ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Indiana man who taught federal job applicants and others how to beat lie-detector tests was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday in a case that raised questions about the right to teach people how to lie.
Chad Dixon, 34, of Marion, Ind., pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and obstructing a government proceeding with his business, Polygraph Consultants of America.
Federal prosecutors said Dixon taught dozens of people, including applicants to be federal border guards, and he was good at his trade.
In arguing for probation, Dixon’s lawyer, Nina Ginsberg, said teaching people how to lie on a polygraph was protected by the First Amendment. She said Dixon’s only crime was explicitly advising prospective federal employees they should lie about having received his training.
“It may be unfortunate for federal law enforcement … but it is protected speech to tell people how to lie on a polygraph,” Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg said the case appeared to be the first of its kind in the country, and said it should be considered in the context of long-held doubts that many experts have about the reliability of lie detectors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Phillips said teaching someone to beat a lie detector, when the instructor knows that his student wants to foil a federally administered exam, is a federal crime.
“He adopted their illegitimate ends as his own,” Phillips told the judge.
Phillips said the real-world consequences of Dixon’s actions were significant. Dixon trained between 70 and 100 people who paid him $1,000 for a day’s work, including federal contractors seeking to keep top secret security clearances, Phillips said. Numerous clients were convicted sex offenders, though training those people was not a federal crime because their cases fall under state law.
“Mr. Dixon chose to enrich himself by teaching others how to convincingly lie, cheat and steal,” Phillips said.
What’s more, Phillip’s said, is Dixon was effective. He said one of Dixon’s customers was a Herndon, Va., man who had been convicted as a peeping tom and had to undergo polygraph tests as part of his probation. The man had failed seven consecutive tests before taking Dixon’s course. He then passed three consecutive exams.
Dixon, who said in court papers that he turned to the polygraph business when work as an electrician dried up, told the judge he regrets his actions. In a letter to the court, he said he was motivated in part by his distaste for lie detector tests because of their inaccuracy. He said his training amounted to little more than telling people to relax on certain questions, and pinch their abdominal muscles and silently count backward in increments of three on other questions.
“I couldn’t believe that this was enough to produce truthful charts,” Dixon wrote. He said the simplicity of what he was teaching gave him “a false sense of security as to what I was doing.”
Ginsberg said Dixon has received a lot of unsolicited advice from lawyers across the country since entering his guilty plea that he has committed no crime and should fight the charges. Ginsberg pointed out in court papers that dozens of people who provide similar services have not yet been charged.
The sentence was less than the 21 months sought by prosecutors. District Judge Liam O’Grady acknowledged that “the gray areas regarding the First Amendment right to teach these countermeasures are real.”