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Military impersonator used helicopter to impress woman

Jonathan Drew
Associated Press

Raleigh, N.C. – A man pretending to be a three-star U.S. Army general wanted to impress a woman when he unexpectedly landed in a chartered helicopter at the headquarters of a North Carolina technology company last year, a federal agent testified Monday.

Details about the strange case of Christian Desgroux emerged at a hearing before a federal magistrate, who ordered that the defendant remain in jail pending his upcoming arraignment. The 57-year-old is charged with pretending to be a military officer, which carries a maximum of three years in prison.

It was around sunset Nov. 6 when the pilot of the helicopter chartered by Desgroux landed on a soccer field at the sprawling corporate campus of SAS Institute in Cary.

As security officers approached, Desgroux stepped out wearing a “full military battle dress uniform” and displaying three stars that implied a rank of lieutenant general, Homeland Security Special Agent Tony Bell testified.

A suspicious security supervisor confronted Desgroux, who told him he was there to pick up a female employee to take her to Fort Bragg for a classified briefing that had been authorized by President Donald Trump.

But none of it was true: Desgroux later acknowledged to federal agents that he had never served in the U.S. military, Bell said.

The woman, a longtime acquaintance of Desgroux, expected him to arrive in a car for a visit. Instead they went on a 30-minute helicopter ride around Raleigh, Bell said.

“She had no idea that he was flying a helicopter to pick her up,” Bell said. Bell testified that Desgroux wanted to pursue a romantic relationship, but the woman is married.

She and the pilot, who has not been charged, appear to have been swept up in Desgroux’s strange behavior.

“She didn’t know what to make of it,” Bell told the judge. “She just went along with it.”

Bell testified that investigators suspect Desgroux is mentally ill, but didn’t elaborate.

Still, the episode was no laughing matter. After the woman returned, SAS security staff notified local police – and a joint terrorism task force soon joined the case.

The privately held technology company is among the largest based in the state, with 14,000 employees worldwide and more than $3 billion in revenue in 2017. Spokeswoman Shannon Heath said in an email Monday that company officials “do not know his intention or reason for picking up a SAS employee.”

Federal Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers noted that while the impersonation charge carries a relatively low maximum sentence for a federal criminal case.