A man who deliberately shredded a massive backlog of federal documents at an Immigration and Naturalization Service facilility in Laguna Niguel has been convicted on two counts of wilfully destroying government documents.
Leonel Salazar, 35, of Laguna Niguel, was found guilty late Wednesday by a federal jury in Santa Ana. The jury deliberated for one day after hearing evidence for two weeks.
Salazar was employed by a contractor that performed several functions for the federal agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the California Service Center (INS formerly was an agency in the Department of Justice; it has since become part of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security).
The California Service Center is the central repository for documents submitted to the INS by immigrants seeking benefits or citizenship in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the territory of Guam. Over the course of several years, a backlog consisting of an estimated 90,000 documents built up in the main file room of the California Service Center. According to INS regulations, such documents are to be placed in the applicants’ files, many of which must be maintained for 75 years.
In early 2002, Salazar was the senior supervisor of the main file room at the California Service Center. In February 2002, Salazar, at the direction of his supervisor, Dawn Randall, ordered clerks under his supervision to shred the backlog of documents that were to be placed in the files.
Among the documents destroyed were passports, birth certificates, approval notices, change of address forms, diplomas and money orders. By late March 2002, the backlog of unprocessed documents in the file room was reported to be zero. At that point, Randall instructed Salazar and others to continue shredding incoming unprocessed documents to keep the backlog at zero.
In January, a federal grand jury indicted Randall and Salazar on one count of conspiracy and five counts of destruction of documents filed with a public office. The defendants’ cases were severed for trial.
The jury that convicted Salazar on the two counts found him not guilty of the conspiracy count and three additional counts of destruction of documents.
Salazar is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler on April 12. At sentencing, Salazar faces a maximum possible sentence of six years in federal prison.
Randall’s trial is scheduled to begin before Judge Stotler on March 16.
This case was investigated by agents of the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Investigations Section and the INS Office of Internal Audit, Internal Investigations Branch.