For about three years, until 2008, Halligen spent hundreds of thousands of dollars living large in Washington. He stayed in a Willard Hotel suite for months at a time and drank the days away at pricey Georgetown restaurants. He traveled everywhere in a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car, set up high-tech offices in Herndon and bought a grand home in Great Falls.
Smart, charming and favoring black turtlenecks and sunglasses, Halligen told everyone that he was a spy, or a former spy, or connected to spies. He told friends that he was under such deep cover that he took over his fiancee’s place as a “safe house.”
Virtually all of it, it turns out, was fabricated or exaggerated, according to associates who have since investigated his background. But with amazing ease and a perfect British accent, the diminutive Halligen schmoozed his way into Washington’s intelligence elite — Pentagon officials, influential lawyers and lobbyists, former CIA operatives.
And he took their money.
He set up shop as a corporate security consultant, offering his dubious “operational experience” in intelligence to solve delicate problems for customers working in dangerous places.
In a capital with a long history of spies, foreigners with shadowy backgrounds, big talkers and charlatans, Halligen didn’t set off any alarm bells at first, according to former associates. But that changed when they concluded that Halligen was taking money and not doing the work he promised.
The U.S. government obtained an indictment against him in 2009 on criminal charges of bilking a client out of $2.1 million, and judges in the District and Virginia have ordered him to pay $6.5 million to former partners who claim he fleeced them.
Halligen, through his London lawyer, declined to comment as he fights extradition to the United States in British courts.
But in dozens of interviews in Washington and London, those who knew Halligen described how he created a trail of creditors, from lawyers to landlords to housekeepers. And they said he left a group of Washington insiders wondering how one charming and audacious hustler managed to seduce them all.
‘I was duped’
Halligen fooled London before he fooled Washington.
“I was duped,” said John Holmes, a retired British army general who was head of the British military’s special forces.
Holmes said he met Halligen in 2002, when Halligen took an IT job at a private security consulting firm where Holmes was working after his military retirement.
Holmes, in an interview in his London office, said he knew Halligen was never a member of any intelligence service. But he worked on the periphery of that world as an engineer for companies that provided technical support — designing batteries, for example — to the British government and military.
Holmes was impressed with Halligen’s smarts and entrepreneurial spirit, he said, so he helped him start his own firm, Red Defence International. Holmes said that over time he realized that Halligen was grossly exaggerating his background to clients and others and that he had an uncanny ability to keep his stories straight.
“He had an intellect that would instinctively allow him to decide what he would say to people and what he wouldn’t say,” Holmes said.
Other friends said Halligen had a habit of hearing spy stories and then repeating them later as tales of his own bravery. One friend said Halligen loved to show off a metal cigarette lighter with an inscription thanking him for helping in a secret rescue of hostages in Colombia.
“A real spy doesn’t do that,” said the friend, who asked not to be named.
Halligen’s taste for luxury was also getting him into trouble. Scarlett Guess, Halligen’s landlord in London, said Halligen rented three floors of her building for close to $20,000 a month, but paid only sporadically.
At the same time, his corporate bank statements, contained in court records in Washington, show that he was spending tens of thousands of dollars at such places as the five-star Stafford London Hotel and Les Ambassadeurs Club, a private casino where membership costs about $40,000 a year.
Before Holmes noticed the increasing warning signs, he said, he backed Halligen’s application to join the Special Forces Club in central London, an exclusive private club for people with links to British intelligence.
That membership helped Halligen immensely as he set his sights on an ultra-lucrative security consultant mecca: Washington.
A high-level network
When Halligen breezed into Washington about 2005, one of his first calls, according to associates, was to Patton Boggs, the heavyweight law firm. He hired the firm to help set up his new U.S. business, Oakley International, which offered risk analysis and security advice to corporate customers.
A key contact at Patton Boggs was lobbyist John C. Garrett, a retired U.S. Marine colonel who serves as the firm’s senior defense policy adviser. Garrett declined to comment for this article, saying Patton Boggs does not discuss former clients.
Halligen used each new contact to methodically build up a high-level network. Garrett introduced Halligen to a number of key Washington establishment figures, including Noel Koch, who was a White House aide under President Richard M. Nixon and whom President Obama appointed deputy undersecretary of defense.
“If John Garrett was vouching for him, that was good enough for me,” Koch said.
