A judge demanded to know Tuesday why a North Carolina man repeatedly used an Army general's uniform to fool others, asking if "it was like Halloween every day," as he sentenced him to six months' imprisonment for an impersonation that ended with an alarming helicopter ride.
Christian Desgroux, 58, also received a year of supervised release for wearing a three-star general's battle dress uniform when he unexpectedly landed in a chartered helicopter at a technology company late last year. While authorities say he was trying to impress a female employee, the case was so serious that federal terrorism investigators launched a probe.
That November landing at SAS Institute wasn't the only time Desgroux pretended to be a general despite never serving in the U.S. military, prosecutor Barbara Kocher said Tuesday. She told the judge that Desgroux had convinced a now-estranged wife that he was going on fake deployments and had worn a military uniform while getting kicked out of strip clubs.
"He liked the sense of importance he gained by masquerading as a general," Kocher said, adding that Desgroux "has used this persona for years."
Federal sentencing guidelines called for no more than six months' imprisonment, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle made clear how serious it is to impersonate a military officer.
"You can be a danger to people," Boyle said. "What made you think you could act like a general?"
Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Desgroux apologized, saying he hadn't realized what he was doing was illegal.
"So it was like Halloween every day of the week?" Boyle asked. "Why not wear a top hat and a tuxedo?"
The defendant then meekly added, "It was a mental issue, sir." He said he bought the uniform from a surplus store.
Desgroux had previously been ruled competent to proceed with the case, a finding his attorney didn't contest. Federal prison officials oversaw a mental health exam that showed he had a personality disorder with narcissistic traits as well as alcoholism, Kocher said, but his offense wasn't the result of psychosis.
Boyle said he would credit Desgroux for the more than five months he's been jailed since his arrest. He also ordered him to stay away from alcohol and undergo mental health treatment.
Defense attorney Andrew McCoppin told the judge that prior to the November arrest, his client had previous inpatient psychiatric treatment.
"There definitely is a mental health component to all this that he's going to need to continue to work on," said McCoppin, who declined a reporter's request for further comment.
Desgroux had pleaded guilty in June to a single count of impersonating a military officer when he convinced a charter helicopter pilot to land at the company's sprawling headquarters in Cary.
When Desgroux landed at the SAS corporate campus on Nov. 6, he was approached by security officers.Homeland Security Special Agent Tony Bell has previously testified that Desgroux saluted the security officers and that some saluted him back. Still, the suspicious guards called local authorities who got federal agents involved.
Federal agents have said he hoped to impress the woman with the nearly $3,000 chartered flight and claims he was on a mission authorized by President Donald Trump himself. The woman, however, was married and not romantically interested. She was expecting him to arrive by car, but instead they went on a 30-minute helicopter ride around Raleigh, authorities said.
She and the pilot appear to have been swept up in Desgroux's strange behavior and were not charged.
Desgroux, a native of Chile who worked out of his North Carolina home as a mechanic, has lived in the Raleigh area for several decades and became a U.S. citizen in 2016.