Summary: On the afternoon of Wednesday, 13 May 2015, Doug Williams changed his plea from not guilty to guilty with respect to all charges. The jury was dismissed and proceedings were suspended pending a sentencing date to be determined. Williams remains free on bond.
Proceedings began at 09:15. The jury entered the court room and Special Agent Robbins re-took the witness stand. Robbins testified that on 17 October 2012, Doug Williams e-mailed Special Agent J.D. Castillo (who was working under cover), stating that he (Williams) worked under the assumption that he was telling the truth. Williams said that the fact of Castillo’s being trained by Williams should be held in confidence. Robbins read out the text of an e-mail from Castillo to Williams in which Castillo said he needed to lie. In consequence of that, Doug Williams via e-mail cancelled the plan to train Castillo.
On 17 October 2012, Castillo called Williams. The entire phone conversation, about 20 minutes long, was played in court. Williams indicated numerous times that he suspected that Castillo was an undercover agent. He suggested that Castillo could read his manual and take a private polygraph exam. Castillo continually pressed Williams, saying that he needed his help, and flattering him, saying that he had confidence in him and trusted him. Williams repeatedly said he was unwilling to train him, using terms including “I’m out” and “Save your money for the lawyer.” Each time Williams refused, Castillo played on Williams’ sympathy. Finally, Williams asked Castillo to let him sleep on it.
Robbins testified that after this phone call, he had no intention to call back.
The government then presented an e-mail message from Williams to Castillo sent later the same day using the address firstname.lastname@example.org, telling Castillo that he could recontact him under a different identity. Eventually, Williams again communicated directly with Castillo, without requiring him to create a new identity, and they spoke by phone. Williams told Castillo that he should send a money order, to avoid a paper trail, for $4,500. Williams would purchase a plane ticket himself. Williams told Castillo, “I know you’re a believer” (the implication being that he was a fellow Christian).
SA Robbins testified that a mail cover was in place for Williams’ post office box at this time. That is, the U.S. Postal Service would send Robbins images of the front and back of each piece of mail Williams received. A copy of the envelope used to send the $4,500 payment via the U.S. Postal Service was shown to the jury, as was the cashier’s check (and not a money order) it had contained, which was endorsed by Williams on the reverse.
An e-mail message dated 20 October 2012 from Williams to Castillo confirmed receipt of the money and flight details. Williams asked Castillo to make hotel arrangements.
SA Robbins testified that a Secret Service agent placed a microphone in the Virginia hotel room where Williams was to train Castillo. Robbins monitored events from an adjacent hotel room.
The prosecution then played an edited audio recording of the training session (Government Exhibit 120) that was about 55 minutes long. Castillo told Williams that he was under investigation because a person named Marcos whom he had allowed to bring cocaine into the country had been arrested and had named him as an accomplice. Castillo told Williams that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to polygraph him about the allegation. Among other things, Castillo mentioned to Williams that he (Castillo) had the option of declining to take the polygraph.
Williams emphasized that the polygraph is an interrogation and that one shouldn’t spill the beans on oneself, and shouldn’t mention the training.
Williams told Castillo that there were only two kinds of questions on the polygraph, “control” and “relevant.” Castillo had earlier been instructed to memorize a list of 33 control questions listed in Williams’ manual, How to Sting the Polygraph. Williams told Castillo that all other questions were relevant. (This is actually a simplification, other kinds of questions include not just relevant ones, but also irrelevant, sacrifice relevant, and symptomatic questions. For an explanation of these question types and their functions, see Chapter 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)
Castillo suggested to Williams that the relevant questions would be things like “Have you ever made a profit from illegal proceeds?” and “Are you allowing narcotics into the country at this time?” Williams suggested “Did you know Marcos was bringing in narcotics?” as a relevant question.
Williams then presented his hypnosis training, in which he instructed Castillo to imagine himself relaxing on a beach, listening to the waves roll in, wave after wave. This mental imagery was to be applied during the asking of relevant questions (that is, all non-control questions). During the asking of control questions, Castillo was to think scary thoughts, such as being arrested, perp-walked, and thrown into a prison cell.
