Michael Douglas McDowell deceived family, friends and government officials into believing he was an Army general. (Fort Worth Police Department via AP)
FORT WORTH, TEXAS — A Texas man who deceived family, friends and government officials into believing he was an Army brigadier general pleaded guilty to impersonating a public servant.
Michael Douglas McDowell also admitted to bigamy, for marrying a woman while still married to his estranged wife. He was sentenced Tuesday to five years’ probation in each case, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
McDowell, 57, spun a web of lies that lasted for years as he claimed a long military career that included secret intelligence work. He was sometimes seen with a briefcase handcuffed to his arm. He had a Washington, D.C., phone number with a voicemail informing callers that someone from his “command staff” would call back.
His medals and ribbons included the Distinguished Service Cross. His car featured Purple Heart recipient license plates. He had persuaded the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue him driver’s licenses without his picture or fingerprints because of his work as an intelligence officer.
“For the better part of 15 years, this defendant perfected the art of stolen valor,” Tarrant County prosecutor Joshua Ross said. “The lengths to which he was willing to go were prolific; including wearing an officer’s uniform and medals, as well as obtaining Purple Heart license plates, none of which was earned. He even wore a uniform to his marriage to a woman who believed him to be a military officer, and who was not aware of his other marriage.”
Ross called McDowell’s actions “profoundly offensive.”
Defense attorney Charles Burgess did not return messages left for him by the Star-Telegram and The Associated Press.
The ruse came undone when McDowell visited Fort Worth police Chief Jeff Halstead in 2012, offering him a tour of the White House or Pentagon, according to the Star-Telegram. He had initially met the chief two years before, giving his rank as colonel, but told him in the later visit that he’d been promoted.
Halstead noticed McDowell’s ill-fitting suit and a strong smell of cigarettes — an impression not befitting a high-ranking officer — and asked his investigators to check his background. They learned he never served in the military.
Police later seized military uniforms and apparent military records from his Fort Worth home.