When Navy veteran Carol Roberts first met A.J. Dicken, who boasted about being the most decorated Navy SEAL ever, she was in awe of him, and she wasn't the first.
"He's a big guy," Roberts said. "He commands authority."
For years, Dicken, 57, claimed he was an ex-Navy SEAL who had served in dozens of covert combat missions, from the jungles of Vietnam to the caves of Afghanistan. He proudly wore the SEAL trident insignia and loved to show off his numerous awards. He would regale listeners about his mission to assassinate Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his death defying swoop into Pakistan to make the kill shot on Osama Bin Laden. He also carried discharge papers that included two Medals of Honor, and even a laudatory email from Col. Oliver North.
But it was all an elaborate lie, one that he would allegedly use to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from his victims -- and something else harder to put a price on: their honor.
Roberts met Dicken at a military-style self-defense training school he started in an airplane hanger in Carson City, Nev., where she took some shooting and self-defense classes, along with Drs. Greg Ginn and Brian Romaneschi, who were also from the area.
"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.
The business was popular with the locals, and seemed to be booming. But Dicken's dream to launch his own international security firm was expensive. He convinced Ginn and Romaneschi to invest upward of $850,000 in the new venture.
"He can be very charming, very engaging," Romaneschi said. "He presents a face that kind of draws you in."
With the doctors' financial backing and Dicken's SEAL credentials, the firm Global Resources and Logistics was born, and it wasn't long before Dicken landed a big security contract with a United Nations-affiliated organization, reputedly worth about half a billion dollars.
When Roberts found out about the venture, she quit her job and became Dicken's new marketing director. Roberts said she signed up because she had seen the contracts and thought the money was coming in.
The first bit of business for Dicken's new company was in the central African country of Burundi, where planned local construction projects were hiring security providers. Dicken led a team there to meet local business partners. Roberts was part of the team, as was chief pilot Mike Reynolds, who said things started to crumble shortly after they landed in Burundi.
"By the second day, we realized that ...none of the major players there in Burundi ... knew who we were, what we were doing there," Reynolds said. "I mean, the stuff he was coming up with is just — it was insane ... the whole situation there was dangerous."