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Former top immigration agent in L.A. gets two years in prison

Frank Johnston, 55, a federal officer for 31 years, is sentenced for defrauding the government and obstructing justice. He is also ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.

June 02, 2012|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

Blasting what he described as cultural problems within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Los Angeles, a federal judge on Friday sentenced a former top agent to two years in prison for defrauding the government and obstructing justice.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero sentenced Frank Johnston to far less than the 64-month sentence prosecutors had sought, citing holes in the government's case and remarking that Johnston's motivations were "far less nefarious" than prosecutors contended.

Johnston, 55, a federal officer for 31 years, was convicted in separate trials of scheming to keep his wife on the ICE payroll while she stayed at home and of lying to federal authorities and a judge to delay the prison sentence of a convicted felon. His wife, Taryn, a former ICE intelligence specialist, was also convicted of lying to federal authorities and received a one-month prison term.

Prosecutors contended that Johnston, formerly an assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field office, transferred his wife to a small satellite office and signed off on her time sheets himself in an effort to defraud the government. While she was collecting a $90,000 salary, overtime, holiday pay and bonuses, Taryn Johnston was in effect a stay-at-home mom, prosecutors told jurors.

Otero lamented the fact that Taryn Johnston's direct supervisor never bothered to check on her and cited the testimony of another ICE agent who he said lied before a grand jury and at trial. Problems in the office went beyond the Johnstons, he said.

"There is so much blame to go around here," the judge said. "This is such an astounding case."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Akrotirianakis protested, saying Johnston was responsible for the broader problems in the office.

"For many years, the defendant was the No. 2 or No. 1, de facto, in the office," he said. "He would be the one leading that culture."

The judge said the Johnstons were motivated by the need to care for their diabetic infant son. He also said prosecutors "never connected the dots," showing that Frank Johnston received a lucrative consulting job in return for helping the felon delay his prison sentence.

Otero said he "struggled" in deciding what was the right punishment, saying he believed Johnston was an upstanding man and "one of the finest law enforcement officers in the agency" based on testimony and letters of support submitted for the sentencing. He allowed Johnston to remain free on bond pending appeal.

His attorney, Roger Rosen, said after the sentencing that he agreed with many of the judge's comments and that his client plans to appeal.

Also on Friday, Johnston was ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution to the government for the salary his wife collected over more than five years.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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