Former DEA, DHS spokesman admits to claiming to be CIA operative to scam companies out of $4.4M

Former DEA, DHS spokesman admits to claiming to be CIA operative to scam companies out of $4.4M
© Greg Nash

A man who served as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) top spokesman from 2005 to 2009 has pleaded guilty to defrauding several companies of more than $4 million while pretending to be a CIA operative.

Garrison Courtney, who served as a Department of Homeland Security spokesman before his work for the DEA, approached 13 private companies and told them he was an undercover CIA operative. Courtney asked the companies to pay him to create a “commercial cover” for his agency affiliations and fraudulently claimed the companies would later be reimbursed, according to court documents.

Courtney went to elaborate lengths to maintain the scheme, according to the Justice Department, including asking his victims to sign fake government nondisclosure agreements, telling them they were under surveillance by hostile foreign intelligence services, pretending to search people for electronic devices and telling people who questioned his story that they could be criminally prosecuted if they investigated the legitimacy of what he claimed was classified information.

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He also forged fake letters claiming the U.S. attorney general had granted blanket immunity to all participants in the nonexistent classified program.

“It’s an understatement to describe this fraud scheme as a murky tour through the shadows of U.S. intelligence,” Steven Leitess, an attorney for the biggest victim in the case, the investment firm Capefirst Funding, told The Washington Post. “Mr. Courtney adroitly manipulated government officials and private individuals for several years for the purpose of enriching himself.”

Courtney convinced the firm to pay $1.9 million Courtney owed to another company, with the promise of government reimbursement to Capefirst.

Courtney convinced several actual government officials of his false claims as well, and directed victims to speak to them to “confirm” his claims, sometimes further creating the illusion of legitimacy by convincing the officials to meet with his victims in secure government facilities, according to the Justice Department.

Over the course of the scheme, he was able to secure a position as a private contractor for the National Institutes of Health’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center, giving him access to sensitive, nonpublic information that he used to steer contracts to companies he also worked for.

Courtney pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady. He is slated to be sentenced Oct. 23.