The candy-apple red helicopter descended onto a North Carolina soccer field one evening last November, on a top-secret mission approved by President Trump himself. The three-star general was to escort a woman from the grounds of her data analytics firm to a classified briefing at a nearby military base.
Yet Christian Desgroux was not an Army general, but an auto mechanic.
And he was, unsurprisingly, not on a clandestine mission authorized by Trump to fly to Fort Bragg, N.C., authorities said Monday.
Desgroux, 57, was indicted last week and charged with impersonating an officer on duty, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Department of Homeland Security special agent Tony Bell testified at a detention hearing Monday that Desgroux falsely claimed to be a senior Army officer when he hired a helicopter and pilot from a Charlotte company on Nov. 6, according to a summary provided to The Washington Post by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh.
Donning what appeared to be an Army flight uniform with three black stars, indicating a rank of lieutenant general, Desgroux had the pilot land a Robinson R44 helicopter at a company soccer field at the SAS Institute in Cary, outside Raleigh, after the pilot picked him up near his home in the area.
Desgroux surprised the woman with a helicopter flight when she simply expected him to arrive in a vehicle at the company, the agent told a federal magistrate.
Bell said he believed the false pretense and promise of an important briefing with a lawyer was an attempt by Desgroux to romance the unnamed woman, who knew the man for about 20 years and said she believed he was experiencing maritial problems. It is unclear if she believed his claims of being a general.
After landing in the soccer field in the early evening, Desgroux disembarked and went to get the woman, the helicopter pilot, Dan Miller, told The Post. Desgroux also spoke to SAS security officials, who asked him why he was there, Bell said in court.
“He saluted the security officers, and they actually saluted him back,” Bell said, the AP reported.
The woman then boarded the aircraft with Desgroux, with Miller in the pilot’s seat.
The helicopter took off, but Desgroux wasn’t sure where they should go, so they circled Raleigh for about half an hour, Miller said. The pilot added that the woman claimed her headset wasn’t working properly, saying she could not hear him or Desgroux during the flight.
After about half an hour, the helicopter returned to SAS’s campus and dropped off the woman, which is when SAS security officials called local police, the AP reported. Miller and Desgroux took flight again, and the pilot declined to drop Desgroux off near a Raleigh supermarket in the dark.
The total cost for about three hours total flight time was more than $1,500, Miller said.