A former Department of Homeland Security supervisor was convicted Friday of lying to the FBI about passing confidential information from law enforcement databases to a pair of men who ended up using the data to scam more than 100 immigrants.
The verdict against Johnny Martin, 60, of Chula Vista followed a three-day trial and 11 hours of deliberation in federal court in San Diego.
The FBI was already investigating the immigration scheme when agents stumbled on Martin’s leaks.
Hardev Panesar and Rafael Hastie had been running a scam that promised immigrants valid green cards if they paid exorbitant fees and went through side channels. Panesar and Hastie posed as Homeland Security agents as part of the ruse, extorting millions of dollars from victims hoping to secure legal status in the U.S.
The two were able to appear as legitimate agents by showing the victims personally identifiable information, immigration records and criminal history gleaned from the government databases, authorities said.
During the investigation, FBI agents found confidential information from government sources in Panesar’s email inbox, prosecutors said. The evidence led to Martin.
When Martin was interviewed by the FBI, he denied sending the information to Hastie, prosecutors said.
In a declaration filed in court, Martin admitted to running record checks for Hastie but said that he thought Hastie was an immigration consultant and attorney in Mexico, and that he believed the inquiries were for legitimate immigration applications and benefits.
Martin accused the government of pursuing a vindictive prosecution.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Martin knew what the information was being used for. Martin worked for Homeland Security for about 30 years before retiring in 2016.
“This immigration scam was successful, in part, because a government official betrayed his badge and then lied about it,” U.S. Atty. Robert Brewer said in a statement. “No one, including members of the law enforcement community, is above the law.”
Panesar and Hastie have pleaded guilty. Panesar is set to be sentenced next week; Hastie was sentenced to 46 months in custody and a restitution order of more than $942,000. A third defendant, Gurdev Singh, also pleaded guilty.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.