U.S. to Pay $400,000 to INS Agent in Bias Suit
Courts: Complaint says he suffered 10 years of harassment on the job because he
is Latino, including falsified charges.
Los Angeles Times
January 21, 1999
The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to pay $400,000
to settle a lawsuit by an INS agent in Los Angeles who says he has been
subjected to more than two-dozen internal investigations in 10 years because he
The government decided to settle the case after a
federal jury found that officials of the office of the inspector general--an
internal watchdog agency within the Justice Department--illegally forced their
way into the home of Agent Jorge Guzman in September 1996 while looking for a
nanny suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
The investigators said they entered with the
occupants permission, but the jury rejected the government argument after
a weeklong trial earlier this month.
The case has cast a harsh light on the
little-publicized operations of the inspector generals office, created in
1989 to investigate alleged wrongdoing by Justice personnel in several
agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In effect, the
inspector general serves as the in-house guardian of department integrity.
This marks the first case nationwide in which the
inspector generals office has been found to have committed a
constitutional violation, said Paul K. Martin, spokesman for Inspector General
Michael R. Bromwich.
The spurious nanny allegation is one of more than 30
contrived offenses that have sparked internal inquiries against him, along with
separate investigations of his siblings and his father, Guzman said.
It was an inquisition, Guzman, 39, a
12-year INS veteran, said Wednesday of the years of living under a cloud.
Its very Kafkaesque. Its a hellish nightmare, to tell you the
The INS agent has been investigated for everything
from alleged theft of seized cash and jewels to associating with narcotics
traffickers to drinking alcohol while on duty to having an affair with a female
co-worker during working hours, said Guzman and his attorney, David G. Spivak
of Los Angeles. Co-workers and people in other federal agencies were
periodically informed of the allegations, Guzman said, ensuring that his
reputation suffered irreparable harm.
Guzman said the incident at his Glendale home in 1996
was an invasion by armed, plainclothes agents at a time when he was
away but his 20-month-old daughter was home with the nanny and Guzmans
sister, Veronica. An inspector general officer, Joe Castaneda, allegedly
fondled the nanny and made sexual advances, according to the complaint.
Castaneda, now retired, denied the allegation.
Veronica Guzman later said that she was afraid the
agents were criminals seeking revenge on her brother.
I was scared to death that this could have been
the last minute of my life, the sister said in a sworn statement. I
have often heard my relatives discuss the possibility that the criminals my
brother has arrested may eventually attempt to retaliate against him.
The sister and the nanny were co-plaintiffs with
Guzman in his federal lawsuit.
The constant investigations, Guzman said, have
short-circuited his career, left him and his family shattered, and cost a small
fortune in legal bills.
Despite the array of supposed wrongdoing, Guzman said
he was never reprimanded, and was even promoted in 1997. He now earns $100,000
as head of a group of INS investigators overseeing organized crime and drug
enforcement cases. Yet, to this day, Guzman has yet to be formally cleared of
most allegations, said David Ross, a senior partner in the firm that
Although it agreed to pay $400,000, the Justice
Department admits no wrongdoing, as is standard in such settlements. The
settlement, signed off by both sides, awaits the approval of U.S. District
Judge Lourdes Baird in Los Angeles.
Officials of the inspector generals office in
Washington and California declined to comment on the case. However, Martin, the
inspector generals spokesman, denied that the agency targets anyone based
on race, gender or ethnicity.
But Guzman, who emigrated at the age of 3 with his
family from Mexico to California, said he is convinced that bias is behind what
he calls a witch hunt. He alleged the existence of pervasive anti-Latino
sentiments in the inspector generals office and the INS, especially among
old-line officers in high positions. As a senior supervisory agent, Guzman is
one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the INS Los Angeles district.
During the trial, Robert J. Harvey, a non-Latino INS
agent, testified that Harold Wieland, second in command of the inspector
generals Los Angeles office, had sought Harveys aid in 1989 with an
investigation of Guzman and two other Latino INS agents suspected of theft.
Harvey said Wieland told him that all Latinos were corrupt and that the three
needed to be stopped before they were promoted.
Wieland, in his testimony, denied making any such
Steve Turchek, head of the inspector generals
Los Angeles field office and Wielands direct supervisor, declined to
As part of the settlement, Guzman agreed to drop
pending complaints of discrimination and other alleged violations by the