Albuquerque man pleads guilty to manipulating urine test for criminal defendant
ALBUQUERQUE – United States Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales announced that, this morning, Albuquerque resident Brandon Ortiz, 29, pled guilty to tampering with a witness by misleading conduct before Chief United States Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi under a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office. Ortiz entered a guilty plea to count 1 of a 15-count indictment charging him with violating federal law that prohibits obstructive conduct intended unlawfully to affect the presentation of evidence in federal proceedings. Specifically, Ortiz pled guilty to helping a criminal defendant cheat on a urinalysis test and thus preventing the U.S. Probation Department from reporting a possible violation of supervision to the federal court. In accepting Ortiz’s plea, Magistrate Judge Puglisi discussed the importance of the drug testing to the federal criminal judicial system and noted that Ortiz’s unlawful conduct “seriously undermined the system.” At sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled, Ortiz faces up to twenty years imprisonment, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Ortiz, a former employee of Relevancy, Inc. (Relevancy), a company that assists U.S. Probation with drug testing of criminal defendants, was arrested on July 19, 2010. According to the indictment, Relevancy collected urine samples for drug testing from criminal defendants who were supervised by U.S. Probation and were required by court order to undergo drug testing as a condition of their supervision. Under its contract with U.S. Probation, Relevancy was required accurately and honestly to label the urine samples with the names of criminal defendants providing the samples and then to transfer the properly labeled samples to the U.S. Probation laboratory where the samples were analyzed. With the expectation that urine samples were properly labeled, U.S. Probation routinely relied on the results of drug testing on the urine samples it received from Relevancy to prepare reports on criminal defendants that it submitted to federal judges, and the federal judges relied on the reports to determine whether criminal defendants had violated the conditions of their supervision.
The indictment charged Ortiz with twelve counts of helping criminal defendants cheat on urinalysis tests by discarding their urine samples and three counts of permitting criminal defendants to bring in substitute samples instead of providing their own urine samples for the drug tests. Ortiz entered his plea to count 1, charging him with permitting a criminal defendant to substitute a urine sample. In his plea agreement, Ortiz made the following admissions to support his guilty plea to count 1 of the indictment:
From approximately January 2009 through February 2010, I was employed as a urinalysis technician for Relevancy Inc.(“Relevancy”) in Albuquerque, NM. In that capacity I was responsible for conducting urinalysis tests on, inter alia, federal probationers to assist in determining whether they were compliant with the terms of their court-ordered supervision. In January of 2009, I was trained by a United States Probation Officer in the proper procedures for chain-of-custody, observation and collection of urine specimens submitted for drug testing in the federal District of New Mexico. During my employment with Relevancy, I allowed a probationer to substitute a clean urine sample for their urine during a urinalysis test. I observed the probationer produce a urine sample from a prosthetic penis device known as the “Whizzinator” and empty the urine into the urinalysis container. I knew that the urine sample provided by the probationer was not a legitimate urine sample of that probationer. Furthermore, I knew that the result of allowing the substituted urine sample would be that Relevancy would be unable to provide an accurate urine specimen to the United States Department of Probation which would, in turn, prevent accurate information concerning a possible violation of supervised release from being communicated to a United States District Judge.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, counts 2 through 15 of the indictment will be dismissed when Ortiz is sentenced. Ortiz is released under the supervision of U.S. Probation pending his sentencing hearing.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joel R. Meyers.