Koch recalled getting to know Halligen over boozy lunches at Ristorante La Perla on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Shown a photo of Halligen, who, 5-foot-6 and clean-cut, looks like a slightly elfin Boy Scout, La Perla owner Vittorio Testa recalled that he came in nearly every day. Testa said Halligen would sit on the outdoor patio smoking cigarettes and drinking heavily, often arriving at 11 a.m. and not leaving until 4.
“A very elegant man, always good manners,” Testa said.
Koch said he was amazed by Halligen’s lunchtime drinking.
“He’d say, ‘Let’s have martinis,’ and I’d have a martini, as would he,” Koch said. “Then we had another one, then he’d want a bottle of wine. We became fast friends over all those martinis.”
Koch was running a private security consulting company, and at one of their lunches, Halligen said he wanted to subscribe to his firm’s newsletter. Koch said that would cost $15,000, and he said Halligen made an extravagant show of overpaying.
“He wrote me a check for $20,000,” Koch said, “right there at the table.”
In the fall of 2006, Halligen still had money coming in from Red Defence in London, as well as his growing Washington business. But a big break came that September when two executives from a Dutch multinational firm, Trafigura, were arrested in Ivory Coast, accused of illegally dumping toxic waste.
Trafigura hired Halligen to help win release of the executives. Halligen got a large monthly retainer, though it’s unclear exactly what work he did for the money or how much he received. Friends said it ran into the millions of dollars.
A Trafigura spokesman declined to comment. The company eventually paid $198 million to Ivory Coast officials. The executives were released in February 2007, and payments to Halligen stopped.
But up to that point, money was pouring into Halligen’s corporate account, and he was spending it just as fast.
Halligen bought a $1.7 million house with a swimming pool in Great Falls. (The indictment charges that he bought the house the day after Trafigura transferred $2.1 million to him to cover his expenses.)
Halligen was already living in a $6,800-a-month rented house in Georgetown, on N Street near Wisconsin Avenue NW, and yet, at the same time, he was often staying at the Willard.
He was paying a driver about $6,000 a month, usually keeping him and the Lincoln Town Car for 15 hours a day. He dropped hundreds of dollars almost daily at restaurants such as La Perla, Cafe Milano, Martin’s Tavern, Neyla or Shelly’s Back Room, according to his corporate bank statements at the time.
“We used to call him James Bond,” said Robert P. Materazzi, owner of Shelly’s, a downtown D.C. restaurant and cigar bar. Materazzi said that Halligen was “secretive” about his business but that he was a gregarious personality and extravagant tipper who always sat in the same table near the front of the bar, drinking expensive red wine and smoking.
Meda Mladek, Halligen’s landlord on N Street, said Halligen did thousands of dollars worth of damage and unauthorized — and shoddy — construction at her house.
“He pretended to work for the CIA,” Mladek said. “He said he had to have a room that was totally secure, so he had to make new walls, a new ceiling, special doors.”
“He was quite elegant,” she said. “But I had problems, problems, problems.”
The show wedding
Amid it all, Halligen still found time for romance.
Friends said he met Maria Dybczak, a Commerce Department lawyer with big, dark eyes and a brilliant smile, and started courting her lavishly. He bought her a huge diamond ring, a Prada handbag and a pair of purebred Hungarian vizsla puppies, friends said.
Tereza McGuinn, a D.C. makeup artist who was close to Dybczak, said Halligen told Dybczak that he was a British agent. She said that he took Dybczak one weekend for a course on high-performance defensive driving and that he taught her how to handle a gun.
“I thought there was something really wrong about it,” McGuinn said in an interview. McGuinn said that she didn’t believe Halligen’s spy background but that Dybczak seemed blinded by his charm and attention.
In a brief interview at her D.C. home, Dybczak said she and her family had been “devastated” by Halligen but declined to say more.
On the last Friday in April 2007, she wore a white wedding gown at a spectacular evening ceremony at the Evermay estate in Georgetown.
Dybczak’s family, who friends said paid for most of the wedding, came to town from Alabama. Halligen flew over at least a dozen friends from London, first-class, and put them up in suites at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Washington guests included Koch and Garrett, the Patton Boggs lobbyist, who was Halligen’s best man.
Security men with earpieces watched over the high-powered crowd of about 100 people, and guests were met by a sign in calligraphy telling them that no cameras or phones were allowed.
Wedding photographer Clay Blackmore said Dybczak asked him to shoot film only — no digital images.
