ICE Agent Unfairly Targeted

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”)  tagged agent Cory Voorhis as a future superstar while still in his 20’s. By the time he was in his mid-30’s, he was running a five-year investigation which led to the arrest of Pedro Castorena whose crime family had for two decades been providing forged documents to Mexican gangs and illegal migrants to help them get into the United States. One of Castorena’s deputies has already been convicted, but the kingpin awaits trial.

In 2006, former Denver district Attorney Bill Ritter, a Democrat, was running against Republican congressman Bob Beauprez to replace Bill Owens as the next Governor of Colorado.  Cory Voorhis saw an article in which Ritter, defending himself against charges by the Beauprez campaign of being weak on prosecuting illegal immigrants, said he was “distressed that federal immigration officials didn’t pick up criminals who were illegal immigrants”, effectively blaming ICE for crimes committed by illegal aliens.

As a senior ICE agent in Colorado, Voorhis was aware of a persistent pattern by Ritter’s office of allowing illegal aliens who were arrested for drug crimes, aggravated felonies, and other “serious crimes involving moral turpitude” to plead guilty to unrelated lesser charges such as “agricultural trespass”, “possession of diazepam”, and “possession of burglary tools”. These plea bargains allowed criminals go free without the type of conviction that could allow ICE to deport them. The behavior continued even after ICE suggested to the DA’s office that the plea bargains were obstructing justice.

Voorhis took action to disprove Ritter’s claims of being “tough on illegal immigrant criminals.” Now the counterattack apparently orchestrated by Ritter and his allies is on the verge of bankrupting Voorhis, ruining his career, and possibly allowing Pedro Castorena to walk away a free man.

In an interview with HUMAN EVENTS, former ICE Senior Special Agent Mike Riebau (35 years on the job) who is heading up a legal defense fund for Voorhis reported that Ritter’s plea-bargain practices had become so well-known that serious criminals who were US citizens (but could pass for Hispanic illegal aliens) would have their lawyers contact ICE to ask for an immigration “detainer” to be put on the criminal.  The lawyer would then go to the DA’s office with that detainer information and use it to get a sweetheart deal for the criminal. Once the lesser plea was taken, the criminal would then inform ICE that he was a US citizen and not under ICE jurisdiction.

Although Voorhis was not political and not particularly interested in the outcome of the gubernatorial election, he believed that Ritter’s behavior as DA posed a “significant threat to public safety”.  He therefore contacted a Beauprez spokesman, John Marshall, and informed him that a search through public records would show this pattern. It is important to note that Voorhis knew only that Marshall was a spokesman for Beauprez, not that he was a campaign operative; Agents deal with congressional staffers routinely as congressmen simply don’t have time to make every call themselves.

After about a month, Marshall got back to Voorhis with a list of suspected illegal aliens who had received these lenient plea bargains. Voorhis looked up these names on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, something he routinely did as part of his job at ICE. Voorhis argues that he looked up the names to see if any of them should be the subject of ICE enforcement at that time.  He gave Marshall the immigration status of the criminals.

One of these names was “Walter Noel Ramo” aka “Carlons Estrada-Medina”. Ramo had been arrested for heroin trafficking and was allowed to plead to “Criminal Trespassing on Agriculture Land”, thus avoiding deportation. Voorhis told Marshall that Ramo had been arrested again in California (publicly-available information) but, to ensure he did not break any rules, Voorhis refused to give further detail, telling Marshall that he would have to use a FOIA request or otherwise search public records for details of the arrest.

The fact that Cory Voorhis did not make any attempt to hide his name or his employer (something that a person with his skill set could easily have done) from Marshall shows Voorhis’ confidence in the legality of his actions. Indeed, Voorhis had good reason to believe that his actions were ethical and legal:

• He had been informed in writing by his superiors that “that unlawful foreign nationals do not enjoy Privacy Act protections…”

• The US Code states that the right of a government employee to furnish information to a member of Congress may not be interfered with or denied. (5 U.S.C. § 7211). 

