The story of Joseph Helmich has a moral: The FBI gets its man -- even 17 years later.

Helmich was an Army code specialist stationed in Paris in the early 1960s. And he had serious financial problems. His debts were so bad that superiors threatened him with court-martial.

That's when he walked into the Soviet embassy in Paris.

Over the next year, Helmich earned $131,000 supplying the Soviets with coding secrets and equipment. To impress him, they gave him a medal and the rank of Soviet army colonel at a secret ceremony.

Friends then said they were suspicious about his sudden wealth, but U.S. investigators couldn't prove anything. He retired from the Army a few years later.

But in 1980 Helmich, working for a tile company and short of cash, tested his luck again. He visited the Soviet embassy in Ottawa to ask for more money. Canadian investigators spotted him.

Confronted by the FBI, he confessed over the course of nine interviews, then pleaded guilty to supplying the Soviets with code secrets. He told the judge that all that time he had been living a "private hell." He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Helmich's code information was "priceless" to the Soviets in monitoring U.S. military operations in the Vietnam War, said the book, "The New KGB" by Corson and Crowley. Officials said he may have cost many American lives.