A Raleigh car mechanic who took a helicopter to SAS headquarters in November, wearing a battle dress uniform and identifying himself as an Army general, told security officers that he was picking up a female employee on orders of the U.S. president, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security testified Monday.
While at the SAS campus in Cary, Christian Desgroux told security officers that he had come to take the woman to a classified meeting at Fort Bragg, then flew away with her for approximately 30 minutes before returning to Cary, agent Tony Bell said.
When he later interviewed the employee, Bell testified, she said she assumed Desgroux, 57, was trying to impress her and start a romantic relationship.
“She said they did nothing,” Bell said. “They flew around for 30 minutes. She had no idea he was flying a helicopter to pick her up.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Numbers ordered Desgroux detained Monday following an hourlong hearing, noting that the defendant has contacts in his native Chile and reports having considerable income along with a sea plane and yacht. His other charges outside the helicopter incident include stalking, assault on a female and misuse of a 911 system – crimes involving his stepdaughter, wife and girlfriend.
If convicted of impersonating an officer, Desgroux would face a maximum of three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a term of supervised release, said a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office. After Desgroux’s arrest in Raleigh last week, Bell said, his girlfriend and roommate told agents that he had promised to flee the country if threatened with serious time behind bars.
Bell testified that Desgroux had chartered the helicopter out of Charlotte and told the pilot he had authorization to land at SAS. When it touched down on the software company’s soccer field, Bell said, Desgroux immediately jumped out wearing a battle-dress uniform and combat patches and three stars, though he had never served in the U.S. Army.
“He saluted the security officers,” Bell said. “They actually saluted him back.”
The woman later told Bell that she had known Desgroux for about 20 years. She knew he was coming to SAS that day but expected him to come by car. They were planning to meet an attorney, Bell said, apparently to seek a patent about a prototype Desgroux had been developing.
But the woman told Bell that Desgroux had been having marital problems and must have assumed she had similar issues because she and her husband live apart.
Bell interviewed the pilot, who said he and Desgroux flew to Durham to refuel after dropping the employee back at SAS. Desgroux told the pilot that he wanted to take a future trip to the Pentagon, Bell said.
Their flight to SAS was the second Desgroux had chartered. Earlier in 2017, Desgroux chartered a helicopter to Jacksonville – again wearing an Army uniform – and had the pilot land at a KOA Kampground so he could meet briefly with a woman there. On that trip, Bell said, Desgroux stated his desire to land a helicopter on an aircraft carrier in Norfolk. He also described himself as a pilot who had flown Apache helicopters during the Gulf War.
Desgroux was born in Chile and became a U.S. citizen in 2016, Bell said. He came to the United States in 1978, moved to Raleigh in 1980 and has had legal status for his entire stay.
He works as a mechanic out of his garage on Mt. Vernon Church Road in far north Raleigh, not far from Falls Lake. One of the pending charges he faces in other cases relate to his work there.
Early this year, Desgroux was charged with felony conversion in a case involving a 2001 Honda CRV left in his care. Court documents name Kathleen Gould, a student at the University of South Carolina, as a witness in the case. She said she took her car to Desgroux for an oil change, but he called later and told her it was no longer drivable, offering to sell her a new one.
“He told me to take my things out of the car but do not try to start it or the engine will backfire and catch fire,” she said. She called police after finding the car in a different position and then moved off the property altogether. It was recently discovered at a house down the street.
She described Desgroux as a family friend who described himself as being in the military. “He’s been telling us that for as long as we’ve known him,” she said.
Numbers, the federal judge, said Desgroux reported having both a sea plane and a yacht in his pre-trial documents. Documents with the Federal Aviation Administration appear to show a single-engine Mullis Searey plane registered to Desgroux.
Numerous pictures online show him with the Steele Creek Yacht Club at Kerr Lake, in which he is shown piloting a light-sport aircraft and taking members on trips. In those pictures, he is described as a military man who took part in a 2014 Memorial Day service. Members of the yacht club did not respond to questions about Desgroux.
His Cary attorney, Andrew McCoppin, requested that his client be arraigned quickly.