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Former Homeland Security supervisor convicted in green card scam case

By KRISTINA DAVIS | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: October 5, 2019

SAN DIEGO — 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 San Diego federal court.

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 both posed as DHS 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 producing to the victims a mix of the victims’ personally identifiable information, immigration 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 argued that he did admit to running record checks for Hastie. He said he thought Hastie was an immigration consultant and attorney in Mexico, and 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 Marin knew what the information was being used for. Martin worked for DHS 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. Attorney Robert Brewer said in a statement. “No one, including members of the law enforcement community, is above the law.”

Both Panesar and Hastie have pleaded guilty. Panesar is set to be sentenced next week, while Hastie received 46 months in custody and a restitution order of more than $942,000. A third defendant, Gurdev Singh, also pleaded guilty.

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