LOS ANGELES – A special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has been sentenced to 12 months and one day in federal prison for his conviction on four federal offenses related to assistance he provided to a Mexican national with a criminal record to re-enter the United States and then lying to cover it up.
Felix Cisneros Jr., 44, of Murrieta, an 11-year veteran of ICE who is now on indefinite suspension from the agency, was sentenced by United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder, who said the prison term should deter both the defendant and other law enforcement agents from engaging in criminal conduct.
In April, a jury found Cisneros guilty of four felony counts: conspiracy to aid and assist the entry of an alien convicted of an aggravated felony into the United States, acting as agent of another person in a matter affecting the government, falsification of records in a federal investigation, and making false statements.
According to court documents and the evidence presented to the jury, Cisneros agreed to help a suspected crime figure, Levon Termendzhyan, by facilitating Termendzhyan’s business associate re-enter the United States after traveling to Mexico City in September 2013. Termendzhyan was named in a federal indictment filed in August in the District of Utah that charges him with money laundering.
Termendzhyan’s business associate, Santiago Garcia-Gutierrez, was a lawful permanent resident of the United States, but because of prior criminal convictions and an outstanding warrant for his arrest, he was barred from being legally admitted into the United States upon his return. Two months earlier, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had seized Garcia’s Mexican passport and his “Green Card” when he attempted to enter the United States, but he was paroled in –meaning he was temporarily allowed into the United States – pending the resolution of his criminal case.
As part of the conspiracy, Cisneros persuaded CBP officers to return Garcia’s passport, ensured that Garcia would be allowed to re-enter the United States after the September 2013 trip, and urged CBP to extend Garcia’s parole that allowed him to remain in the United States pending resolution of his immigration status. Cisneros provided assistance to Garcia knowing about his prior convictions. Cisneros also accepted a financial benefit from Garcia, namely, Dodger playoff tickets, for his agreement to use his status as an HSI special agent to intervene with CBP on Garcia’s behalf.
As part of the conspiracy, Cisneros had queried a law enforcement database, which provided him information about Garcia’s prior convictions, as well as information that Garcia was suspected of participating in criminal activities. Cisneros also improperly utilized the database to determine whether federal law enforcement was monitoring Termendzhyan’s activities.
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, prosecutors wrote, “After conspiring with Garcia to facilitate Garcia’s travel to and from the United States, [Cisneros] engaged in a series of deceptive acts to conceal both his assistance to Garcia and his knowledge of Termendzhyan’s illicit activities.”
The falsification of records and the false statements charges relate to Cisneros lying about his longstanding relationship with Garcia during a regular background investigation being conducted as part of his employment as an ICE agent.
The case against Cisneros is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General; and the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Patricia A. Donahue, Chief of Trials, Integrity and Professionalism, and Sheila Nagaraj of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.