An Indiana man was jailed for eight months on Friday for charges arising from allegations he coached federal job applicants and criminals on how to beat lie detector tests.
Chad Dixon, 34, Dixon had previously pleaded guilty to the charges of wire fraud* and obstruction of an agency proceeding** on 17 December last year, but was only sentenced last week (PDF).
An electrician from Marion, Indiana, Dixon offered services claiming to help people beat lie detectors.
Controlled breathing, muscle tensing, tongue biting and mental arithmetic can all be applied to skew the results of lie detector tests, instructors in lie detector countermeasures claim.
The court heard that Dixon, who had begun teaching people how to beat lie detector tests after falling on hard times, took fees upfront before agreeing to meet with "potential clients" (actually undercover agents) one of whom posed as the brother of a Mexican drug trafficker seeking advice on how to withhold this information during a polygraph for a US Customs and Border Protection job.
In reality, Dixon's last few clients were undercover officers running a sting operation. He was arrested and charged before pleading guilty to the charges last December. During a sentencing hearing last week, prosecutors argued that Dixon should be jailed for at least 21 months as a deterrent to others and as punishment for “teaching others how to lie, cheat and steal".
Federal District Judge Liam O’Grady said: "There’s nothing unlawful about maybe 95 per cent of the business he [Dixon] conducted” but found criminal fault in his willingness to assist would-be applicants and others to lie to federal agencies, the Washington Post reported.
Prosecutors told the court that Dixon has travelled the US to meet his clients, charging up to $1,000 for six to eight hours of hands-on training on how to beat polygraph tests. His activities came to the attention of federal authorities in April 2011 after a customs and border protection applicant caught using polygraph countermeasures admitted hiring Dixon for help in beating lie detector tests, the court heard. Dixon used his Polygraph Consultants of America website to attract business.
Prosecutors said after his sentencing that his customers had included unsuitable applicants for federal law enforcement jobs and convicted sex offenders "who were required to take polygraph examinations as a condition of court-ordered probation or parole".
Dixon trained between 70 and 100 people, including federal contractors seeking to keep top secret security clearances, according to figures from prosecutors cited by the Huffington Post.
“This is not an evil man,” Nina J Ginsberg, Dixon’s attorney, is quoted as saying in court documents. “This is a very decent man who made bad choices in the context of very ill-defined law.”
Do polygraphs even WORK?
Prior to the War on Whistleblowers, federal agencies treated teaching tips to pass lie detectors as little more than a nuisance, mainly because the polygraph-beating techniques are unproven. Polygraph-busting instructors have advertised their services openly for years on the web and even TV. Around 30 people work full time in the fringe trade of couching students in how to beat the polygraph, according to US government estimates.
Polygraphs are seldom used in Europe but are viewed as a vital tool by US government agencies. US Customs and Border Protection polygraphs about 10,000 applicants a year and credits the technology with uncovering 200 wrongdoers, normally people who have had an association with either drugs or people-smuggling, since the tests became compulsory two years ago.
Ten would-be applicants were caught using techniques designed to fool polygraphs as part of Operation Lie Busters. All those caught had their applications tossed, according to an earlier McClatchy report cited by Fox News.
Teaching countermeasures against polygraph techniques in itself is not explicitly illegal in the US, although the recent case raises questions about the law around teaching polygraph countermeasures. ®
* Any "fraudulent scheme to intentionally deprive another of property or honest services via mail or wire communication". ** In which the subject "corruptly endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending" – ie, federal agency polygraph tests.