Three Customs And Border Protection Officers Charged With Assaulting Fellow Officers At Newark Airport
NEWARK, N.J. – Three Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers were arrested this morning and charged with assaulting two fellow officers at Newark Liberty International Airport, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.
Tito Catota, 38, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Parmenio I. Perez, 40, of Hawthorne, New Jersey, and Michael A. Papagni, 32, of Staten Island, New York, are charged by complaint with forcibly assaulting, impeding, intimidating, and interfering with two men identified in the complaint as “Victim One” and “Victim Two” while the victims were engaged in their duties as CBP officers. The three defendants are scheduled to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer in Newark federal court.
“The defendants, who were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security, allegedly subjected their own colleagues to senseless physical abuse, all while on duty at Newark Liberty International Airport,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “This behavior would be abhorrent in any environment, especially one serving a critical law enforcement function. The hard working men and women who protect our borders deserve better.”
“DHS employees pledge to maintain the highest standards of conduct and the OIG ensures those employees are held accountable when they violate that obligation,” Special Agent in Charge Mark Tasky of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, New York Resident Office, said. “DHS OIG takes very seriously allegations such as those in today’s complaint and works tirelessly to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.”
According to the complaint:
Catota, Perez, and Papagni were employed as CBP officers at Newark Liberty International Airport and were assigned to the Passenger Enforcement Rover Team (PERT). PERT was a CBP specialized unit that was involved in the identification and interception of passengers attempting to bring contraband into the United States or who might be associated with terrorist activities. PERT maintained an office on the second floor of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Victim One was assigned to PERT in October 2016. Within the first two weeks that Victim One worked in PERT, Papagni allegedly advised Victim One that the PERT office table was known as the “rape table” and threatened the victim that he would get him on it.
On Jan. 10, 2017, Victim One was asked to retrieve and forward a document related to a prior drug seizure. While Victim One and an individual identified in the complaint as “CBPO 1” were trying to scan the document, Papagni allegedly warned Victim One that he had five minutes to get out of the office or Papagni would teach him “what this team is about.”
Moments later, an individual identified in the complaint as “CBPO 2” shut off the lights in the PERT office. Papagni, Catota, and another officer identified in the complaint as “CBPO 3” then allegedly grabbed Victim One’s arms and legs and threw him on top of the PERT office table. While Papagni, Catota, and CBPO 3 held him down, Perez got on top of Victim One’s mid-section and grinded his body up and down against Victim One’s genitals through the victim’s clothing in a motion simulating a sex act. Victim One unsuccessfully attempted to push Perez off his body. When Perez eventually got off of Victim One, Papagni, Catota, and CBPO 3 released him.
On Nov. 30, 2016, Victim Two, who was assigned to the Port Director staff, went to the PERT office to speak to CBPO 1. A few minutes later, Victim Two saw an officer identified as “CBPO 4” lock one of the doors to the office. Victim Two started to walk towards the other door to the PERT office but it was closed. Catota, Papagni, and Perez then grabbed Victim Two and threw him on his side on the PERT office table. While two of the defendants held Victim Two down on top of the table, the other defendant got on top of Victim Two and moved his genitals up and down on Victim Two’s leg in simulation of a sex act. Victim Two struggled to get free until Catota, Papagni, and Perez eventually released him.
Both counts in the complaint carry a maximum potential penalty of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, New York Resident Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Mark Tasky and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Professional Responsibility, New York Resident Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Vance Kuhner, with the investigation leading to today’s arrests.
The government is represented by Senior Litigation Counsel Leslie Faye Schwartz of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
The charges and allegations in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Catota: Alan Zegas Esq., Chatham, New Jersey
Papagni: Chad Seigel Esq., New York
Perez: Lorraine Gauli-Rufo, Verona, New Jersey