Man cashes in pretending to be Navy SEAL
A former Lake Tahoe bartender has used a bogus story that he's the most decorated Navy SEAL of all time to cash in, big. AJ Dicken can be very convincing -- so convincing that he talked his way into part of a $300 million security contract.
The I-Team has been exposing fake military heroes over the years -- people who make up stories of bravery to impress others or to get their money. This may be the ultimate case.
Dicken, 56, is very good at telling a story, even when he knows it's not true -- that he is a highly decorated member of the special forces, a Navy SEAL.
"My wife and I met AJ, we were at a sports bar in Lake Tahoe; he was a bartender," Harry Vested said.
Unlike most real Navy SEALs the I-Team's Dan Noyes has met, Vested says Dicken was quick to talk about his exploits and that he wore his credentials openly.
"He had on his, I'll just call it his Navy SEAL hat, with a trident on the brim and a little identification button on the side with a rank," Vested said.
Vested is a television producer who thought Dicken's experience could make a good documentary.
Dicken closed the deal with a DD-214 -- discharge papers saying he served 35 years in naval special warfare, 291 classified central intelligence operations, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, awarded the bronze Star, Silver Star, Navy Cross, two Purple Hearts, six counter-terrorist service medals, and nine presidential citations.
Noyes: "Give me the one sentence pitch on the documentary, what was the documentary going to be?"
Vested: "'A Soldier's Story,' based on what he gave us, the most highly decorated Navy SEAL in the history of the Navy SEALs."
Noyes: "And you paid him the money."
Vested: "It's just over $50,000."
After signing away rights to his life story, Dicken began sending page upon page of suggested plot lines. He wrote, "I have answered questions on a regular basis about what it is like to be a SEAL...What it is like to be in combat, man's inhumanity to man, and to deal with the horrors of war...This story is my best recollection."
But, Vested was doing his own research and uncovered a troubling fact (something the I-Team verified with the National Personnel Records Center) -- that Dicken has never served a day in any branch of the U.S. Military.
The biggest lie yet came when Vested tried to confront Dicken face to face.
Vested: "He was the one that actually shot Osama bin Laden."
Noyes: "And you bought that?"
Vested: "No, I knew that this was a charade at that point, there was no question about it."
Dan: "AJ, I need to talk to you about your Navy SEAL background."
Dicken: "I don't have a Navy SEAL background."
Dan: "You told a lot of people that, didn't you?"
Dicken: "No, I did not."
When the I-Team tracked down Dicken in Southern California last week, he wouldn't stop long enough to look at the dossier Noyes has compiled on him -- all the phony Facebook postings, the emails with his tall tales, the fake discharge papers, the contract he signed with Vested guaranteeing he's a Navy SEAL.
Noyes: "You have a line of people who are claiming you scammed them out of a lot of money."
Noyes: "Is that true or not."
Dicken: "Not true."
Dicken's next target -- the Carson City, Nevada airport. At a public hearing last May, the airport commission "thanked Mr. Dicken for his service as a U.S. Navy SEAL" and granted use of a hangar for his new self-defense classes, based on skills he supposedly learned as a Navy SEAL.
He recorded promotional videos, and started running weapons training for sportsmen in the Nevada desert. That attracted increasingly bigger fish. Surgeons Brian Romaneschi and Greg Ginn took lessons from Dicken hoping to improve their hunting skills.
"I just asked, 'What is your background?' and he said, 'I'm ex-Navy SEAL, then I went into the CIA after I retired from the SEALs,'" Ginn said.
"He can be very charming, very engaging, I think he's a typical con man, he presents a face that kind of draws you in," Romaneschi said.
The doctors soon became investors in Dicken's new venture -- Global Security and Logistics.
Noyes: "All told, how much money did you give AJ Dicken?"
Noyes: "How about you, Brian?"
Romaneschi: "About the same amount."
Dan: "Almost $400,000?"
Dicken used their money to go after the biggest payday of all -- part of a $300 million contract with the nation of Burundi to provide security on a construction project.
Dicken's conduct on that trip had his entourage fearing for their lives -- that story Friday on ABC7 News at 6. You'll also see how his schemes begin to unravel, when a real Navy SEAL takes him on.
military, navy, i-team, dan noyes
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