News and Press Releases

Government Employees Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Passport Fraud

Sept. 24, 2012

HOUSTON – Nyle Churchwell, 60, and Temi Russell, 40, both of Houston, have been arrested for their roles in a passport fraud conspiracy, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with George M. Nutwell III, special agent in charge of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) - Houston Field Office. Churchwell was a passport office adjudications manager at the time of the offense. Russell is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax examiner.

The sealed indictment was returned Sept. 5, 2012, and partially unsealed today upon their arrests. Russell was taken into custody as she arrived for work this morning. Churchwell, who has worked for the Department of State for 33 years but is currently on administrative leave, was arrested as he arrived at the office for an expected meeting. Both will make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge George C. Hanks Jr. later today or tomorrow morning. They are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit passport fraud and three counts of making false statements in the application and use of a passport. The indictment remains sealed to those charged but not as yet in custody.

“Honesty and integrity are core values of officials placed in the public’s trust,” said Magidson. “This office will continue to work with DSS, the Department of Treasury and our law enforcement partners to vigorously pursue those that are suspected of violating that trust and who potentially place the United States at risk by allowing unqualified persons to obtain legitimate government documents.”

According to the four-count indictment, Churchwell allegedly used his knowledge and authority to conspire to falsely submit and approve passport applications with substandard documentation. He also falsely documented parental identification and acknowledgement during a minor’s passport application, according to allegations. By Churchwell’s approval, the false passports were allegedly issued to individuals under false identities and noncitizens of the United States.

Russell works in the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston where the passport office is located. The indictment alleges she would pick up the falsely-issued passport books from the will-call desk and deliver them to co-conspirators, knowing the true identities and immigration status of the co-conspirators who were unable to receive the U.S. passport book.

“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime related to passport and visa fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Nutwell. “When a public servant in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony such as passport fraud, we vigorously investigate claims of corruption.”

If convicted, the defendants could face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years for each count of making a false statement in the application and use of a passport.

The case was investigated by the DSS and the Department of Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Elmilady is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

 

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