WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday pleaded guilty to orchestrating an elaborate scheme in which he collected millions of dollars by falsely claiming to be a covert intelligence officer.
Garrison Courtney, a DEA spokesman from 2005 to 2009, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in a court hearing before U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Virginia.
Courtney, 44, defrauded at least a dozen companies of over $4.4 million by posing as a Central Intelligence Agency officer, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Courtney told the companies they needed to hire him to create “commercial cover” masking his supposed CIA affiliation, prosecutors said.
Courtney falsely told the companies, which were not identified in court documents, that they would be reimbursed for these salary payments to him, sometimes by the award of lucrative U.S. government contracts, prosecutors said.
The Justice Department said Courtney “went to extraordinary lengths to perpetuate the illusion that he was a deep-cover operative,” including telling victims of the scheme that they were under surveillance by foreign intelligence services and directing them to sign fake nondisclosure agreements purportedly from the U.S. government.
Courtney also created a fraudulent back story for himself, falsely claiming to have to served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War and to have killed hundreds of people during combat, prosecutors said.
Courtney also duped unidentified government officials into thinking he was participating in a covert intelligence operation, prosecutors said. He then used those officials as “unwitting props” that made him seem more legitimate, the Department said.
O’Grady said he would hold a hearing in October to determine Courtney’s prison sentence.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler