FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A former public affairs officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration pleaded guilty Thursday to pretending to be an undercover CIA operative to persuade companies seeking business with the agency to give him millions of dollars.
At a plea hearing Thursday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Garrison Courtney admitted he duped multiple public officials, including senior military members, to lend legitimacy to his scheme by telling them they had been selected to participate in a classified CIA program.
Courtney cheated 12 companies out of more than $4.4 million between 2012 and 2016 by convincing them to put him on their payrolls, according to plea documents.
Courtney told companies he was affiliated with a covert CIA operation called Alpha-214, and that he needed to be placed on their payroll to cover up the fact that he was a government agent. He said the companies would be reimbursed in the form of lucrative government contracts.
He leaned on his time as a former public affairs officer with the DEA, where he worked from 2005 to 2009, to enlist public officials to give generic briefings that lent legitimacy to his business dealings with the various companies.
The officials included high-ranking DEA and military officials. One of the public officials, identified only as civilian member of the U.S. military detailed to an intelligence agency, had Courtney arrange for his adult son to be hired by two of the victim companies, even though he was unqualified.
Court papers do not identify the companies or public officials that were victimized in Courtney’s scheme, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment beyond what was spelled out in court.
In addition to the private companies, Courtney also persuaded an acquisition branch of the National Institutes of Health known as NITAAC, that the CIA wanted to use NITAAC to distribute billions of dollars in classified contracts, and used the agency to pay out funds to one of the private companies he victimized.
Before Courtney, 44, of Tampa, Florida, worked at the DEA, he served as a spokesman for Florida Republican congresswoman Katherine Harris.
When some of his victims questioned the scheme and why they had not been paid for their participation, he accused them of having undermined the program by leaking details of the operation. According to the statement of facts, he accused one individual of being an Iranian spy after that person questioned Courtney’s legitimacy.
Courtney pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in October. His attorney did not return an email seeking comment.