Department of Homeland Security’s untouchables: shielded by the badge

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A woman from South Korea is enslaved by the owner of a bar in Queens, New York. As it typically happens in cases of human sex trafficking, the captor takes away the victim’s passport and forces her into prostitution. Terrified, the woman attempts to escape her grim predicament. The bar owner involves two goons to intimidate his prey into submission. One of them speaks Korean, which enables co-conspirators to threaten the captive in her native language. To punish the woman for refusing to prostitute herself, they threaten her with deportation and incarceration in her home country. Taking their threats one step further, the perpetrators shove her into a taxicab and claim that she is being taken to the airport to get deported. Desperate to get away from her tormentors, the woman makes a daring move and escapes.

The criminal plot is finally uncovered. The victim’s passport is found at the residence of Goon No. 1, who is identified as a Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBPO). Goon No. 2 is a Federal Air Marshal (FAM). CBPO pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 120 months confinement and 5 years supervised release. The FAM also pleaded guilty to deprivation of civil rights and was sentenced to 4 years probation.

The same disturbing trend runs through the myriad of corruption cases involving the Department of Homeland Security’s employees. Crime doesn’t match the punishment that any civilian would face if they were to commit the same offenses. Here are some astonishing examples:

• CBP technician Thomas Chapman and his friend Paul Brickman stole a Customs declaration form, filled out by the late Astronaut Neil Armstrong. They’ve attempted to sell it at an auction. For stealing and conveying an official record of the United States, the thieves were facing up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. What was the actual sentence? After pleading guilty to Theft of U.S. Government Property, Chapman was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

• TSA Officer wanted to have some fun, so he called in a fake bomb threat at the Columbus Regional Airport on May 6, 2009, where he was employed. On November 17, 2009, the TSO was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

• Transportation Security Administration manager Bryant Jermaine Livingston had an interesting hobby: he was running a prostitution ring out of a Crowne Plaza Hotel in Maryland. Responding to a hotel manager’s complaint about a man who often invited large groups of people into his room, police went in to take a look. Livingston opened the door and proudly introduced himself as the Department of Homeland Security manager, handing the officers his TSA business card. Glancing into the room, police officers observed 11 subjects (male and female), many of whom were naked and trying to get dressed in a hurry. It was later uncovered that males would routinely pay Livingston $100 dollars to enter the room and cavort with the prostitutes he was pimping out. Livingston was charged with four counts of general prostitution. He pleaded guilty, received no prison time and was ordered to pay a $500 dollar fine.

• ICE Agent Taryn Johnston figured out a nifty way to make a living without having to show up to work. All it took is being married to Frank Johnston, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Los Angeles. Taryn Johnson received approximately $582,000 in salary and benefits from ICE and its predecessor agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, essentially as a gift from the government. She was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators, sentenced to 30 days in federal prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

• U.S. Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Moreno brutally assaulted a Mexican national who was in his custody. Moreno admitted that while he was walking the man through the processing center, he struck him in the stomach with a baton, threw him to the ground, kicked and punched him for no reason whatsoever. The victim suffered severe bodily injuries. Moreno pleaded guilty to a federal criminal civil rights charge, facing 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Outrageously, he won’t serve any time in prison. Moreno was sentenced to 12 months supervised release, 4 months under house arrest and was ordered to pay a miserly restitution of $1,392.25 towards his victim’s medical expenses.

• Jovana Deas, a former special agent with ICE Homeland Security Investigations, ran queries in law enforcement databases, as requested by her sister in Mexico, Dana Maria Samaniego Montes, who had direct ties to violent drug cartels. One of the people Deas looked up using her work computer was later assassinated in Juarez, Mexico, after she provided her sister with the man’s photo and other information. Prosecutor said that Deas may have caused the man’s murder. A copy of the photo was later discovered in the computer of sister’s ex-husband, Miguel Angel Mendoza Estrada, during a drug-trafficking investigation in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Deas pleaded guilty to a 21-count indictment. Instead of spending decades in prison, Deas received a short 2.5-year sentence.