“She told me, ‘Richard is very connected, and anybody wearing a pin on their lapel can’t be photographed,’ ” Blackmore said. “She told me ‘Richard is top-level and he’s a secret agent’ or something like that. I just bought into it like everybody else did.”
McGuinn said Dybczak and Halligen went “hog-wild” on the wedding, with a huge fireworks display and an extravagant dinner of lobster and lamb in the ballroom, where dinner chairs were covered with thousands of dollars’ worth of silk pillows.
On Evermay’s grand back terrace, Halligen and Dybczak stood on a carpet of rose petals as the minister read vows from a leather-bound notebook and pronounced them husband and wife.
What the guests didn’t know was that the minister was Harry Winter, a professional actor from Arlington’s Signature Theatre, who was hired by the couple to preside over an elaborate fake.
According to friends, Halligen told Dybczak just before the wedding — when guests had been invited and arrangements made — that because he was involved in undercover intelligence operations, he could not sign any public documents — including a marriage license.
It’s unclear whether Dybczak believed him. But rather than cancel the ceremony, she helped him arrange the show wedding. Winter said she paid him $300 in cash.
“It was a wonderful, beautiful service,” Winter said in an interview. “Nobody knew it wasn’t real.”
Nor did they know that Halligen was already married.
British records show that Halligen had been married 16 years earlier to a woman named Jennifer Darvill, and he was still married to her at the time of the Evermay wedding.
“He told me plenty of lies,” said Darvill, reached in England.
Darvill said she met Halligen in 1988, and in all the time she knew him, “I was not aware that he had any involvement with security, military or intelligence.”
She said he left her in 1998 to have an affair with another woman, leaving behind a “stack of unpaid bills” that she paid by selling antiques inherited from her father.
Things fall apart
After the Evermay wedding, Halligen was riding high. He spent the next year building his business. By early 2008, court records show, London lawyer Mark Aspinall — who was his connection on the Trafigura case — had invested $750,000 in Halligen’s Oakley International.
Halligen also received an enormous boost from the internationally known case of Madeleine McCann, a 3-year-old British girl who disappeared while on vacation with her family in Portugal.
In the spring of 2008, the Find Madeleine Fund hired Oakley International on a six-month contract worth just under $1 million. Halligen was supposed to use high-tech surveillance and satellite imagery and conduct interviews to help find the girl.
His bank accounts ballooned with regular deposits of $200,000 or more over the next few months. But Halligen’s carefully constructed life was starting to unravel.
Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for the Find Madeleine Fund, said fund officials began questioning whether Halligen’s work was worth those large payments, and they terminated his contract in August 2008.
Aspinall, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly suspicious of what became of his $750,000 investment, and court records state that he made at least two trips to Washington to question Halligen.
By September 2008, the McCann contract was canceled, Halligen’s debts were mounting and his reputation was sinking. His relationship with Dybczak was over, and he was preparing his exit from Washington.
His corporate bank records show that in September, October and November 2008, Halligen drained $800,000 from his D.C. account and wired much of that overseas. He sold the Great Falls house. By November, his Washington bank account was overdrawn by $1,400. And Halligen was gone.
His former friends started looking for him and investigating his finances and background. They contacted the FBI. And they also started filing civil suits.
Aspinall filed suit in Washington to recover his investment in Oakley, and a judge ordered Halligen to pay back $871,000.
Halligen was also sued by another Washington insider, Andre Hollis, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics, who had given a toast at the Evermay wedding.
Hollis, a lawyer who once worked as legal counsel to the House of Representatives and as senior adviser to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics, sued Halligen in Fairfax Country Circuit Court for $2.35 million.
Hollis alleged that Halligen hired him as chief executive of Oakley International and that Hollis bought an ownership stake in the company. He said that the investment turned out to be worthless and that Halligen drained the company’s accounts. A judge ordered Halligen to pay Hollis more than $5.7 million in damages.
As investigators pursued Halligen, they found yet another surprise. They unearthed documents suggesting that the silver-tongued Brit had actually been born in Ireland.
In November 2009, after a year on the run, Halligen was jailed after being arrested at a luxury hotel in Oxford, England. The bartender there recalled that Halligen had been staying at the hotel for weeks under an alias, with a girlfriend, running up huge bar tabs, buying drinks for the staff and spinning tales of life as a spy.
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins and special correspondent Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.