Two former agents with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, what is now called ICE, have been convicted, in Los Angeles, of defrauding the United States Federal Government of hundreds of thousands dollars. Frank Johnston was convicted of 22 counts of wire fraud and one count of theft of government property over $500,000. His wife, Teryn Johnston was convicted of two counts of providing false statements to federal prosecutors.
It appears that between 2002 and 2008, Frank Johnston, a high ranking supervisor with the INS, had allowed his wife, another INS agent to stay home with their kids and still receive her full $90,000 salary with benefits, overtime, and holiday pay on top. What maybe even more disturbing than this husband and wife team of thiefs, is that in their testimony at trial several ICE officials stated that they knew about this scheme but did nothing about it.
This goes beyond the outrageous. So this is how our Federal Government functions: some steal and others close their eyes and pretend that it is not happening. How many more situations like this are occurring at this very moment?
The Federal prosecutor on the case, AUSA Akrotirianakis told the jury that they may become disappointed in the government after this case. This is a fair observation. Unfortunately, it does not address the root of the problem. This case is not only about stealing money, it is about having the ability and opportunity to do what is illegal and getting away with it. Certain human beings will always be drawn to that. It is in our nature. Federal agents are not immune to this. What differentiates them from mere mortals is that they are uniquely situated to be in the position of power and thereby tempted to abuse it. As John Acton said in 1887 “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” Given an opportunity to do something illegal and a feeling of immunity, many will take that fateful step. Being an agent with the Federal Government has a tendency to provide both the opportunity and the felling that one can get away with whatever it is one is doing. Group mentality also breeds complacency from those around, spreading the feeling of responsibility and making witnesses of this abuse think that it’s not their problem to address.
So what is the solution to this flaw in our character? Limiting the power of government and more accountability seems be a good place to start.