In an urgent call to a friend, Larry Lee Risser Jr. said he had been wounded in an ambush during a clandestine CIA assignment and he needed $10,000 for a rescue helicopter.
His friend, George Rice, transferred the money to Risser's account and later heard that Risser was recuperating in Germany.
The harrowing account was pure fiction. This past week Risser pleaded guilty to federal charges of impersonating a CIA officer and wire fraud for conning Rice and another man out of $20,000.
Risser, 34, was released on $20,000 bail while awaiting sentencing on March 10. He faces a maximum of 23 years in prison, but likely will receive a much shorter term under a plea deal in which he agreed to pay restitution.
"It's one thing to tell people a bunch of lies about yourself," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Y. Lee. "It's another thing to then use that to con them out of tens of thousands of dollars."
Risser began crafting his identity as a CIA agent two years ago while hanging out at a shooting range in Oxnard called Shooter's Paradise and the adjacent B-and-G Guns shop, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
He told people he was the son of a U.S. ambassador and had made millions in the security business, where he got his start exporting bulletproof cars to the Philippines.
He told one person that he was a bodyguard to actress Angelina Jolie and told another he was on his way to Washington to be awarded the Silver Star. He said he'd been hired by the CIA and wore what looked like an official badge on his belt, but said his CIA credentials were strictly confidential.
In January 2006, Rice, the owner of the gun shop, got Risser's plea for help. But when Risser called again about a month later seeking more money to escape another failed mission, Rice became suspicious and alerted authorities.
Risser also called John Barrison, the owner of Shooter's Paradise for money, according to court documents. Barrison wrote a check for $12,000, but became suspicious and canceled it. He, too, went to authorities.