ICE Agent Jovana Samaniego Deas Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Leaking Info to Relatives with Connections to Mexican Drug Cartels

ICE Officer Jovana Samaniego Deas was sentenced on Friday to 30 months in prison for passing confidential information to her relatives, a sister (Dana Maria Samaniego Montes) who is a corrupt Mexican law officer and another relative (Miguel Angel Mendoza Estrada) associated with the Mexican drug cartels.  It is also suspected (but not proven) that information she provided was used in an execution-style slaying (Pedro Chavez-Sagredo) in Ciudad Juárez and the she might have passed on a list of up to 30 ICE informants.

For the best coverage to date, I’d suggest you start by reading yesterday’s AZ Starnet article (Homeland Security agent in Nogales, accused of helping cartels, gets 2.5 years).

Phoenix New Times:  ICE Agent Accused of Leaking Sensitive Information to Family Members With Ties to Drug Cartels (June 15 2011)

A Nogales-based Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent was arrested yesterday for allegedly handing over sensitive government documents to family members with “strong” ties to drug cartels.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jovana Samaniego Deas, 33, a special agent with the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, illegally accessed, stole, and transferred sensitive U.S. government documents to family members with known ties to the cartels.

In all, Deas is charged with computer fraud, theft of government records, and making false statements/entries.

Nogales International:  Nogales ICE agent charged with corruption  (June 16 2011)

A Nogales-based immigration agent has been arrested and charged with illegally accessing, stealing and transferring sensitive U.S. government documents to family members and associates in Mexico with alleged ties to drug trafficking organizations.

Jovana Samaniego Deas, 33, of Rio Rico, is charged with computer fraud, theft of government records and making false statements/entries in a 12-count federal indictment issued April 28 by U.S. District Court in Tucson. Three of the counts include felony violations, each punishable by up to five years in prison.

One count of the indictment accuses Deas of logging into a federal database and viewing records on a cousin in Agua Prieta, Sonora who had been busted by the Border Patrol for marijuana smuggling. Another says she illegally accessed visa information on a sister-in-law and niece.

The indictment also alleges that Deas looked up sensitive records of a man from Ciudad Juarez with a criminal past, and that records belonging to the same man were later discovered on Deas’ brother-in-law’s laptop while he was in Brazil.

Prosecutors also allege that on June 1, 2010, Deas looked up a Mexican man in a federal database and learned that he was not the subject of any active investigations. Shortly thereafter, the man drove into the United States through the Naco port of entry in a truck registered in Chihuahua to Deas’ ex-brother-in-law and with Deas’ sister as his passenger.  The man had no prior crossings with Deas’ sister or in her ex-brother-in-law’s truck prior to that date, the indictment says, though it does not suggest any nefarious purpose for the crossing.

Phoenix New Times:  Mexican Smugglers Exploit the Corrupt Reputation of U.S. Border Officers (Dec 1 2011)

In June, Jovana Samaniego Deas, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was charged in federal court with stealing documents from an investigative database for family and friends with ties to drug cartels in Mexico.

ICE Agent Jovana Deas, 33, who was indicted in September, started her government career in 2003 as a Border Patrol officer in Nogales. She became an ICE special agent for the Homeland Security Investigation unit in 2008 and apparently didn’t waste any time before using her position to “illegally help family members south of the border with ties to drug-trafficking organizations,” federal officials said at the time of her arrest in June.

Investigators believe she started stealing information in July 2008 and continued until she was caught in April 2011. She periodically checked to see whether certain individuals were under investigation, and when they were, she copied all available files — including reports detailing cases law enforcement officials were building against them — and arranged for delivery of the privileged information to the suspects.

Deas‘ scheme started to unravel in February after she made repeated unauthorized inquiries about one of her sister’s friends — a man under investigation from Agua Prieta in Mexico.

The agent heading the investigation was alerted by the agency’s computer system that Deas was electronically rifling through the suspect’s case files. When Deas noticed red flags on the files, she called the agent on the case to attempt to explain away her actions, according to court records. She claimed that a new informant had given her information about the suspect, and that’s what prompted her research.

