Fontana, CA –Matthew Johnston had everyone in his life believing he was an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.
The 26-year-old man wore ICE badges and uniforms, he outfitted his personal vehicle with blue-and-red police lights, and he had a tactical vest emblazoned with the words “Federal Agent.”
Police said Johnston’s friends, family, girlfriend, and ex-wife all believed he was a federal agent for months. On Facebook, he described his job as “fugitive apprehension” for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, the Sacramento Bee reported.
But Johnston’s fake life began to unravel during a traffic stop involving his girlfriend on Oct. 11, 2017.
She was driving Johnston’s car and accidentally activated its police lights when she was trying to plug in her cell phone charger, The Hill reported.
A deputy pulled her over in San Bernardino County, and the girlfriend claimed she didn’t even know the car had police lights, the Sacramento Bee reported.
She told the deputy that she’d been dating Johnston for two months and that he worked for Homeland Security.
The deputy called Johnston from the traffic stop, and the fake ICE agent told the deputy that he worked for Homeland Security and had forgotten to remove the lights from his car, court records said.
So the officer told Johnston’s girlfriend to take down the police lights and put them under the seat, and then sent her on her way.
But a gut instinct led him to contact the local ICE office the next day to confirm Johnston’s story, and nobody at that law enforcement agency had ever heard of the man.
ICE began investigating Johnston’s social media and did more research to confirm Johnston never worked there, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The deputy went to the girlfriend’s home on Oct. 12 to ask her more questions about her boyfriend.
She told him Johnston claimed that he had worked for Homeland Security but got fired around the time of his divorce. The girlfriend said he’d worked as a security guard but recently told her he was rehired by Homeland Security, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Court records said that the girlfriend showed the deputy a picture Johnston had sent her of a handgun, handcuffs, a gold ICE belt badge, and a Homeland Security ID card with Johnston’s picture and the Department of Homeland Security seal.
She also told the deputy that Johnston gave her $1,500 to $2,000 every week for no particular reason.
Police got a warrant and searched Johnston’s home on Oct. 23 and found 32 firearms, about 10,000 rounds of ammunition, cannon fuses, homemade rockets and rocket launchers and other destructive devices, The Hill reported.
Investigators also located five unexploded, or partially-exploded, improvised devices that Johnston had set off in the desert, including an exploded pipe bomb and smoke grenade.
Prosecutors said that during Johnston’s imaginary career in law enforcement, he flashed his fake police lights in pursuit of another car and caused a collision, the Sacramento Bee reported.
He also posed as an ICE agent to interview someone about an undocumented person, and bragged about his job in law enforcement to patrons and dancers at a strip club, according to prosecutors.
After he was busted, Johnston told authorities that he made up the fake career because his ex-wife had insulted him in front of his daughter, accusing him of having done nothing with his life, according to court documents.
He told investigators that he chose to pretend he was an ICE agent because fewer people were familiar with the agency and there was less chance of getting caught.
Johnston pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered destructive device and was sentenced to two years in prison on May 21, the Sacramento Bee reported.