Con man gets 7 years for $4.4M government intelligence scam
Former DEA spokesperson Garrison Courtney posed as CIA officer to cheat federal contractors
A former Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson was sentenced to seven years in federal prison on Wednesday for defrauding at least a dozen companies of more than $4 million while pretending to be a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In June, Garrison Kenneth Courtney, 44, of Florida, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria for wire fraud. He faced a maximum sentence of 20 years.
According to court documents filed by federal prosecutors, from roughly 2012 through 2016, Courtney claimed to be a member of the CIA involved in a classified program or task force. As explained by Courtney, the classified program would work with private companies to provide goods and services to governmental defense and intelligence agencies. Courtney told private companies that he needed them to hire him and an unnamed associate to provide “commercial cover” for his covert work, either as employees or as independent contractors. In exchange, Courtney told the companies that they would be reimbursed “via the award of lucrative contracts from the government.” Though unnamed, 13 companies are listed in court documents as part of the scam, most of which are headquartered in Northern Virginia.
“Courtney – along with his five aliases – will now spend the next seven years in federal prison for his deceitful and felonious criminal conduct,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Courtney’s brazen and salacious fraud was centered on the lie that he was involved in a highly-classified intelligence program, and that he was a covert CIA officer engaged in significant national security work. In fact, Courtney never worked for the CIA, the supposed classified program did not exist and Courtney invented the elaborate lie to cheat his victims out of over $4.4 million.”
According to court documents, Courtney was employed as a public affairs officer for the DEA from about 2005 to 2009. Sometime around 2005, Courtney applied for a job with the CIA and a conditional offer was extended to him, but he didn’t respond and the offer lapsed around 2007. Courtney was never employed by the CIA, and no longer worked for the federal government after 2009.
Prosecutors say Courtney fraudulently obtained a job with the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAA) as a private contractor, which granted him access to sensitive and private information about federal agencies. According to federal authorities, Courtney used this information to direct money from contracts to the companies involved in the scam. According to prosecutors, Courtney was actively seeking to corrupt more than $3.7 billion in federal procurements when law enforcement disrupted his scheme.
Courtney claimed that the fake classified program had been established by high-level government officials, including the president of the United States, the U.S. attorney general and the director of national intelligence, among others. He referred to the program under invented codenames, including “Alpha214” and “A214.”
Often, Courtney held meetings with victims and intended victims inside a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), a room or facility intended to house classified information. By using a SCIF, Courtney was able “to perpetuate the illusion that he was a covert intelligence officer and that the supposed classified program was real,” prosecutors wrote.
As part of the scheme, Courtney created a fraudulent backstory about himself, including that he had served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War, had hundreds of confirmed kills and had sustained lung injuries from smoke caused by fires set to Iraq’s oil fields. He also claimed that a hostile foreign intelligence service had attempted to assassinate him by poisoning him with ricin. All of these claims were false.
Courtney also sought to use the power of the government to protect his scheme and attempt to defeat law enforcement’s investigation into his plot. Prosecutors say he “caused a public official to attempt to prevent a private company from responding to a grand jury subpoena; caused a civilian attorney with the Air Force to contact one of the prosecutors on the case in an attempt to read that prosecutor in to the bogus program, thereby freezing the investigation; caused a public official to threaten FBI agents investigating this case with themselves being prosecuted if they did not drop the investigation; falsely told victims who had questioned his legitimacy that they were about to be arrested by the FBI for supposedly leaking classified information; used unwitting public officials to feed the names of innocent witnesses to the FBI, in the hopes that the FBI would seek to prosecute those innocent persons for supposedly leaking classified information, thereby diverting attention from himself” and other machinations, according to a press release issued after his sentencing.
“The sentence handed down today should serve as a warning to those who would seek to cheat the American taxpayers and pervert the federal procurement system for their own ill-gotten gain,” said Stanley A. Newell, special agent in charge of the Transnational Operations Field Office of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. “In a scheme that sounds like something out of the movies, this adept con artist hid behind a veil of phony classified programs, concocted a fake identity for himself as a government spy and duped unsuspecting victims out of millions of dollars.”