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Archive for May, 2021

Border Patrol Agent, Canine Handler Honored After Dying from COVID-19

Border Patrol Agent Freddie Vasquez. Photo: CBP

By Steve Neavling

A Border Patrol agent and canine handler who died from COVID-19 was honored Wednesday at a funeral Mass in Texas. 

Agent Freddie Vasquez, 43, was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator in February after authorities say he was infected with the coronavirus while on the job. The CBP determined he died in the line of duty.

“Today, we will lay to rest our friend and brother, Border Patrol Agent Freddie Vasquez,” El Paso Border Patrol Chief Gloria I. Chavez said in a tweet. “We will never forget the impact you have made on our lives, and we will honor your legacy always.  We will miss you Freddie.  Honor First.”

Vasquez, who worked for CBP for nearly 19 years, was given full honors at San Lorenzo Catholic Church in Clint, Texas. 

Vasquez is survived by a wife, three children, two brothers and both parents. 

Last month, his wife Inez Vasquez said she encouraged her husband to get vaccinated but he didn’t follow through. 

“I am left to wonder if he had obtained the vaccine, would he have been left like this, would it have been as severe?” Vasquez, 44, a registered nurse, told The San Diego Union.

CBP Seized More Fentanyl So Far This Year Than All of 2020

Fentanyl found stuffed inside burritos in April. Photo: CBP.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized more fentanyl in the first few months of 2021 than in all of 2020. 

As of last month, CBP seized nearly 6,500 pounds of fentanyl, ABC News reports.

By comparisonthe federal agency seized 4,776 pounds of fentanyl last year. 

“CBP’s Office of Field Operations has seen a slight increase in narcotic seizures at its southern border ports of entry in fiscal year 2021,” an agency spokesman told ABC News.

“As cross-border travel shifted to essential-travel only, criminal organizations shifted their operations as well. CBP has seen an increase in seizures amongst U.S. citizens and in the commercial environment as both demographics are exempt from the travel restrictions.”

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to Dr. Darien Sutton, an emergency medicine physician based in Los Angeles and ABC News contributor.

“People don’t realize how dangerous it is,” he said.

FBI Probes Possible Illegal Donations to Sen. Collins’ Campaign

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Photo: U.S. Senate.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI is investigating whether a defense company made illegal campaign contributions to the 2020 reelection campaign of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. 

An unsealed search warrant reveals the FBI is focused on $150,000 in donations from Navatek, a Hawaii defense contractor that has been renamed Martin Defense Group, Axios first reported.

With the help of Collins, Navatek received an $8 million Navy contract before a bulk of the donations poured in. 

According to a court affidavit, Former Navatek CEO Martin Kao used a shell company to donate $150,000 and reimburse family members for smaller contributions. 

Kao was indicted last year on charges of bilking the federal government out of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief aid intended for small businesses. 

“The Collins for Senator Campaign had absolutely no knowledge of anything alleged in the warrant,” Collins spokesperson Annie Clark told Axios.

Maskless DOJ Employees Won’t Have to Prove Vaccination Status, Memo Says

Justice Department employees won’t have to prove they were vaccinated if they decide to enter the agency’s buildings without a mask. 

In a memo obtained by The Hill, managers were instructed not to ask employees about their vaccination status.

The memo comes just after vaccinated federal employees were given permission to go inside the agency’s buildings without a mask following new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Supervisors and managers should not ask about an employee’s vaccination status or use information about an employee’s vaccination status to make decisions about how and when employees will report to a workplace instead of teleworking,” the DOJ told employees in a Friday email. 

The new policy is in stark contrast to the DOJ’s guidance in February that gave employers permission to inquire about their employees’ vaccination status. 

The email on Friday said employees have the option to continue wearing masks. 

“As we go forward, we ask everyone to respect the wishes of our colleagues and visitors and ensure that anyone who chooses to continue wearing a mask while in department buildings and facilities may continue to do so without interference,” DOJ said. 

Ex-CBP Officer Admits Smuggling Her Undocumented Housekeeper into U.S.

By Steve Neavling

A former CBP officer accused of smuggling her undocumented housekeeper into Texas from Mexico has pleaded guilty as part of an agreement with prosecutors. 

Rhonda Lee Walker, who was stationed at the Laredo Point of Entry, agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to bring her housekeeper into the U.S. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dismissed felony counts of illegally transporting the woman into the country and lying to investigators. 

“Walker intended for the woman to illegally enter the country and work for her as a housekeeper and nanny,” acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery said in a statement. “Walker also lied to authorities. She falsely stated Trevino was her biological aunt and denied processing her entry or employing her in her home.”

The investigation, which included nine months of surveillance, began in June 2020 with an anonymous tip to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). The tipster said Walker was employing a live-in caretaker who was not authorized to live or work in the country. 

Surveillance video showed Walker escorting Mexican citizen Yadira Yesenia Trevino-SanMaguel across a pedestrian bridge between the U.S. and Mexico and then walking her through the inspection area, when she scanned in her caretaker’s nonimmigrant visa using a co-worker’s login, according to the OPR complaint. 

In an interrogation, Trevino-SanMaguel admitted she was working for Walker as a caretaker. 

Deputy U.S. Marshal Indicted Following ‘Rape Fantasy’ Plot Against Ex-Girlfriend

By Steve Neavling

A deputy U.S. Marshal has been indicted on charges of cyberstalking and perjury after allegedly plotting a bizarre scheme with his then-wife to frame his ex-girlfriend for crimes she did not commit. 

Ian R. Diaz, 43, of Brea, Calif., was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on numerous charges, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Diaz and his then-wife Angela Maria Diaz are accused of creating  fake Craigslist accounts using his ex-girlfriend’s name. Using the accounts, they allegedly told men to engage in a “rape fantasy” with his then-wife. 

The plan was to make it look like his ex-girlfriend was trying to lure men to his house to rape his wife, the indictment alleges

After staging “one or more hoax sexual assaults,” the couple reported to police that Diaz’ ex-girlfriend was to blame. 

“Diaz and his then-wife then reported this conduct to local law enforcement, falsely claiming that [Diaz’ ex-girlfriend] posed a genuine and serious threat to Diaz and his then-wife,” the news release said.

It worked – at first. His ex-girlfriend was arrested and held in jail for nearly three months. 

But at some point, federal investigators realized it was all a ruse, and Diaz’s ex-girlfriend was exonerated. 

It’s unclear why it took so long to charge Diaz. 

TSA Not Adequately Staffed to Handle Pipeline Security, Critics Say After Ransomeware Attack

In the aftermath of the ransomeware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, critics say the Transportation Security Administration is not adequately staffed to protect the 2.7 million miles of pipeline in the U.S. 

The TSA has nearly 50,000 officers devoted to airports, but only 34 staff positions to oversee pipelines and cybersecurity, ABC News reports. 

“I don’t think they have really the personnel or the expertise to do the job right now,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., told ABC News. “We absolutely need more oversight on pipeline security and other areas of critical infrastructure.”

Kiersten Todt, managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, went even further. 

“I don’t think that TSA should be responsible for the cybersecurity of the pipelines,” she told ABC News.

For now, House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member John Katko said the TSA should continue overseeing pipeline security. 

“Right now, we need to focus on building existing capabilities and resources while ensuring federal roles and responsibilities are clear,” Katko said in a statement.

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