Former Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Garrison Courtney was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison for a breath-taking scam that netted him millions—and could have landed him billions in federal contracts, had he not been caught in time.
The punishment was longer than the 37 months the defense sought but less than the 11 to 14 years prosecutors—who described Courtney as someone with an “extraordinary capacity to deceive and manipulate others”—had asked for.
Courtney’s lawyer told The Daily Beast that his client was a “sincerely remorseful human being who took responsibility for his conduct.”
“While there are many explanations for what Mr. Courtney did, he has offered no excuses,” attorney Stephen Sears said. “He has a long history of service to his country and I expect that, upon his release from prison, he will once again be a law-abiding and contributing member of society.”
Courtney, 44, pleaded guilty last June to a single count of wire fraud, a charge that hardly describes the breadth of his con job.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, his swindle was so brazen and deceived so many top-level U.S. government officials that it took investigators years to piece together what Courtney had done.
After he left the DEA in 2012, Courtney fraudulently styled himself as a deep-cover CIA operative on a highly classified assignment crucial to national security. He convinced at least a dozen companies to add him to their payrolls as part of his supposed “commercial cover,” claiming that he needed to appear like an everyday civilian in order to remain in the shadows. Courtney promised the companies lucrative government contracts as repayment—and occasionally delivered, with the help of military and other government officials who also bought his phony stories about a top-secret national security mission.
In a statement released following this morning’s sentencing hearing in Virginia federal court, Brian C. Rabbit, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said Courtney “harmed the U.S. intelligence community, individual contractors, and private companies working hard to protect our nation.”
“By claiming to be a covert CIA officer involved in a bogus classified ‘task force,’ Courtney defrauded his victims out of over $4.4 million. But his elaborate scheme could have caused far more damage if the Department of Justice and our investigative partners had not successfully intervened,” Rabbit said.
Courtney’s duplicitous scheme was like something out of a dime-store spy novel. He claimed to be a war hero with hundreds of confirmed kills during the Gulf War, and that a hostile foreign intelligence service had tried to poison him with ricin. None of this was true. Adding a layer of realism to his grift, Courtney used real law-enforcement, military, and intelligence officials as “unwitting props,” according to federal investigators.
However, Courtney’s con didn’t stop there. Before his phony cover was revealed as a sham, he came “dangerously close” to obtaining a legal sign-off that could have made it nearly impossible for the government to prosecute him, When that didn’t work, he tried to stymie the feds’ investigation by having his roster of public officials—which included numerous Air Force officers and others who continued to believe Courtney was legit—attempt to shut it down.
When his bogus “operation” was shut down by the FBI in 2016, Courtney was “seeking to corrupt over $3.7 billion in federal procurements,” prosecutors wrote.
“The government had requirements, he knew the requirements, and he was gonna deliver the requirements,” a person who was sucked into Courtney’s scheme—but who escaped criminal charges by cooperating with investigators—told The Daily Beast. “He only needed a little bit more time, and he actually would have delivered. If left alone, he’d probably be a billionaire right now.”
In a jailhouse letter he wrote to the judge overseeing his case, Courtney lamented the fact that his scheme got so out of control, explaining that he simply didn’t know how to stop without exposing himself as a “fraud and failure.”