Williams then ran three practice polygraph question series on Castillo. The audio of one of these was played for the jury. At the conclusion, Castillo’s polygraph chart was scored “No Deception Indicated.”
The prosecution then showed two Twitter posts made by Williams under the ID @PolygraphCom that made reference to his training session with Castillo.
After the training session with Castillo in Virginia, SA Robbins decided to do a second in-person meeting that was held with a different undercover agent on 21 February 2013. In this case, a money order for $750 was sent to Williams through the U.S. Postal Service. After the second in-person training session, federal agents executed search warrants on Williams’ office and home. Charles Porth seized two cell phones and a laptop computer from Williams’ office and a second computer from his home, and conducted a forensic analysis on each device.
In addition, subpoenas were issued to SolidSpace, the company that hosted Polygraph.com, for data associated with the site, including e-mail sent to Williams’ e-mail address, email@example.com, and to Microsoft for data associated with the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
SolidSpace provided e-mails associated with Williams’ account. One of these, Government Exhibit 301, was shown to the jury. It was from Hayleigh[redacted]@gmail.com. She said she wanted a fresh start, had to take a polygraph, and needed to lie. Williams replied to her that he could help and suggested that she purchase his manual and DVD. SA Robbins testified that this e-mail exchange was not initiated by an undercover agent.
SA Robbins testified that after the 21 February 2013 raid, Williams made changes to his website, including removal of the claim that he could teach a person to pass the polygraph “lying or not” and the addition of a “terms of service” statement clarifying that he would not train anyone who told him that they intended to lie, and that any in-person training customer who made such a statement would forfeit the fee and not receive training.
At 12:11, a stipulation by the prosecution and defense was read out loud in court. The parties stipulated that:
- At all times www.polygraph.com was solely owned and operated by Williams.
- The e-mail address email@example.com was only used by Williams.
- The e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org was only used by Williams.
- The phone number listed on Williams’ website belonged to and was used by Williams.
At 12:14 Proceedings adjourned until 13:30 for a lunch break.
At 13:40, the DOJ trial attorneys and Williams’ defense lawyers met to confer in the corridor outside the courtroom.
At 14:05, the attorneys moved to Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s chambers, returning to the courtroom at 14:33. The jury had not returned from the lunch break. At 14:40, the attorneys again went to the judge’s chambers, and at 14:41, the jury re-entered the courtroom. At 15:10 heavy rain began pounding on the dome lights of the courtroom. At 15:13, the attorneys re-entered the courtroom, the prosecutors smiling. Attorneys for both parties reviewed paperwork.
At 15:18, the judge entered the courtroom. Doug Williams announced his intention to change his plea from not guilty to guilty with respect to each of the five charges against him. There was no plea agreement. The maximum punishment for each count, read aloud by DOJ trial attorney Heidi Boutros Gesch, was 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, and a special assessment fee of $100. Williams stated that he understood that he was waiving the right to a jury or bench trial, and that he could receive the same punishment as if found guilty at trial. Williams stated that he was satisfied with the services of his counsel, Mr. Buzin. Judge Miles-LaGrange twice erroneously referred to Williams as “Mr. Smith.”
At 16:35, the judge stated that to accept Williams’ guilty plea, the court needed a factual basis and asked Williams to describe his crimes. Williams read out language that closely (perhaps precisely) tracked the language of the indictment. The court found factual basis for the guilty plea and referred the case to the Probation Office. Williams will be notified of the sentencing date by his counsel, Mr. Buzin. Detention was not required, and Williams remains free on bond, with the added condition that he not possess a firearm. Williams stated that he had already disposed of his firearms.
Judge Miles-LaGrange asked the prosecutors to withdraw their exhibits because of space constraints in the court, but added that they probably won’t, owing to appeal (perhaps referring to the possibility of the appeal of any sentence).
At 17:00, Judge Miles-LaGrange announced that the court was in recess.