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Former student recalls Hillar

Thomas Maettig says Millersville con man Bill Hillar’s U.S. Army Special Forces impersonation scheme wasn’t necessarily as sophisticated as one would expect, given that he fooled at least 24 organizations — including the FBI — over a period of 12 years.

Hillar, whose real military experience consisted of eight years in the Coast Guard Reserves, was sentenced to 21 months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to wire fraud for using fake credentials to make $170,000 teaching counter-terrorism and human trafficking courses to colleges, universities and law enforcement agencies including the FBI and DEA.

He got away with it until a real special forces veteran obtained Hillar’s military records and outed him online in October 2010.

But Maettig, who took Hillar’s one-credit counter-terrorism course at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in 2007, said there were warning signs long before that.

“Red flags — yes, many,” Maettig wrote in an email from Nigeria, where he now works for a German non-profit. “His course was absolutely devoid of content. He spent hours requesting our expectations and ideas about what we would like to discuss in the following 1.5 days and didn’t get back to it at all. He wasted time. He had us conduct a pointless self-assessment test and spent hours talking about his personal experience. Basically, the class had no content and no structure.”

But Maettig said Hillar still attained a “cult-like” following at MIIS because he was a mesmerizing speaker. He said many of the students treated Hillar like a “rock star.”

“My own opinion is that we were all not critical enough and that it is quite an embarrassment to fall for such a fraud, particularly if you see yourself as a future leader,” Maettig wrote. “Let’s hope we have all learned our lesson.”

Maettig said in the days following his class with Hillar he and some classmates discussed their doubts about his credibility. But they generally assumed the school had checked his credentials.

In the wake of Hillar’s arrest, MIIS released a statement saying it would start vetting “independent contractors” like Hillar to the same degree it verifies full-time faculty.


  1. I know someone who used to talk about his friend Bill, who had been an instructor at Monterey. Bill did all kinds of black ops stuff and was always off on some kind of secret mission, even though he wasn’t in special forces anymore, but he did some kind of contracting for them. Because they want retired old farts running black ops with them, obviously. The guy I know called Bill his friend, and Bill told this guy that that he had a future in special ops, which never materialized. I always tried to mention to this guy that the stories sounded a bit suspect, that one guy probably hadn’t been present at every high-profile mission since Vietnam, but he wouldn’t hear it. Nor that it seemed weird for a middle aged guy to hand out with 22 year olds all the time.

    What a loser. Both of them.

  2. I took the classes and agree with Maettig. One student called his classes “story time.” People spoke highly of this guy like he walked on water. Most students trusted that he was genuine and assumed the school verified his qualifications. One red headed guy with glasses used to try to hang out with Hillar and worshiped the ground he walked on. I wonder what that fool is doing now.