DENVER – LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – Bill Leone, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, announced that CATHERINE ILEEN SPEAR, age 46, of Westminster, Colorado, was sentenced this morning by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lewis T. Babcock to serve 14 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release, for embezzling money from the government. Chief Judge Babcock also ordered SPEAR to pay restitution totaling $1,795 to the United States. SPEAR is required to surrender to an institution designated by the Bureau of Prisons by August 28, 2006, unless the defendant files an appeal of the sentence, and an appeal bond is granted by the judge.
According to the stipulated facts set forth in the defendant’s plea agreement, SPEAR was an employee of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is a Bureau of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS processes applications and petitions submitted by citizens and non-citizens on various Citizenship and Immigration matters. USCIS also collects fees for the processing of these Immigration and Citizenship matters. Many of these applications and petitions are sent to USCIS via United States Mail. The defendant, CATHERINE ILEEN SPEAR, was employed by USCIS as an “Examinations Assistant” where she had access to and processed the mail, as well as bank deposits of funds received for various applications and petitions.
In early 2005, USCIS in Denver became aware that several individuals who had submitted applications for various petitions, along with the required processing fees, had not had their applications or petitions processed. The individuals later learned that the money orders they had provided to USCIS for payment had been cashed. An investigation was then launched by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
That investigation revealed that SPEAR had deposited 46 money orders into her bank account. Agents then determined that the money orders in the defendant’s account had been sent to USCIS by various immigrants and American citizens to process applications they had submitted. In one instance, agents found that a money order payable to USCIS in the amount of $665.00 had been deposited into the defendant’s bank account. In examining the money order, agents determined that the remitter was a husband and wife who had submitted an I-600A application (Application for Advanced Processing of Orphan Petition). The money, and the application, were sent as part of an attempt to adopt a Chinese baby. The defendant had deposited the money order but discarded the application. The great majority of the money orders, according to the plea agreement, deposited in the defendant’s account, were money orders submitted by aliens living in the United States attempting to comply with United States Immigration laws. The defendant admitted that she had discarded the applications that accompanied the money orders she embezzled.
“It is vital that the integrity of the legal immigration application process be protected,” said United States Attorney Bill Leone. “In this case, people were attempting to follow the lawful process, only to have a government employee throw away their application and take their money. This conduct is not only criminal, it is reprehensible, and it injures those responsible immigrants who were seeking a lawful path to citizenship.”
The defendant was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 8, 2006. She pled guilty before Chief Judge Babcock on May 3, 2006. The sentence imposed today was greater than the advisory guideline sentence recommended by the Sentencing Guideline Commission. Chief Judge Babcock justified the more severe sentence by stating that it was necessary to deter similar criminal conduct and to promote respect for the law. While many of the victims of the offense were “aliens” Chief Judge Babcock recognized that first they were “human beings” who suffered great anguish at the potential loss of their lawful status in the United States because of the defendant’s actions.
This case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Professional Responsibility. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Allison, Chief of the Criminal Division.