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Former ICE Agent Sentenced For Defrauding Government Out Of $500K

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for defrauding the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal salary and benefits.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero also ordered Frank Johnston, 55, of Whittier to pay $400,000 in restitution to his former employer.

Johnston, who was his wife’s supervisor in what was then known as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, was convicted in February of nearly two dozen counts of wire fraud.

His wife, Taryn Johnston, was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators and was sentenced last month to a month behind bars.

Prosecutors said Taryn Johnston illegally collected more than $500,000 in salary and benefits between 2002 and 2008 for doing virtually no work. Her husband rubber-stamped her time sheets, which often also claimed premium pay for overtime and holiday hours, prosecutors said.

Frank Johnston assigned his wife to a remote office with one other employee, and shortly thereafter, she stopped going to work, according to prosecutors.

He also was found guilty at a separate trial in December for making false statements that resulted in a nearly 1 1/2-year delay of a prison term for a man convicted for his role in a cigarette smuggling operation.

“Whenever public officials break the law, particularly those persons sworn to serve and protect the public, we must do everything we can to hold them accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “This case should serve as a stern and sobering reminder that no one is above the law.”

Although Johnston faced a potential maximum life sentence, Otero said he wasn’t convinced the Johnstons tried to bilk the government out of money. Otero noted the Johnstons were trying to take care of a newborn son diagnosed with diabetes.

“I just don’t see it that way,” Otero said of the prosecution’s arguments about corruption. “The motivations were for the benefit of their child.”

Otero previously said there was a systemic failure at ICE’s Los Angeles offices during the time of the Johnstons’ scam and believes there is plenty of blame to go around.

“This is such an astounding case,” Otero said.

Frank Johnston retired from ICE in 2009 after 31-year career in law enforcement.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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