Michael McDowell could have quit while he was ahead. During more than a decade spent posing as a military officer, he'd won heartfelt acclaim from military brass like CIA director David Petraeus, gotten behind-the-scenes access to the Washington Navy Yard, convinced the state of Texas to give him special Purple Heart license plate, and used his rank in an attempt to woo multiple women, including his second wife.
When he was told to knock it off after Flower Mound police responded to a domestic disturbance at his home in 2012, he could have obliged. Instead, he paid an unsolicited visit to Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead, introduced himself as a general in the U.S. Army, and offered to give him a tour of the White House, or maybe the Pentagon.
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That, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Deanna Boyd has chronicled, proved to be his downfall. Halstead, suspicious of the ill-fitting uniform and its reek of cigarette smoke, launched an investigation that laid bare McDowell's fabrications.
Had McDowell merely boasted of his fake military career, he probably would have been in the clear. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law making it a crime to lie about having a military decoration or medal. (Congress subsequently passed a more narrowly tailored version of the law, targeting such boasts when they are intended to yield "tangible benefit or personal gain.")
But he he used his made-up past to get people to "submit to his pretended official authority" (e.g. getting the Purple Heart license plates), which counts as felony impersonation of a public servant under Texas law. He also wed his second wife while still married to his first, which counts as bigamy.
McDowell pleaded guilty to both crimes. He was sentenced on Tuesday to five years probation.