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Ex-INS Official Is Guilty of Bribery

Hearing officer could get 33 months in prison for seeking cash, sex from asylum applicants.

August 11, 2004|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A former immigration hearing officer was convicted Tuesday of demanding sexual favors and money from two Chinese women who were seeking political asylum in the United States.

Thomas A. Powell Jr., 60, of Pomona was found guilty of bribery by a public official and violating the women's civil rights under color of authority.

U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew ordered him taken into custody immediately after the verdict was announced following a weeklong trial. He faces 27 to 33 months in prison.

Powell, who worked at the Anaheim office of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service, visited the two women alone at their homes in 2000 and told them that he was conducting his own investigation into corruption by private immigration lawyers and translators.

The second visits were secretly videotaped by Justice Department investigators.

In a 65-minute tape played for the jury, Powell told Jie Hoa that her application for political asylum was not in order and added, "I have to charge you money if you want to fix it."

When Hoa asked how much, Powell answered, "Two thousand." On the way out of her apartment, he slapped her buttocks and kissed her.

Four days later, Powell returned to her apartment and collected the $2,000, stuffing the cash into his pants pocket. He also asked if it would be all right to embrace her. Hoa said no.

Her asylum application was subsequently approved.

Federal authorities had been tipped off about Powell by Hoa's lawyer, Douglas Ingraham, who had heard a similar story from another client months earlier.

Another woman, Xue Lu, had appeared before Powell for an asylum hearing in January 2000. Several weeks later, Powell called and asked to meet with her alone at her Monterey Park apartment, she testified. Lu said he told her that he didn't want her husband, lawyer or translator present when he visited.

On Feb. 26, 2000, she said, Powell appeared at her apartment, insisted that they sit on her bed and told her that her application contained "a lot of lies."

When she explained that she had no money to take her case to court, Lu said, Powell offered her a way out and then began kissing and fondling her, and tried to unbutton her pants.

Lu said she became upset and told Powell to stop. She said he replied that if she didn't like him doing that, he couldn't help her and he stormed out.

Soon afterward, Lu learned that her asylum application had been rejected.

On the stand, Powell denied soliciting bribes or sexual favors from the women.

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