• Finally, and maybe most importantly, 8 U.S.C. § 1373 says explicitly that no person, law, or rule may prohibit or restrict a government entity or official from receiving the “citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

A group interested in helping Beauprez beat Ritter (a goal which failed miserably in the end), hired a Harris County, Texas investigator to dig further into the Ramo case. The investigator asked a friend who still worked in law enforcement to access the NCIC database, and he did so, telling the investigator that Ramo was arrested in California for a sexual assault on a minor, a fact which the Beauprez campaign learned elsewhere and used in an ad attacking Ritter.
On October 12, 2006, two days after the ad first ran on television, an employee of the Denver district attorney’s office accessed Ramo’s NCIC file without any apparent legitimate reason to do.  Later that same day the counsel to Bill Ritter’s campaign called the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to ask for an investigation.  The head of the CBI, Robert Cantwell, was formerly head of Denver’s police intelligence unit and has a long working relationship with Ritter.

Voorhis was suspended with pay and eventually brought back to limited duty until one year later, October 25, 2007, when a US Attorney in Cheyenne brought 3 misdemeanor charges against Voorhis for “exceeding authorized access” (notably not for disseminating information) at which time Voorhis was suspended without pay. The US Attorney offered Voorhis a plea, but Voorhis refused to plea guilty when he has committed no crime.

Despite the same behavior by at least two other people (and despite the fact that of the three people who accessed Ramo’s NCIC file Voorhis was the only one whose job required such investigation) it is only Voorhis who is being pursued. 

Voorhis’ attorneys have filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges against him arguing selective prosecution, namely that “the Government has singled Voorhis out for investigation and prosecution from similarly situated persons it has chosen not to investigate or charge, in order to prevent or punish Voorhis’s exercise of his First Amendment rights, and derivative statutory and political rights.”

Federal investigators have not formally interviewed the Texas investigator and did not interview Denver DA employees who also accessed NCIC until November, 2007, several weeks after federal misdemeanor charges were filed against Voorhis. According to the Motion to Dismiss, the Texas investigator “agreed to provide his file regarding this search to the Government. Despite having twice made arrangements with the federal agent, the agent never picked up the investigative file, and the Texas Private Investigator had not heard from the Government again as of October 26, 2007.”

Beyond the selective prosecution, the actions of the ICE bureaucracy are very troubling. According to former Senior Special Agent Riebau, other ICE agents who committed serious violations of rules or law were permitted to stay on with pay whereas Voorhis whose actions were not criminal and were aimed at benefiting the public is being targeted, and his family, including two young children, bankrupted.

For example, in 2005, Frank (“Frankie the Fig”) Figueroa, the ICE Special Agent in Charge in Tampa, who ran “Operation Predator” to capture child pornographers and pedophiles was caught on video tape exposing and fondling himself in front of a 16-year old girl in a Tampa mall.  Figueroa was suspended, apparently with pay, and then allowed to retire with his full pension and no conviction on his record. But that’s not a big surprise for an agent with friends in high enough places to get him badge number 007. 

The veracity of the Ramo story has never been challenged.  And it bears repeating that Ritter’s response to true information which Voorhis helped make public may let Pedro Castorena — whose organization provided forged documents to members of notorious Mexican gangs enabling them entry into the US —  go free. According to Senior Special Agent Riebau who has been involved in dozens of major cases, since Voorhis ran the operation against Castorena including being the contact for the key informant,  the success or failure of Castorena’s prosecution will likely be determined by the presence or absence of Voorhis’ testimony and the ability of the defense to impeach his credibility if he does testify.  That credibility is only maintained by the court dismissing all charges and by ICE reinstating Voorhis.

Voorhis is not just the regular agent, but an exceptional agent. He followed written guidance from his superiors and broken no law but is being politically prosecuted by Bill Ritter’s allies for pointing out how Ritter, while serving as Denver’s District Attorney, obstructed ICE from deporting illegal alien criminals.

The good news is that this will likely be a political disaster for Ritter despite his ability to blunt its impact in 2006. The bad news is that it may cost a good man everything he’s worked for and cost the country an exceptional agent and the conviction of an illegal immigration kingpin.

A court hearing on the Motion to Dismiss and other motions is scheduled for January 14th, 2008, at 10 AM in the US District Court in Denver, with an 8-day jury trial currently set to start on February 11th.

You can learn more about Cory Voorhis’ case here.