• Border Patrol agent Teofilo Rodarte stole a woman’s purse and used her credit cards to buy $231 in merchandise at Walmart. He was charged with fraudulent schemes and artifices, three counts of computer tampering, third-degree burglary, two counts of identity theft, three counts of forgery and three counts of theft. Rodarte was sentenced to 3 years of probation.

• An ICE Special Agent covertly imported banned steroids from China for illegal distribution in the U.S. He pleaded guilty to one count of importation of controlled substances and was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

• CBP Officer Manuel Salazar, an 8-year veteran who was assigned to the Pharr, Texas, Port of Entry, allowed drug smugglers to transport 1,700 pounds of marijuana through his inspection lane in exchange for a bribe of $10,000 dollars. During the course of investigation, Salazar lied to investigators under oath. He was subsequently convicted of providing materially false statements to investigators and accepting bribes. Salazar was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

• Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer of ICE in Detroit, Michigan decided to single-handedly solve the burglary of a relative’s residence. He kidnapped a man at gunpoint, forcing him into a government-owned vehicle. The ICE officer drove the man to an abandoned house, where he pistol-whipped the victim with his duty weapon. The man was able to escape after the officer fired one round from his duty weapon to intimidate him. On May 25, 2009, the same officer approached another man, threw him to the ground and threatened him at gun point. This ICE Supervisor was convicted in September 2009 for Unlawful Imprisonment; Felonious Assault; and Felony Firearm Possession. He was sentenced to 48 months incarceration and was ordered to pay a $600 fine.

• A CBP Officer was caught red-handed, acting as a “lookout” for a drug trafficker who was transporting narcotics from New York to Cleveland, OH. He also transported the proceeds of illicit drug sales back to New York and was paid $15,000 by the trafficker. The CBP Officer pleaded guilty to distributing and possessing narcotics and was sentenced to 36 months of probation.

• CBP Officer Tori Ferrari (Detroit, MI), pleaded guilty to altering an immigration document. He falsified the status of an Iranian national (Iran is on an official list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” designated by the State Department) by forging an F-1 visa into an F-2 visa. Ferrari was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation.

• Border Patrol Agent (BPA) in Wilcox, AZ, punched a fellow BPA, then pulled his loaded service weapon and pointed it at the victim’s head. Playing their own version of “Fashion Police”, the victim ridiculed the offender’s attire. The BPA was convicted and sentenced to time served (which means that he would not serve any prison time after the sentencing).

• TSA Officer Elliot Iglesias worked at the Orlando, FL, International Airport. Over a three year period, he had stolen more than 80 laptop computers and other electronic devices, valued at $80,000, from passenger luggage. Iglesias admitted that he fenced the items in Osceola County, FL. He pleaded guilty to Federal charges of embezzlement and theft and was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

• FPS Program Analyst entered into a sham marriage that gained unwarranted immigration benefits for his “wife”. He was convicted and sentenced to 12 months of probation and 4 months of home detention.

• A Department of Defense Contract Employee had obtained a Top Secret security clearance, based on her fraudulently obtained immigration status. She pleaded guilty to Immigration Fraud and was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation.

• Two Department of State contract employees illegally obtained valid immigration documents and sold them for cash. One pleaded guilty to procuring citizenship unlawfully and was sentenced to 36 months probation. His accomplice, who at one time held a Secret-level security clearance, pleaded guilty to fraud and procuring citizenship unlawfully. He was also sentenced to 36 months of probation.

• USCG Auxiliary Member used government fleet credit cards to buy gasoline that he gave to a drug dealer in exchange for cocaine. He also used government fleet cards to purchase gasoline for himself, his friends, and family. He was sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised release.

• DHS Security Specialist William Thorpe (Washington, DC), received over $200,000 from Total Security Products, as kickbacks for contract-rigging. This company was identified as the lowest bidder on a $100,000 DHS security contract. Thorpe pleaded guilty to improperly providing internal DHS documents to a company that was competing for a government contract. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation.

