Man will admit to impersonating general for helicopter ride
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A man accused of trying to impress a woman by landing a chartered helicopter at a North Carolina technology company plans to plead guilty to impersonating a three-star Army general and will concede that he was sane at the time, according to a new court filing.
The strange case against Christian Desgroux unfolded after authorities say he unexpectedly had a charter helicopter pilot land on a soccer field last November at the sprawling corporate campus of SAS Institute in Cary. Wearing a military battle uniform, Desgroux told a security officer who confronted him that he was there to pick up a female employee to take her to Fort Bragg for a classified briefing authorized by President Donald Trump, according to federal agents.
After he was charged with a federal count of pretending to be a military officer, his attorney requested that the 58-year-old undergo a psychological evaluation. A Homeland Security agent previously testified that investigators suspected Desgroux was mentally ill.
Desgroux was examined at a federal prison facility in California, and a psychiatric report was filed under seal with the court in May, according to court records.
It’s not clear exactly what the report says, but his attorney wrote in a court filing last Thursday that his client won’t object to the conclusion that he was legally sane at the time.
The defense attorney, Andrew McCoppin, also wrote that his client plans to plead guilty to the charge against him. McCoppin didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
Prosecutors say the charge against Desgroux carries a maximum of three years in prison, but McCoppin argues in court documents that sentencing guidelines call for no more than six months. Desgroux has already been in federal custody for about five months, so McCoppin is seeking his release pending sentencing.
A competency hearing and arraignment is scheduled for next week.
It was around sunset Nov. 6 when Desgroux stepped out of the helicopter wearing a uniform displaying three stars that implied a rank of lieutenant general in the Army, authorities say. Homeland Security Special Agent Tony Bell testified earlier this year that Desgroux saluted security officers and they saluted him back.
But the backstory was false, and authorities say Desgroux later admitted that he never served in the military. Bell testified that a female acquaintance of Desgroux expected him to arrive in a car for a visit, but instead they went on a 30-minute helicopter ride around Raleigh. The agent said Desgroux wanted to pursue a romantic relationship, but the woman is married.
She and the pilot appear to have been swept up in Desgroux’s strange behavior and were not charged.
The episode was concerning enough that a joint terrorism task force joined the investigation. SAS has 14,000 employees worldwide and is among the largest businesses based in North Carolina.
Desgroux, a native of Chile, has lived in the Raleigh area for several decades and recently became a U.S. citizen. He worked out of his home as a car mechanic.
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