For decades, Wayne Simmons told the world he was a CIA man. And he benefited from the connection: It helped him talk his way out of an assault charge. It helped him get contracting work. It allowed him to knock more than $400,000 off a delinquent tax bill. And it helped him get on cable news as a pundit and commentator.
But it was all, in the words of U.S. Senior Judge T.S. Ellis III, "buffalo chips."
Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison Friday on multiple fraud charges, as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Simmons pleaded guilty and admitted to the fraud. But he maintains, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he's telling the truth about a 27-year CIA career that supposedly began in 1973 and included involvement in missions with names like "Operation Iranian Trust," "Operation Alloy" and "Operation New England."
In fact, his insistence on maintaining his CIA claims added a few months to his prison sentence. Ellis refused to give Simmons credit for "acceptance of responsibility" under the federal sentencing guidelines because of his CIA claims. Such acceptance would likely have resulted in less time than the 33 months Ellis imposed Friday.
At Friday's sentencing hearing, Ellis expressed bewilderment that so many people had been taken in by Simmons' assertions, which were backed up with no evidence. Ellis said the CIA claim allowed him to escape an assault charge. Court records show the IRS reduced a delinquent tax bill of $1.1. million by $430,000 in 2008 because Simmons invoked his supposed CIA connections.
"It's not just implausible," he said. "The claim that Mr. Simmons was a CIA operative, or a CIA employee ... for 27 years is, if I were to use a less offensive term, buffalo chips. It's astonishing to me how many people believed otherwise."
Ellis noted that many people, including former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, wrote letters on Simmons' behalf, applauding his patriotism.
But he said Simmons' life story is not the sort that would have had the CIA beating down his door to work as a covert operative. Court records show Simmons' work career included a stint in the Navy that lasted only a matter of weeks, along with work as a nightclub bouncer, manager of a rent-by-the-hour hot tub business, and even a very brief stint with the NFL's New Orleans Saints in the months leading up to the 1978 season.
The CIA has also officially rejected Simmons' claims.
Simmons, for his part, apologized for his conduct at Friday's hearing but did not directly address the CIA issue. Simmons admitted cheating the government out of more than $75,000 by obtaining work as a government contractor by falsifying his credentials and lying about his security clearances. One contractor even briefly deployed Simmons to Afghanistan as an intelligence adviser in 2010, though his clearances were revoked and he was sent home after less than two weeks. He also cheated a friend out of nearly $100,000 in a bogus investment scheme.
"It does not matter that I thought my special skill sets could save lives in Afghanistan," he said at Friday's hearing.
Simmons' refusal to admit his CIA career was a lie clearly irked prosecutors, who took the unusual step of laying out the evidence against him in hundreds of pages of sentencing memos and supporting documents.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente said in a statement Friday that Simmons "is quite simply a criminal and a con man, and his fraud had the potential to endanger national security and put American lives at risk in Afghanistan."
Simmons appeared frequently as an unpaid contributor on Fox News before his arrest last year. In a 2009 clip, he called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "a pathological liar" in a segment about CIA interrogation techniques.
Ellis took note of that work at the conclusion of Friday's hearing.
"That should give us all pause as we listen to the news,'' Ellis said, also making clear that he wasn't singling out Fox any more than any other news outlet.