• Pawnshop owner reported a number of laptop computers with DHS property stickers being sold to his store. A DHS Information Technology contractor had stolen more than $8,000 worth of DHS computers and sold them to various pawnshops in Maryland. DHS may not have even noticed that its laptops were missing. According to an OIG report, the agency doesn’t keep an accurate inventory of its laptops containing classified data. In this particular instance, the DHS contractor pleaded guilty to theft of government property and was sentenced to 12 months of probation and $650 in restitution.

• ICE Deportation Officer in Chicago, Illinois, accepted bribes for destroying the U.S. immigration “A” files of two deportable Iraqi alien nationals and preventing their deportation (Iraq is on the State Department’s list of Special Interest Countries with terrorist ties). He also fraudulently issued an Alien Documentation, Identification, and Telecommunication stamp to another deportable alien and arranged an illegal release of an alien in ICE custody. The ICE Officer was charged with one count of Obstruction, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a term of 3 months incarceration and 24 months probation.

• Eric Higgins, CBP Officer at Port Huron, Michigan, used the Internet to communicate sexually explicit messages to underage girls and viewed child pornography on his laptop computer. Search of his laptop computer by the United States Secret Service turned up over 40 images previously identified as child pornography by the National Association for Missing and Exploited Children. On August 31, 2010, Higgins pleaded guilty in Federal Court, Eastern District of Michigan, for violations of Possession of Child Pornography. This crime is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Higgins was sentenced to 1 year and 8 months in prison.

• TSA Officer and a Delta Airlines baggage handler were arrested for stealing items from checked luggage. Both offenders were sentenced in May 2010 to 45 days confinement and 60 months probation.

• An ICE Special Agent and two CBP Officers in Tucson, Arizona conspired with two employees of a local car repair garage to scam the government by using DHS fleet cards. They’ve cooked up fraudulent invoices totaling over $55,479, which was then shared amongst co-conspirators. On March 12, 2010, in the District of Arizona, one of the CBP officers was sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and 36 months of supervised release, and was ordered to pay $37,525 restitution. The ICE Special Agent was sentenced to 60 months probation and $6,613 restitution, and the other CBP officer was sentenced to 60 months probation and ordered to pay $6,531 restitution.

• A CBP Officer working at the Houston International Airport in Texas was covertly providing information from a law enforcement database to an individual under investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The CBP Officer also ran queries in government databases for the names of his accomplices’ friends, family and other partners in criminal activities. On October 13, 2009 the CBP Officer was sentenced to 36 months probation and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.

• Background investigator for DHS was caught inventing falsified interviews of persons associated with the background investigations he was supposed to conduct on applicants for employment with the CBP. On May 25, 2010, he pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Michigan and was sentenced to 12 months probation.

• CBP Officer assigned to Field Operations in Tucson, Arizona, misused his official position by running queries in law enforcement and other government databases to obtain information about a person he was suing in a civil case. He was charged with three counts of misdemeanor Misuse of Government Computers. The Officer pleaded guilty and on February 1, 2010, was sentenced in the U.S. District Court of Arizona to 3 years of probation and a fine of $3,000.

• CBPO at a Port of Entry in San Ysidro, California, was assisting a known alien and drug smuggling organization. He had accepted cash bribes from the smuggling organization for allowing vehicles loaded with marijuana and/or illegal aliens to enter the U.S. without inspection. The CBPO laundered his bribe money through a front business and paid bribes of $15,000 to $20,000 a week to Daphiney Caganap, the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) intelligence unit and anti-smuggling operations at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. She covered up an illegal alien and drug smuggling operation, allowing it to continue for years. When questioned by the FBI, Caganap lied under oath. Even though the government was well aware of Caganap’s bribery, she continued to receive promotions and was appointed as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port Director at the Metro Detroit Airport. After being indicted, Daphiney Caganap was placed on administrative leave (which means that she continued to receive her exorbitant salary, courtesy of American taxpayers). Caganap was facing 36 years in prison. She was sentenced to 3 years of probation and a fine of $3,000. She was allowed to keep all of the bribes she received in the commission of her crimes, as no restitution was ordered.

