Frank Strickland knew something was wrong when Lisa Jane Phillips told stories of heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan on her college campus in Raleigh, N.C.
The Meredith College student said she was a pilot, and wore an Air Force captain's uniform with numerous medals to prove it. Phillips frequently left school for a few weeks at a time, saying she was going on a mission.
But Strickland, the campus police chief and a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, was skeptical of her claims of two-week deployments to combat areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.
He notified federal investigators of his suspicions.
"He realized this is not how the military runs," said Frank Crocco, resident agent in charge of the Department of Defense's Criminal Investigative Service in Raleigh.
After an investigation, federal investigators from the Defense Department and the FBI arrested Phillips earlier this month and indicted her on 12 charges stemming from false impersonation of a military officer of the United States.
The government said her stories were made up and the uniforms and medals she wore were not earned. Her claims led to her tuition and fees being waived at Meredith, a private women's college. Her free ride totaled $42,178.
Strickland said he initiated the investigation because he was disturbed by the privileges that Phillips received as a veteran if she wasn't. He said everyone at the school felt duped by her.
"It's just totally wrong," he said.
Phillips, 34, of Cary, North Carolina, began attending the school in January 2002. Following her absences from the school, she would e-mail detailed stories of what was happening to school administrators, said Mike Saylor, Supervisory Senior Resident Agent for the FBI in Raleigh, whose office also worked on the investigation.
"Her story was so elaborate. She was involved in everything. She single-handedly saved the country," Cynthia Stroot, of the Criminal Investigative Service, told The News and Observer in Raleigh.
"She lived her story," said Saylor in comparing this case with other cases of military impersonations. "She went through a lot of pain. . . She took a long time on it."