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Ex-DEA agent uses National Institutes of Health to defraud millions

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other government agencies were conned out of large sums of money by an ex-DEA agent posing as an undercover CIA operative. The integrity of the NIH is already in question after President Trump halted the agency’s funding of a Wuhan China lab that was studying gain-of-function properties of coronaviruses in bats in the years leading up to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

Garrison Courtney, the former head of public affairs for the Drug Enforcement Administration, who later became a producer for TMZ, pled guilty to felony wire fraud charges in Alexandria, Virginia. Courtney posed as a CIA operative, used the NIH, and conned government contractors out of $4 million over a four-year period, spanning from 2012 to 2016. The elaborate scam was made public in a guilty plea handed down by District Judge Liam O’Grady.

Former DEA agent uses NIH as a gateway to fraud government agencies

Courtney used the National Institutes for Health’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center to get “sensitive non-public information” that served as a gateway to exploit various government agencies and private companies.

Courtney posed as a CIA agent and landed a private contractor job at the NIH, where he sabotaged various government contracts; redirecting the funds to companies he was working with. An independent audit of the NIH and a federal investigation is now necessary to understand the agency’s inner workings and to hold accountable those who continue to funnel away taxpayer funds to illegal and unethical operations.

Courtney got inside the NIH and told these companies that he was a CIA agent and needed to put individuals on the company’s payroll to conduct an undercover operation. Courtney faced little opposition at first and convinced companies that he was working on a “task force” set up by the President, the attorney general, and the director of national intelligence. Courtney created fake letters that appeared to come from the attorney general’s office. He told companies that he had legal immunity from prosecution, and they easily complied. Courtney even corrupted some government officials and convinced them to take part in the program, and they actively participated in the plot.

When officials became suspicious of his Courtney’s dealings, Courtney threatened them for trying to leak classified information. If officials pressed too hard, Courtney threatened to revoke their contracts, cancel their security clearances, and refer the case for criminal prosecution.

Courtney is a former TV reporter and helped produce celebrity news outlet TMZ. He worked with several defense contractors including Aderas and Blue Canopy. He has ties to Congress, was a congressional liaison for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and even worked as a communication director on Capitol Hill. As a former DEA chief spokesman, he played a leading role in law enforcement operations. But now he faces a twenty year prison sentence for an elaborate money-laundering scam he set up inside the NIH. He is also facing felony wire fraud charges and his sentencing begins October 23.

The bigger question now: How else might the NIH be used to launder money and fund illegal or unethical operations around the world? (Related: Taxpayer-funded NIH funneled $3.7 million to Wuhan virus research lab believed to have engineered the coronavirus bio weapon.)

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