• U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) District Adjudications Officer (DAO) in San Jose, California was extorting money from immigration applicants, promising to approve citizenship applications for a bribe of $2,000 in cash. The DAO pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 4 years of probation, 100 hours of community service, $3,000 restitution and a $200 fine.

• Immigration Information Officer facilitated the illegal entry of at least 116 aliens from Lebanon and Yemen into U.S. Her scheme included the advance parole of aliens, creation of fictitious alien files and unauthorized approval of applications to replace permanent residence cards. She was charged with alien smuggling, conspiracy and bribery, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 months confinement and 12 months probation.

• USCIS employee was stealing money orders received with immigration applications and altering them to make herself the payee. She pocketed $10,527 dollars as a result of this scheme. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months confinement, but almost all of the sentence was suspended, whereas she served only 45 days in prison. She was ordered to pay $5,137 dollars (only half of the amount she stole) and $100 in court costs.

• ICE Special Agent in Miami, Florida was receiving kickbacks from ICE informants who were paid by the agency for their cooperation. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months probation.

• Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) had been communicating via the Internet with an undercover CBI agent whom he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. The STSO’s communications were sexually explicit and as a special treat, included a photograph of him wearing his TSA uniform, with his genitals exposed. The STSO was arrested and charged with sending harmful matter to a minor. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 1 year confinement and 5 years probation.

• Two Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) at the Honolulu, Hawaii, International Airport were stealing large sums of money from the checked luggage of Japanese tourists. Both TSOs pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to three and a half months intermittent confinement (periodically showing up to prison to serve out the sentence at their convenience).

• A TSO in Phoenix, Arizona, attempted to pass narcotics to a prisoner at the Federal Correctional Facility in Tucson, Arizona. The TSO pleaded guilty to unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, was sentenced to 1 year probation and ordered to pay a special assessment of $25. The federal inmate in the same case was charged with the same crime and sentenced to 8 months incarceration. The disparity in sentencing is quite striking.

• DHS Deputy Press Secretary Brian Doyle was using the Internet to solicit a minor for sexual acts. Doyle sent pornographic materials to a person he believed to be an underage girl, who was really a Florida law enforcement officer. Doyle couldn’t have been more brazen, giving out his title, calling from his DHS office, even sending a photo showing his Department of Homeland Security identity card along with his genitals. Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd said, “It doesn’t come any more hard core. He graphically explained to a 14-year old girl what he would like to do to her and what he would like her to do to him.” This is not the first time Doyle’s lust for pornography landed him in trouble. While working at Time Magazine’s Washington bureau prior to his DHS employment, Doyle was caught looking at pornography on a receptionist’s computer late at night. He admitted to the incident, was reprimanded, and had to issue a formal apology to staffers. Apparently, the DHS wasn’t bothered by this information in conducting their Deputy Press Secretary’s background check. He was charged with 16 counts of transmission of harmful material to a minor and 7 counts of using a computer to seduce a child. Doyle was sentenced to 5 years incarcerationand 10 years probation.

• A United States Secret Service contract employee stole approximately 60 laptop computers from a warehouse at the DHS Headquarters. When interviewed, the contract employee admitted to stealing an estimated 60 computers. He pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government property, was sentenced to 36 months supervised release and directed to pay a $1,000 fine.

The takeaway from all of this – if you’re inclined to be a criminal, join the Department of Homeland Security first. That way, the seriousness of your crimes notwithstanding, you’ll most likely get away with probation and a silly little fine. Those empowered to enforce the law often consider themselves far above it.

Additional sources:

OIG Special Report: Summary of Significant Investigations January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2011

OIG Special Report: Summary of Significant Investigations October 1, 2009 to December 31, 2010

OIG Special Report: Summary of Significant Investigations October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009

Special Report: Summary of Significant Investigations March 1, 2003 – September 30, 2008

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