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11/22/2013

Seattle-area man convicted of impersonating ICE officer

SEATTLE — A Renton man who victimized local immigrants by impersonating an immigration officer was convicted Wednesday by a King County jury on state criminal charges, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Kent Police Department.

According to court records, Jose "Panama" Antonio Haughton, 37, was convicted of second degree robbery, attempted second degree robbery, first degree theft, seven counts of criminal impersonation, tampering with a witness, two counts of second degree theft and third degree theft.

Haughton was arrested by Kent police in March 2012 after an illegal immigrant reported that Haughton posed as an ICE officer and threatened her with deportation to extort sex and money from her.

Investigators determined Haughton had been scamming illegal immigrants for several years. He convinced his victims he was an ICE officer by meeting them at or taking them to Department of Homeland Security offices. There he would strike up conversations with security officers and employees to make it appear they were familiar with him. After charging immigrants fees to expedite their immigration benefit applications, he would steal their money. Those who questioned him were threatened with violence and deportation.

In August 2012, ICE investigators made a public appeal to locate other possible victims and witnesses. Several individuals came forward to ICE and provided key information that led to Haughton's conviction.

"Our focus in these cases is to arrest and criminally prosecute imposter officers, like this defendant, who hope to profit by preying on the vulnerable," said Shawn Fallah, resident agent in charge of OPR Seattle. "Having people come forward to report such schemes is crucial to deterring this type of fraud and preventing others from becoming victims."

Haughton remains in custody and still faces rape and robbery charges associated with his March 2012 arrest. He will be sentenced at the conclusion of his second trial, which is set to begin in early December at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Haughton faces up to 10 years in prison on just the second degree robbery conviction alone.

The case was prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor's Office. ICE's Homeland Security Investigations assisted in the probe.

ICE OPR normally investigates allegations of misconduct by ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees. OPR led this probe because Haughton posed as an ICE officer.