But, when she was confronted in May by investigators from ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (which handles internal investigations), she admitted grabbing the information because the suspect wanted to know what the feds had on him.

The electronic trail of Deas’ pilfering revealed that she had accessed more than a dozen FBI and ICE case files, including her father’s and that of a former Mexican customs official.

AZ Starnet:  Ex-US agent admits passing restricted information (Feb 6 2012)

A former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Nogales, Ariz., pleaded guilty to stealing and distributing classified government documents.

Jovana Deas, a Homeland Security Investigations special agent, pleaded guilty to the 21 count indictment before U.S. Magistrate Judge E.S. Swearingen, said a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The 33-year-old from Rio Rico admitted to illegally obtaining, and giving documents to unauthorized people and obstructing Homeland Security investigations, the release said.

Documents labeled “Official Use Only,” were found on a laptop belonging to Deas’ former brother-in-law in Brazil, the release said. The man is involved with a Mexican drug-trafficking organization, the release said.

Deas’ sister, Dana Maria Samaniego Montes, 40, of Agua Prieta is also charged with federal violations, the release said. Montes was a law enforcement official in Mexico and is now a fugitive believed to be living in Mexico. She is suspected of having connections to drug trafficking groups, the release said.

U.S. Open Borders:  ICE special agent pleads guilty for leaks to drug smugglers (Feb 6 2012)

A special agent working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security investigations has pleaded guilty to all 21 counts of an indictment.

Jovana Deas, 33-years-old from Rio Rico, admits she abused her position as an HSI special agent to get ahold of classified government documents, which later showed up on a laptop computer linked to drug traffickers in Brazil.

The laptop belonged to Deas’ former brother-in-law, who investigators say is associated with a drug trafficking organization in Mexico.

According to investigators, Deas also admits that she lied to an HSI special agent why she was making computer inquiries about a specific person who was a target of another agent.

The indictment also charges her sister, Dana Maria Samaniego Montes, of Agua Prieta, with violations of federal law.

Investigators say she is a former Mexican law enforcement official with alleged ties to drug trafficking organizations.

Samaniego Montes is currently a fugitive, on the run somewhere in Mexico.

ICE News Release:  HSI Nogales special agent pleads guilty to 21 corruption counts (Feb 7 2012)

A special agent assigned to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Nogales, Ariz., has pleaded guilty to all 21 counts of a federal indictment charging her with obstruction and other corruption violations.

Jovana Samaniego Deas, 33, of Rio Rico, Ariz., faces up to 49 years in prison after entering a guilty plea to seven felony and 14 misdemeanor charges in federal court Feb. 1. She was arrested by federal authorities in June.

At the hearing, Deas admitted that she illegally accessed, stole and transferred sensitive U.S. government documents to unauthorized individuals and obstructed HSI investigations. She admitted to abusing her position as a special agent to illegally obtain and disseminate government documents classified as “For Official Use Only.” Some of the sensitive information Deas accessed was later discovered by Brazilian law enforcement on the laptop computer of her former brother-in-law, who has ties to drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and Brazil.

The indictment also charges her sister, Dana Maria Samaniego Montes, 40, of Agua Prieta, Mexico, with federal violations. Montes is a fugitive believed to be residing in Mexico. She is a former Mexican law enforcement official with alleged ties to drug trafficking organizations.

Deas entered federal service in June 2003 as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer assigned to the Nogales port of entry. In 2008, she became an HSI special agent.

Deas is scheduled to be sentenced April 11 in U.S. District Court.

AZ Starnet:  Former federal agent in Nogales, Ariz., sentenced to prison (June 29 2012)

A federal prosecutor likened former Homeland Security Special Agent Jovana Deas to a “mini Aldrich Ames” today in Tucson’s U.S. District Court, but a federal judge still resisted his urging that Deas get 10 years in prison.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson sentenced Deas to 2.5 years in prison for 21 crimes related to her repeatedly abusing her access to federal law-enforcement databases.

In testimony at her sentencing, Deas portrayed her actions as ill-advised and wrong, but motivated by a desire to do favors for her sister or to build new cases.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney James Lacey said that Deas, who is from Agua Prieta, Sonora, and whose maiden name is Samaniego, regularly served as an inside source for Mexican drug traffickers, putting agents, their cases and their informants in jeopardy.

