DHS Official Targeted in Phony Degree Investigation
(THE SMOKING GUN) A high-ranking Homeland Security official who held a top secret security clearance and supervised squads of agents in Los Angeles has been suspended as a federal grand jury probes whether he lied about having a college degree, The Smoking Gun has learned.
The ongoing criminal investigation is targeting Jorge Guzman, a 25-year law enforcement veteran who served as the assistant special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s L.A. branch.
In mid-December, agents executed a search warrant at the 51-year-old Guzman’s office inside a downtown L.A. building. Simultaneously, he was placed on paid administrative leave, and stripped of his firearm, badge, and government vehicle. Correspondence sent to his dhs.gov e-mail address is now returned to the sender marked undeliverable.
Lawyers for Guzman, pictured at right, contend that he graduated from a California community college and has provided federal officials with copies of an authentic diploma. In a recent court filing, Guzman’s counsel stated that their client’s “name and reputation are being ruined by a false allegation” and shoddy sleuthing.
Whatever the investigation’s outcome, it will likely prove deeply embarrassing to Homeland Security officials. Either a high-ranking ICE supervisor was able to move up the law enforcement ladder while repeatedly lying about his educational history, or an experienced agent was wrongly accused by peers whose botched probe effectively torpedoed his career.
Triggered by an anonymous tip that Guzman “has lied throughout his career that he has a college degree,” ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation late last year. In employment applications and background check documents, Guzman has reported receiving an Associate of Arts degree from Sacramento City College in January 1986, shortly before his hiring as a Border Patrol agent.
After a review of personnel records and school transcripts, and an interview with a college admissions supervisor, agents concluded that there was probable cause to believe that Guzman had lied about earning a degree from the two-year college, which he attended between 1978-1986. And that he had provided superiors with a bogus diploma.
So agents applied for, and received, permission to search Guzman’s office for a “replication of a diploma from Sacramento City College” and any items “evidencing the creation, procurement, possession and transmission” of the diploma. Though that search was conducted on December 10–the date Guzman was placed on leave–details of the DHS probe have not been previously disclosed.
“In order to search discreetly the office of a high-ranking ICE official,” government lawyers reported that agents enlisted the assistance of a higher-ranking DHS official. When told of the allegation against him, “Guzman became emotionally upset,” according to a court filing by Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis. The prosecutor added that, “After composing himself,” Guzman voluntarily retrieved the “purported diploma” from his government-owned vehicle.
The document, Akrotirianakis noted in a recent court declaration, was being “tested for authenticity in a number of ways.”
In a series of blistering U.S. District Court filings, Guzman’s lawyers have criticized the government’s decision to launch a criminal investigation instead of pursuing the matter “through an administrative personnel action.” The grand jury probe is a “witch hunt” and “ridiculous inquiry,” they contend. The government’s “illegal search warrant,” lawyers charge, is filled with “wholly inaccurate characterizations” and “half-truths, at best.”
Before his suspension, Guzman supervised four ICE groups probing human smuggling and trafficking as well as benefit fraud. He has been quoted in newspapers about ICE cases and has appeared on TV programs like CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” He was quoted earlier this month by The Daily in a story about Mexico’s violent drug cartels (Guzman also appears in an accompanying video, which apparently was shot before the raid on his office).
Guzman has previously been the subject of a series of other internal investigations, inquiries that prompted him to file a lawsuit alleging that he was targeted because he is Latino. While admitting no wrongdoing, the Department of Justice in 1999 paid Guzman $400,000 to settle the legal action. (18 pages)