and informing Stokes he was under arrest. Within 30 seconds Stokes, 65, of 103 Boxford St., was handcuffed and stepping into a police car. Later he was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Stokes had no comment as he was led from the nearly empty Winthrop Avenue doughnut shop. The lone customer and Stokes’ coffee companion, a regular in a cowboy hat, who employees know as “Grandpa,” watched without speaking or standing as Stokes was taken away.

Stokes is charged with forging and presenting a military or naval discharge certificate. He faces a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. He has never applied for veterans benefits with the city.

Stokes has claimed that he served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy and has acted as chaplain at city events. He identified himself as a veteran on the ballot in November.

U.S. District Attorney Michael Sullivan said in a statement that “falsely claiming veteran status and bogus claims of receiving military awards or medals is an affront to each and every man and woman who has served our country as part of our armed services.”

Mayor Michael Sullivan — no relation to the district attorney — is calling on Stokes to resign from the District F committee seat to which he was elected in November. Stokes, who had failed in four City Council bids, defeated incumbent School Committee member Greg Morris in the election.

FBI investigation

FBI agents have been investigating Stokes since last month. Agent Peter King spoke with city Veterans’ Affairs Director Francisco Urena about Stokes’ discharge — known as a DD214 — on Dec. 21, King wrote in a report.

Agents then spoke with Jorge DeJesus, who temporarily acted as Veterans’ Affairs director in 2006.

DeJesus said Stokes brought the discharge document into his office in November of 2006.

King wrote in his report that he interviewed Stokes last Friday at which time Stokes “admitted that he had signed the phony document and claimed that he did so after it was created by his now deceased brother.”

Stokes stood for a brief hearing at U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday morning but has not yet entered a plea. He was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and is due back in court Jan. 29 for a probable cause hearing. His audience in the courtroom included about 30 fifth-grade students on a field trip from Orchard Garden Pilot School in Roxbury.

“A criminal charge is not proof of anything,” federal public defender William Fick, who represented Stokes, said yesterday. Fick declined further comment.

Stokes’ history and character were subjected to a rigorous vetting after he was elected. First he was denied a chance to appear as Santa Claus at a city holiday event, though City Personnel Director Frank Bonet would not say if that decision had anything to do with a required criminal background check run by the city.

Then came revelations that Stokes spent two short stints in jail in 1963 in Massachusetts and in the mid-1970s in South Carolina for fraud and cheating a person of property.

Next came a city investigation into Stokes’ military record, ordered by Mayor Sullivan.

Urena later declared Stokes’ discharge record a forgery littered with errors and inconsistencies. The military identification number at the top, similar to a Social Security number, belongs to a man in Boston. Stokes appears to jump ranks, and the document claims a variety of combat-related decorations, including the Purple Heart, despite his position being listed as a general warehouseman, Urena said.

The controversies intensified long-held questions about Stokes, who calls himself both a reverend and a doctor of divinity. Collectively, he paid $82 for the designations, issued by mail from World Christianship Ministries in Fresno, Calif.

Niece says she doesn’t trust him

Sylvia Rivera, Stokes’ niece, said she doesn’t trust her uncle and doesn’t talk to him. She last saw him about two weeks ago, by chance, at the same Top Donut where he was arrested.

“We don’t talk. We never did,” Rivera, of Lawrence, said. “He always thought he was better than everybody.”

Rivera said her father and an uncle, both brothers of Stokes, both served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Both are now dead.

Nothing in the Lawrence City Charter keeps Stokes from serving on the School Committee because of the arrest. Stokes stood up at a committee meeting last month to say he intends to serve despite attacks against him. He skipped last week’s inauguration ceremony but was sworn in Monday by City Clerk William Maloney.

Mayor Sullivan, chairman of the School Committee, said he wants Stokes to step down. He also pledged to try to remove Stokes.

He said Stokes’ presence on the committee will take attention away from important business there.

If Stokes does step down, Morris would take his place.

“The attention’s going to be on a person who is under arrest for fraud,” Sullivan said. “I’m going to keep putting the pressure on the city clerk and the secretary of state that he used that (veteran) title on his election forms and that there needs to be a penalty for that.”

The mayor said he will also try to convene a meeting of the city elections board to see if the board has the ability to dismiss Stokes.

There are also rules for a recall in the charter, but that requires the term of the elected official to be longer than two years. School Committee members serve only two years.

School Committee member James Vittorioso, who has defended Stokes in the past, said Stokes “disgraced himself,” but should stay on the committee.

“I think he should first apologize to the citizens in his district that voted for him,” Vittorioso said. “He’s a reverend, and I think he needs to have a good confessional.”

Mayor Sullivan said it is frustrating to think back on all the times Stokes has delivered prayers at city and veteran events.

“I’m to blame for that one, but now the part that really gets me is he won an election using that title,” the mayor said. “I’m more enraged at that.”

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