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Former Homeland Security Investigations agent accused of stealing drug money

A former U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agent is accused of using his position to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from drug-money couriers and laundering the dirty money through real estate transactions in American and Croatian banks, according to a federal indictment filed in San Diego.

Tyrone Cedric Duren, 46, faces money laundering charges along with his wife, Jennifer Lynn Duren, 45, as well as charges of bank fraud conspiracy, making false statements to federal agents and structuring financial transactions.

The grand jury indictment, filed last week, does not specify how much Duren is suspected of stealing, although the U.S. attorney’s office is asking the couple to forfeit $2 million, along with their home in Bonsall, east of Oceanside.

The couple were arrested Nov. 30 at Los Angeles International Airport as they returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand.

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The case is being tried by a federal prosecutor from Arizona to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Court documents portray a law enforcement officer with financial problems who — without explanation — suddenly became flush with cash, depositing the riches into numerous banks, remodeling his home and vacationing around the world.

“The evidence obtained during the investigation and detailed in the complaint paints Duren as an intelligent but deceitful person, sophisticated in the art of concealing assets and engages in international travel to hide assets,” Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin Rapp wrote in a motion arguing for Duren’s detention. “He has used his position as a law enforcement agent for illegal financial gain to support himself and family with a lavish lifestyle.”

A judge last week granted bail for Duren. His wife was released earlier on $50,000 bail.

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They have pleaded not guilty.

Jennifer Duren’s attorney, Hamilton Arendsen, declined to discuss the case. Duren’s attorney did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.

Tyrone Duren was a California Highway Patrol officer from 2002 to 2007 and became a Homeland Security Investigations special agent in 2008. Along with the new job came a $31,000 pay cut.

Duren was assigned to the Bulk Cash Smuggling Task Force, targeting drug trafficking organizations that smuggle illicit proceeds back to Mexico.

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Over five years, records show Duren was involved in more than 40 cash seizures totaling $20 million, authorities said.

But investigators suspect Duren instigated other seizures of his own.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General was first tipped in September 2013 with a report that Duren was involved in money laundering, tax evasion and other financial fraud in connection with a property management business he co-owned in Philadelphia, according to the complaint.

The business, Granite Hill Properties, rents homes and rooms to tenants, including those who receive financial aid through state and federal programs. Duren’s wife works as a bookkeeper for the business.

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The Inspector General received a second complaint in October 2013 that Duren had months earlier stolen an estimated $440,000 in drug proceeds during an off-the-books traffic stop near San Ysidro, according to the complaint.

The driver of the van mentioned in the complaint said that Duren walked up to his window and said: “I smell something. I know there is something. It better not be guns, because there is nothing I can do about that, but if it is money I can write some paperwork and let you go.”

Duren handcuffed the driver and passenger and put them in his SUV, then retrieved the tracker. He asked the van driver to make a phone call for instructions on how to open the roof compartment.

When it was opened, Duren removed bags of cash and told the driver to meet him at a nearby Bank of America. In the parking lot, Duren photographed the driver, scanned his fingerprint and told him to tell his boss he was stopped by the California Highway Patrol.

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Surveillance video at the bank and at the border, along with computer and cellphone evidence, confirmed parts of the driver’s story, the complaint states.

Duren was interviewed by federal agents in September 2014 and denied the accusations.

When asked about his financial situation, Duren said in the interview he was a millionaire.

“I do this job because I like it,” he said.

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Agents served search warrants at Duren’s home, in his government vehicle and on his cellphones, and he was placed on administrative leave. He resigned from Homeland Security on March 15, 2015.

The investigation includes records of numerous bank deposits, including the time Duren brought $70,000 in $100 bills wrapped with rubber bands in a backpack and deposited it in a Union Bank. From 2012 to 2014, he and his wife deposited $1.27 million in cash and cashier’s checks into various bank accounts, the complaint states.

Duren’s international travel also raised suspicions. From January 2012 to October 2013, he made several trips, including to Canada, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Russia and European nations. He had $7,000 cash on him when searched by Canadian border security. Documents also show he and his wife opened bank accounts and credit cards in Croatia and that Duren opened an LLC there for the purposes of buying and selling real estate.

The couple are also accused of bank fraud in connection with real estate transactions, including submitting false information on loan documents. The couple owns some 30 properties, according to a search warrant.

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kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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