A former chief of intelligence for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pleaded guilty today to embezzlement charges stemming from a travel voucher fraud and kickback scheme that has cost the government more than $600,000.
James M. Woosley, 48, formerly of Tucson, Ariz., pleaded guilty to a charge of conversion of public money, or embezzlement, for his role in defrauding the government of more than $188,000, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. He faces a likely sentence of 18 to 27 months in prison on top of a potential fine of up to $50,000. He also agreed to forfeit the money he embezzled. Sentencing is scheduled for July 13.
Woosley is the fifth former employee – and highest-ranking official – to plead guilty for his involvement in the scheme, which ran from roughly May 2008 to February 2011. The ploy entailed submitting fraudulent travel voucher claims for hotel stays and car rentals, false time and attendance forms, and other expenses.
Woosley “abused his sensitive position of trust to fleece the government by submitting phony paperwork for and taking kickbacks from subordinates who were also on the take,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a statement, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
William C. Brennan Jr., Woosley’s attorney, declined to comment.
Woosley was the acting director of intelligence for the agency until February 2011, when he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which was handled by the Homeland Security Department Office of Inspector General, the FBI and his former agency’s internal affairs unit.
Over his career, which spanned about 28 years, Woosley held various posts, including assignments in Washington, Tucson, Ariz., and Los Angeles. He was the assistant regional director for the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service in Laguna Niguel, Calif., and was stationed in attaché offices in South and Central America. He was named acting director of the intelligence office in 2009.
The other employees include Woosley’s assistant, Lateisha Rollerson, who pleaded guilty in March to a similar charge, according to court records. Rollerson, 38, of Bowie, Md., also faces a likely sentence of one to two years in prison. She also agreed to forfeit $295,866. Her sentencing date is set for June 7.
The other three convicted employees are also all former intelligence workers, one of whom was working as a contractor. Ahmed Adil Abdallat, 64, a former ICE supervisory intelligence research specialist, was sentenced in January in El Paso, Texas to a year and a day in prison and was ordered to pay restitution of $116,392.84. William J. Korn, 53, a former intelligence research specialist, pleaded guilty in December. Stephen E. Henderson, 61, a former ICE contractor, pleaded guilty in January. Henderson and Korn both are scheduled to be sentenced later this month in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Two other employees, including one of Woosley’s two sons, have also been mentioned – but not named – in court documents. The unnamed employee was a contractor from Oklahoma who has not been not charged.
The other convicted employees sent money to Woosley and Rollerson in various ways. They made payments on Woosley’s mortgage. Henderson kicked back $5,000 of government funds to help Woosley pay for a private boat. The unnamed contractor also gave Woosley nearly $16,000 that he used for a real estate investment. The kickbacks to Woosley and Rollerson totaled more than $100,000, according to the statement.
Rollerson also created at least two companies, registered in Florida and elsewhere, that received kickbacks from two of the convicted employees, interviews and records show.
Woosley met Rollerson in 2007 and “developed a close, personal relationship” with her, according to court records, and they eventually lived together in Virginia. Rollerson asked Woosley to get her a job at the agency, and he suggested she first get a contract job, court records show.
In May 2008, after Woosley had another subordinate edit Rollerson’s resume, she was hired to work as a contract intelligence reports writer. She joined the agency in December 2008, first working in Woosley’s chain of command and then directly reported to him as his personal assistant starting in February 2009, court records show.
The travel voucher scheme began in June 2008 when Henderson asked Rollerson to help him with a new system for submitting travel voucher claims and receipts for reimbursement. She began to create fraudulent hotel receipts for Henderson. Over drinks at a restaurant with Woosley, Rollerson and Henderson laughed about what they were doing, according to a statement of offense court filing. Woosley asked Rollerson what they were doing, but then said he did not want to know.
Woosley submitted or approved 13 fraudulent travel vouchers, totaling $50,637, all but one of which Rollerson created, as well as fake records to support the expenses, according to the statement. Rollerson also traveled with Woosley on the trips, . He also submitted false claims showing he worked during trips he never took, which cost another $27,230.
The investigation, which became public in February 2011, shook the ICE intelligence office and spurred a top-to-bottom internal review, new office leadership and added training. The office has about 450 employees and an $81.5 million budget this year.