A Californian man pleaded guilty on Monday to stealing up to $1.5 million from nearly 20 victims by pretending to be a Navy SEAL, according to federal officials.

Ze’Shawn Stanley Campbell, 35, from Irvine, California admitted to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering for the online scams.

By alleging he served as a Navy SEAL in Iraq and Afghanistan, Campbell gained the trust of 10 individuals and nine companies between April 2014 and April 2020. He then reportedly swindled them into paying his personal expenses and buying him luxurious goods.

“To enhance his purported creditworthiness in their eyes, he told them lies, such as falsely saying that he had millions of dollars and operated successful businesses, including McDonald’s franchises, a security company and a chain of gyms in Texas,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.

The romance scammer also falsely told his victims he was a successful investor in real estate and Bitcoin.

In one instance, one of Campbell’s victims wrote him a check for $61,452 after being promised it would be used for a Bitcoin investment. Instead, the imposter SEAL used the money for payments on a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz he had leased under a different victim’s name.

While Campbell’s money laundering scheme serves as an extreme example, it is not the first — and likely won’t be the last — time that an individual has impersonated a Navy SEAL for financial gain.

Last year, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 40 months in prison for feigning to be a SEAL and former prisoner of war to steal benefits from the Veterans Affairs.

Campbell was arrested in March 2021 at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport after arriving on an international flight, according to an earlier press release. His attorney told USA TODAY in an email that the U.S. attorney’s office “provided a ‘cherry-picked rendition’ of the case.”

He is scheduled to be sentenced during a hearing on Jan. 9 and faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison. In addition to prison time, the fraudster may face a total of $500,000 in fines and “or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest,” according to the plea agreement.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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