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August 15, 2023Chattanooga, TN, United StatesOperational

HSI investigation leads to guilty plea in obstruction of justice case

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A former Chattanooga-area woman pleaded guilty on Aug. 14 in the Eastern District of Tennessee to obstruction of justice charges following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Florencia Renderos Morales, 24, of Houston, Texas, entered a guilty plea to one count of obstruction of justice. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison with three years of supervised release and $500,000 in fines.

As part of her written plea agreement, Morales waived an indictment by a federal grand jury and agreed to plead guilty to charges as set forth in a felony bill of information.

According to court documents, Morales was an employee of La Casa de Sydney, a housing facility for undocumented and unaccompanied minor children located in the Eastern District of Tennessee. While at the facility, she engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct directed toward minor residents who were in their late teens.

“HSI is committed to investigating the exploitation of our vulnerable population,” said HSI Nashville Special Agent in Charge Rana Saoud. “Taking advantage of helpless individuals, regardless of their citizenship, will result in severe consequences.”

HSI, the Chattanooga Police Department Special Victims Unit, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General initiated an investigation into Morales’ conduct and the conduct of others at La Casa de Sydney. Court documents indicate that the defendant became aware that she was the object of this investigation and contacted other involved individuals about ways to evade detection. Morales discussed who she believed reported her conduct to authorities and urged one former minor resident of La Casa de Sydney to delete electronic evidence that was relevant to the investigation.

Sentencing for this case has been set for Jan. 12, 2024, before the Honorable Charles E. Atchley Jr., in the U.S. District Court at Chattanooga.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Learn more about HSI’s mission on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HSI_Nashville.