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Man who impersonated a Federal agent to nearly 10,000 TikTok followers sentenced to 6 years in prison

June 7, 2022, 6:09 PM UTC

A Minnesota man was sentenced to six years in prison after authorities say he pretended to be a Department of Homeland Security agent for eight months, deceiving his nearly 10,000 TikTok followers and girlfriend at the time. 

In January 2021, a woman who would eventually go on to date Reyel Devon Simmons came across his TikTok account, @meandmyself81, according to a criminal complaint filed in September 2021. There, the 53-year-old Simmons posted snippets from what he said was his work as a federal agent and showed off law enforcement gear, badge, and firearms to thousands on the platform. 

Simmons kept up the facade into their romantic relationship, per the complaint. When the woman visited him in the Twin Cities areas, Simmons said DHS was paying for their hotel stays, a perk of his undercover assignments. He also told her about taking down child sex trafficking rings and other stories he said were from his time as a Navy SEAL, sent a photo of a “weapons raid,” wore a Homeland Security Investigations shirt, and carried around a “go bag,” according to the complaint. Simmons went so far as to place a police radio in his truck, faking conversations with other agents. 

But the woman grew suspicious last August when she saw another TikTok user comment on Simmons’ page: “stolen valor—impersonating a police officer again, oh and can proof be provided!” according to the complaint. After contacting the commenter, the woman discovered that Simmons had never worked for the military or any law enforcement agency, the complaint said, then decided to tip off the FBI. 

As it turns out, Simmons was not an officer of any kind, according to court documents. Instead, he had been married since 2015 and working as a temporary employee at Shutterfly since 2020. When applying for the job, authorities allege that Simmons falsified his résumé’s employment history, claiming he worked at DHS between 1997 and 2000. But the federal agency was not created until years later in 2002, FBI special agent Tricia Whitehill wrote in the complaint. 

Simmons was arrested in September of 2021 and later pleaded guilty to charges of impersonating a federal officer and illegally possessing firearms as a felon. Last week, he was sentenced in federal district court to six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, the Department of Justice announced

When officers raided his home, they found and seized eight firearms stowed away in a hidden basement bunker, according to the DOJ. 

TikTok’s community guidelines say the platform will remove any accounts that engage in impersonation.

“We do not allow accounts that pose as another person or entity in a deceptive manner. When we confirm a report of impersonation, we may ask the user to revise the profile or may ban the account,” the guidelines read. 

TikTok did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment about Simmons’ account. 

Authorities say Simmons has two prior felony convictions and a history of imitating the police, according to his plea agreement. In 2004, he was charged with two counts of impersonating an officer in Colorado. 

In his sentencing decision, U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud referenced Simmons’ past impersonation attempts and the cache of weapons found in his residence, calling the Minnesota man a “danger to society.”

Simmons’ public defender, James Becker, requested a two-year sentence in his May sentencing position and wrote that the impersonation was from mental trauma—“more about ego deficits than a fraud to perpetuate other, more serious criminal conduct.”

“In truth, Mr. Simmons was merely playing dress-up to impress people around him and to woo women,” Becker said. 

Becker did not respond to Fortune’s request for additional comment on the sentencing outcome.

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