ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Indiana Little League coach accused of threatening national security by teaching government job applicants how to beat lie-detector tests was sentenced Friday to eight months in prison.
Prosecutors asked a federal judge to send a “strong message” by sentencing Chad Dixon to prison in their crackdown aimed at deterring other such polygraph instructors. They described Dixon, of Marion, Ind., as a “master of deceit” who taught as many as 100 people — including child molesters, intelligence employees and law-enforcement applicants — how to beat lie detectors.
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady’s sentence bolsters federal authorities’ pursuit of similar cases. The case sparked a debate over whether the federal government should be pursuing such instructors, given questions about the reliability of lie detectors, which are not accepted by most courts as evidence against criminal defendants.
Prosecutors, who had asked for almost two years in prison, said Dixon crossed the line between free speech protected under the First Amendment and criminal conduct when he told some clients to conceal what he taught them while undergoing government polygraphs. Dixon, 34, pleaded guilty last year to charges of obstruction and wire fraud after federal agents targeted him in an undercover sting.
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O’Grady acknowledged “the gray areas” between the constitutional right to discuss the techniques and the crime of teaching someone to lie while undergoing a government polygraph. “There’s nothing unlawful about maybe 95 percent of the business he conducted,” the judge said.
However, O’Grady added that “a sentence of incarceration is absolutely necessary to deter others.”
“This crime matters because what he did endangers others,” said Anthony Phillips, a prosecutor with the Justice Department’s division that pursues corrupt public officials.
Phillips said the real-world consequences of Dixon’s actions were significant. Dixon trained 70 to 100 people who paid him $1,000 for a day’s work, including federal contractors seeking to keep top-secret security clearances, Phillips said. “Mr. Dixon chose to enrich himself by teaching others how to convincingly lie, cheat and steal,” Phillips said.
According to prosecutors, Dixon trained seven federal law-enforcement applicants and two government contractors with security clearances — one with the FBI and one with an unnamed intelligence agency.
Prosecutors also cited Dixon’s interactions with two undercover agents. Dixon, for instance, advised one undercover agent posing as the brother of a violent Mexican drug trafficker to withhold details during a polygraph for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection job, prosecutors said. They also listed nine unnamed sex offenders Dixon trained across the country, though training those people was not a federal crime because their cases fall under state law.
Dixon’s defense attorney, Nina Ginsberg, accused prosecutors of trying to turn her client into a “poster child for its newly undertaken campaign” to stop people from using the techniques. While she acknowledged her client earned about $1,000 a session for teaching as many as 70 people, she said he was mostly teaching people how to pass polygraph tests demanded by spouses who suspected infidelity.
Prosecutors and a Customs and Border Protection agent assigned to the case declined to respond to questions outside the courtroom.
Agents separately targeted Doug Williams, a former Oklahoma City police polygrapher, but have refused to say whether they gathered evidence of a crime. Williams, who has been teaching the techniques for three decades, has said he has done nothing wrong.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.