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.