Chicago Tribune:  Ex-U.S. agent who helped cartels gets 30 months in prison (June 29 2012)

A former U.S. federal immigration agent was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Friday for accessing police databases and passing on sensitive information to family members with ties to Mexican drug cartels.

Jovana Deas was accused of illegally obtaining and disseminating classified government documents while working as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent in Nogales, Ariz., a city on the border with Mexico. She also was charged with obstruction and lying to investigators.

In February, she pled guilty to seven felonies and 14 misdemeanors in the case.

Prosecutors said Deas, who resigned from ICE last year, passed information pulled from restricted crime and immigration databases to her former brother-in-law, Miguel Angel Mendoza Estrada, a Mexican cartel associate with ties to drug traffickers in Brazil.

Some of the information – concerning the prior criminal history and immigration status of a convicted Mexican national – was later discovered on Mendoza Estrada’s laptop by Brazilian police, according to court documents.

Huffington Post: Jovana Deas, Ex-U.S. Agent Who Helped Mexican Drug Cartels, Gets 30 Months In Prison (June 29 2012)

AZ Starnet:  Homeland Security agent in Nogales, accused of helping cartels, gets 2.5 years (June 30 2012)

Over two days, a federal prosecutor and agents painted Jovana Deas as a drug-cartel spy working as a special agent in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations Office in Nogales.

After comparing the stories Friday, U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson didn’t buy the cartel-spy image, but neither did she view Deas’ actions as innocent mistakes. Deas illegally used her status as a federal agent to access two different databases, looking up criminal-investigative and visa information on about a dozen people over two years, Jorgenson noted. For that, she sentenced the former federal agent on Friday to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.

Deas was the only U.S. citizen in her family of five from Agua Prieta, Sonora, because she happened to be born in Douglas. Until she was indicted, hers was a cross-border success story.

Deas testified that as a girl she first dreamed of becoming a U.S. federal agent because she liked how the female inspectors at the Douglas port of entry wore their hair in buns, the way she did.

She also knew of the border’s underworld. Her maiden name is Samaniego, a name frequently associated with drug-trafficking in the Agua Prieta-Douglas area.

Then federal agents started to see the newly married Deas in a darker light. In March 2008, her agency’s anti-corruption unit received an allegation that she “is a family member of the Samaniego drug trafficking organization,” says a pre-sentence report in her case.

Soon after, Deas started checking criminal databases without an official purpose, often at her sister’s request. The first time was July 16, 2008, when she looked up the records of two cousins from Agua Prieta.

Then, on Dec. 22, 2008, Deas made the inquiry that perhaps caused her the most trouble. Deas testified that her sister, Dana Samaniego, asked her to look up the visa information of a man named Pedro Chavez-Sagredo, from Ciudad Juárez. She did, and she eventually gave printouts of the information to her sister.

Dana Samaniego herself had been a Mexican federal police officer but was fired after her unit was implicated in torturing a suspect. She had married and divorced another former Mexican federal police officer, Miguel Angel Mendoza-Estrada, who had since become a drug trafficker, prosecutors say.

Later, Brazilian police found the same information that Deas printed out on the laptop of Dana’s ex-husband, Mendoza-Estrada, who was living in Brazil. Later yet, on Aug. 26, 2010, Chavez-Sagredo was killed execution style by men who burst into a restaurant in Ciudad Juárez, which is across the border from El Paso.

Deas’ indictment in May 2011 sent agents scrambling to figure out what else she might have compromised, testified Homeland Security Special Agent Jesus Lozania. Deas was one just a few custodians of informant records at the Nogales office, and as such could know the identities of the informants working for the office’s 30 agents, Lozania said.

He noted that in July 2011, the office received credible information from informants in Nogales, Sonora, that drug traffickers there had obtained a list of informants attached to the Nogales office and that traffickers planned to “round up” these informants. The agency acted to warn and protect the informants in the aftermath, he said.

As with the Chavez-Sagredo murder, the government could not link Deas to the leak.

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