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Professional Responsibility

Former high-level HSI agent sentenced for fraud and obstruction of justice

LOS ANGELES — A former assistant special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles was sentenced Friday to 24 months in federal prison for obstruction of justice, giving false information to a federal prosecutor and a federal judge in Florida, and devising a scheme to have his wife paid nearly $600,000 – even though she performed very little work for the federal agency.

Frank Johnston, 55, of Whittier, who retired from HSI in August 2009 after 31 years in federal law enforcement, was sentenced by United States District Judge S. James Otero. In addition to the prison term, Judge Otero ordered Johnston to pay $400,000 in restitution to ICE. The case against the Johnston and his wife was investigated by ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility.

"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 United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. "This office will aggressively pursue allegations of public corruption wherever they lead, and this case should serve as a stern and sobering reminder that no one is above the law."

Johnston was found guilty of various federal charges following two trials in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. In the first trial that concluded last December, Johnston was convicted of making false statements that resulted in the delay – lasting nearly a year and a half – of a prison term for a man who received an 18-month sentence after being convicted in relation to a cigarette-smuggling operation. Johnston told a Justice Department prosecutor and a United States District Judge in Florida that the convicted felon was providing "ongoing cooperation" in two organized crime investigations being conducted in Los Angeles. The convicted felon was not actually providing any useful information to investigators, and no one at HSI was investigating either purported organization.

In a second trial in February, Johnston was convicted on charges that he and his wife, Taryn Johnston, engaged in a fraud scheme in which Taryn Johnson received approximately $582,000 in salary and benefits from ICE and its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, even though she had done virtually no work for the agency and infrequently went to work.

In a sentencing memo filed with the court, prosecutors said that Frank Johnston deserved a stiff sentence because of his "motive to profit illegally from his employment as a public official and the powers entrusted to him in that position."

Taryn Johnston was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators. She was previously sentenced to 30 days in federal prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.