252: Charlie Cunningham – Military Hero, Cocaine Case

Retired agent Charles Cunningham served in the FBI for 22 years. His first assignment was to the Albany Division, where he handled liaison and investigations occurring in three northern counties, Warren, Washington, and Saratoga.

On this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, Charlie reviews his investigation of David Lindsay for cocaine trafficking. Lindsay was a highly decorated war hero who had retired from the military after about 21 years in the Marine Corps and the Army. As reflected on Lindsay’s DD-214 military record, he had earned over twenty medals of bravery.

A pre-trial evaluation determined that, based on his combat missions and time as a POW, Lindsay suffered from a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).

He used this as his defense during a jury trial with a dramatic ending.

After working this case, Charlie was reassigned to the New York Office where he worked organized crime and before being promoted to supervisor and selected for a project to target Mexican Cartels with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for several years, before being promoted to supervise a Colombian Drug Squad in Miami, Florida.

Later in his career, he was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the New Orleans Division and next named the Section Chief of Violent Crimes and the Organized Crime Section. Charlie served temporarily as the Deputy Assistant Director (DAD) of the Criminal Investigative Division.

Charlie received the FBI’s Meritorious Medal of Bravery for helping to pull a woman from a burning car collision he encountered one day while commuting to work at FBI Headquarters.

Charlie’s last Bureau assignment was as the Special Agent in Charge of the Richmond Division.

After retiring from the FBI, he was hired as the security director of a Fortune 200 company, a regional security director for a large security company, and the director of security and emergency management for a governmental agency. Charlie is now fully retired, living in Thailand, and writing a book on the David Lindsay cocaine trafficking investigation and trial, and other cases.

Special Agent (Retired)

Charles Cunningham

1/1986 – 1/2008







“Lindsay would have been the fifteenth highest ranked hero in history since the Revolutionary War for non-medal of honor recipients.”—Retired Agent Charlie Cunningham

The following are links to articles about military awards and stolen valor, as well as news reports about the investigation of David Lindsay for drug trafficking:

Convicted Drug Dealer Faces Life Behind Bars

Drug Kingpin Given 60 Years

Portrait of a Rural Drug Lord

Portrait of a Rural Drug Lord – Cont.

SSG Lindsay Selected as 5th Army’s Top Soldier

New Yorker Magazine – 10/26/2020: How to Spot a Military Impostor

U.S. Department of Defense – Description of Military Awards for Valor – Top 3

Official military photo of David Lindsay taken in 1963.









Charlie Cunningham purchased the medals Lindsay claimed to have earned as a military hero.
On display are the military hero emblems and insignia Lindsay claimed to have been awarded.










To learn more about stolen valor, check out FBI Retired Case File Review Episode 220: Mark Sewell – Stolen Valor, Military Imposters.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.


  1. Steve GrimaldiJanuary 4, 2023

    Great interview Jerri. Charlie and I were FOAs together in Albany Division. I enjoyed working with Charlie and following his very successful career. Great agent, SWAT team member and friend. Fascinating to hear Charlie tell of the David Lindsay investigation. Can’t wait to read the book. And what a great movie this would make! Congratulations Charlie on reaching full retirement and to my old Albany Division friend Andy Vickery congratulations on your 37 year career with the FBI! You did good too!

  2. AnniAugust 2, 2022

    Thailand? Wonder if Mr Cunningham is doing anything to stop the child prostitution that is prevalent there. If he isn’t, I would wonder why not?

    1. Jerri WilliamsAugust 3, 2022

      I agree, child sexual exploitation must be stopped by law enforcement and social service personnel currently working in the field. Charlie Cunningham is retired after serving his country as an FBI agent for many years.

    2. LenJuly 19, 2023

      Like Charlie said he is a retired agent plays golf very well I might add has a beautiful wife and does not play around

      1. Jerri WilliamsJuly 22, 2023

        Charlie’s a great guy.

  3. Andy VickeryMarch 2, 2022

    I am glad that Charile did good in his Bureau career. He was first office agent in Albany when I spent 35 years in the Albany Division as a Special Clerk/Investigate Analyst before for retiring after 37 years. I worked with Charlie on different investigative matters not knowing that he would become a SAC.

    Charlie, you did good.

    1. Jerri WilliamsMarch 3, 2022

      Andy – Thanks for listening! I’m glad you enjoyed the case review. I spoke to Charlie last night and he told me to tell you hello. He said that you were an important member of the Albany Division, providing leadership and support to all levels of office personnel throughout your long career. Sounds like you did good too.

  4. joeFebruary 17, 2022

    I am now. 32 years later. Very proud that. I spoke to Charlie. And he contacted me. That I testified. Against him I also believe that. I had a good part. In sending him. Where he should have been? He showed me the medals. With paperwork. Time after time. As me and him. Would use. Cocaine and party together. He would also show them off. With people friends. And relatives there were also. Honorable soldiers. And I can’t believe. That at the time. 30 plus years ago. Then I used to stick up for him. Because I saw them with my own eyes. The medals that is. He was an extremely. Well, with a loss of words for it. Very scary. To say the least. Thanks again Charlie. And thank you, Jerri, for doing this interview with him.

    1. Jerri WilliamsFebruary 17, 2022

      Joe, thanks for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed the episode. You were very brave to cooperate and testify.

  5. Hanna MartinFebruary 15, 2022

    Yes, my jaw was dropped, too. I have watched some crime show episodes about a con man who impersonates retired military or law enforcement personnel. But this episode was totally different. I never guess he created his own DD-214 with bunch of false citations. Just unbelievable. Thank you for sharing another interesting episode.

    1. Jerri WilliamsFebruary 15, 2022

      Thanks for listening! This case review would make a fascinating TV limited series. There’s so much about David Lindsay and his drug trafficking enterprise we didn’t have time to cover.

  6. Stuart EngleFebruary 11, 2022

    Unbelievable, Karma is a bitch. Well done Charlie. You and the Mrs need to a holiday back to Florida then we’ll fly to Edinburgh to hookup with Dave.

    1. Jerri WilliamsFebruary 15, 2022

      Thanks for listening!

  7. Thomas Piatti, CW5 US Army retiredFebruary 10, 2022

    I am glad that I was instrumental in putting this criminal and fraud away. Congrats to Charlie for his perseverance in overcoming the many obstacles in this case.

    1. Jerri WilliamsFebruary 10, 2022

      This was a fascinating case. Thank you for your work ensuring that only those who deserve our gratitude are honored.


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