A high-ranking supervisor with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles has been convicted of defrauding the government by keeping his stay-at-home wife on the federal payroll for more than five years.
In all, Frank Johnston and his wife cheated taxpayers out of more than half a million dollars over the years, federal prosecutors alleged in a three-week trial that ended Thursday. After about half a day of deliberations, the federal jury also convicted Johnston's wife, Taryn, of lying to federal authorities.
After the verdicts, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero remarked on what he said appeared to have been a "systemic failure" in the office during the time of the Johnstons' scheme, according to attorneys involved in the case.
Johnston also was separately convicted in December of obstruction of justice and lying to federal authorities for trying to get a favorable sentencing arrangement for a convicted felon in an alleged quid-pro-quo deal.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you may become disappointed in your government," Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Akrotirianakis told jurors at the beginning of trial in downtown Los Angeles.
Taryn Johnston, who was on paper as an intelligence specialist for ICE, stopped showing up for work sometime in late 2001, prosecutors alleged during the trial.
Her husband, a top official in the office, transferred her to a small satellite office with only one other agent and began signing off on her time sheets himself, according to prosecutors.
During hours when she purportedly was working, collecting overtime, holiday pay and bonuses on top of her $90,000 salary, she was, in fact, volunteering at her son's school, raising show puppies and even working a second job, prosecutors alleged.
Several ICE officials, in their testimony, indicated that they were aware of the Johnstons' situation long before the scheme came to light through an anonymous tip.
The judge had to interrupt the testimony of multiple agents to advise them about their right to remain silent because of incriminating statements they were making, attorneys said.
Frank Johnston's attorney, Roger J. Rosen, said government witnesses who admitted to illegal conduct themselves should have raised enough reasonable doubt for jurors.
"It should have sent up some red flags," he said.
An attorney for Taryn Johnston, Dana Cole, argued during the trial that it was unfair to blame the employee when her supervisors had dropped the ball on overseeing her work.
"There was a lot of misconduct at ICE that unfortunately funneled onto the Johnstons," Cole said Friday.