SANTA ANA – A private security employee at an Orange County retirement community was arrested today on a criminal complaint alleging he pretended to be a federal law enforcement agent.
Donovan Pham Nguyen, 34, of Riverside, is charged with one count of false impersonation of a federal officer or employee, according to a criminal complaint unsealed today. He is scheduled to make his initial appearance this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Nguyen for years pretended to be a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and used the false title to obtain things of value. Nguyen never worked for HSI, although he previously was a privately contracted security guard at a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) facility. He left that job in 2015 after an internal investigation was launched resulting from allegations that he printed fake HSI identification documents, the affidavit states.
In May 2019, while employed for a private security company at a retirement community in Orange County, Nguyen allegedly claimed his false title to agents with the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) preparing to execute an arrest warrant.
In June 2020, Nguyen discussed a potential criminal investigation with members of the Riverside County District Attorney's Office after an introduction from a mutual friend. At the meeting, Nguyen again purported to be an HSI employee, according to the affidavit. Following the meeting, Nguyen informed the District Attorney's Office that, after discussing the matter with his supervisor, HSI could not assist the district attorney in the investigation.
Nguyen allegedly used a false DHS identification to purchase firearms, which allowed him to avoid taking and paying for certain firearm safety courses required by California law. He also used his purported duties as an HSI special agent to excuse his frequent absences from work at a private security firm.
His coworkers at the private security firm reported seeing an HSI badge, a DHS plaque, and various tactical gear, including a ballistic shield, inside of Nguyen's office. They also reported that Nguyen's personal vehicle had been equipped with red and blue lights and a siren, the affidavit states. Nguyen also handed out HSI memorabilia, mugs and coins to people at that office.
"We are always concerned that these types of individuals may have preyed on others, and we encourage anyone who suspects anything suspicious to come forward," said Jeffrey Gilgallon, Special Agent in Charge for ICE's Los Angeles Office of Professional Responsibility.
Nguyen's LinkedIn social media profile posted his current employment as "Department of Homeland Security Agent," indicating he was employed with DHS since June 2008. Nguyen also appeared in a YouTube video that purports to be an interview of him as a long-time HSI special agent discussing immigration policies, according to the affidavit.
If convicted, Nguyen would face a statutory maximum sentence of three years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by HSI and ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility. These DHS agencies received assistance from the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, and the Orange Police Department.
This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California's Riverside Branch.