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Former Monterey Institute instructor arrested after allegedly lying about his credentials

William G. Hillar lectured on counterterrorism and said he was a retired colonel in the Army's Special Forces.

January 26, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

A former counterterrorism instructor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and other schools was arrested in Maryland on mail fraud charges Tuesday for allegedly lying about his academic credentials and military experience.

William G. Hillar, who claimed to be a retired colonel in the U.S. Army's Special Forces and often boasted of his overseas adventures, "was living a lie and basing his entire career on experience he did not have and credentials that he did not earn," U.S. Atty. Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

In fact, Hillar, who served in the Coast Guard Reserves, was never trained in counterterrorism and does not have a doctorate from the University of Oregon as he claimed, said Rosenstein, who is based in Baltimore.

The investigation into Hillar's resume and activities began last fall when several special forces veterans and graduate students at the Monterey Institute raised questions about Hillar's workshops on human trafficking and terrorism and what seemed to be his tendency to borrow material from others, relating their writings as his own.

Students said Hillar often boasted that the 2008 action movie "Taken," starring Liam Neeson, was based on his life and his daughter's alleged kidnapping and murder, although the film's creators have denied any connection.

Hillar also taught at other schools and served as a professional speaker to law enforcement and human rights groups. Among his clients were the Federal Executive Board of Greater Los Angeles, which coordinates emergency planning for federal agencies, and the California Fire Chiefs Assn.

The FBI estimates that Hillar, 66, who lives in Maryland, has been paid more than $100,000 for his lectures by a variety of schools, law enforcement agencies and other groups over the last decade.

Hillar remained in custody Tuesday after he was unable to meet the $50,000 bond and other conditions set by a federal judge, officials said. He has not yet entered a plea in the case and officials said he has not retained an attorney. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Jeffrey Hinton, a retired special services officer in Arizona who was among those challenging Hillar's resume, said he was pleased about the arrest, especially because Hillar had taken money from charitable organizations. "I'm glad that he's been taken off the street," said Hinton, who runs the website professionalsoldiers.com.

Hillar led 12 workshops of 15 hours each over the last five years at the Monterey Institute, which is part of Middlebury College and specializes in language and foreign affairs graduate programs. The school severed its ties with him in November after he was asked to supply proof of his credentials and did not do so, officials said. He had not previously been required to undergo a background check because he was a part-time contractor, not a regular employee. That policy has since been changed.

"We were glad to cooperate with law enforcement, and that Mr. Hillar is going to be held accountable for his actions," said Jason Warburg, spokesman for the institute.

Brian Hubbs, a master's degree student and Marine veteran at the campus who helped investigate complaints about Hillar, said he felt vindicated by the charges. He also said he hoped the former instructor would apologize or explain his actions to the students he taught and to the agencies and anti-trafficking groups that hired him for speeches.

"I would like to see him face all those people," Hubbs said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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