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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Passport Office Worker Ordered To Prison For Passport Fraud

HOUSTON – Nyle Churchwell, 52, of Houston, has been sentenced to federal prison for his role in the issuance of passports for unqualified people, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. A jury convicted Churchwell Jan. 31, 2014, following four days of trial and approximately six hours of deliberation.

Today, U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who presided over the trial, handed Churchwell a 42- month sentence to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. At the hearing, additional evidence was presented regarding Churchwell’s ongoing abuse of his position as a passport manager including his improper relationships with passport couriers and how his conduct was a breach to our national security. In handing down the sentence, Judge Hittner noted that Churchwell served a critical position in the scheme as a senior manager in the passport office and repeatedly abused his position. Hittner further noted that Churchwell’s conduct displayed a callous disregard of his responsibilities. The court cited a letter from a Department of State official who reported that a U.S. Passport is the most sought after travel document in the world and that Churchwell’s actions seriously undermined the integrity of that document.

Churchwell was a passport office adjudications manager at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston. At trial, the jury heard that Churchwell used his knowledge and authority to conspire to falsely submit and approve passport applications with substandard documentation. He also falsely documented parental identification for a minor child. By Churchwell’s approval, the passports were issued to individuals under false identities and non-citizens of the United States.

Several passport employees provided testimony at trial that detailed how Jamaican applicants who were not U.S. citizens would come in to the office and use other person’s identification and photos of their birth certificate. One of those co-conspirators was Lorna Brown, whom Churchwell knew. He would accept the substandard documents without question and, due to his status in the office, the passports would be issued. Additional evidence demonstrated that Churchwell’s initials and signature were on all the applications and he was asked for by name.

Specifically, the trial evidence proved a non-U.S. citizen and minor child from Jamaica received a passport without the proper two-parent consent. Further, Jamaican criminals were issued valid and full passports under true U.S. citizen names when they were not entitled to them. 

Temi Russell, an Internal Revenue Service tax examiner and co-conspirator who worked in the same building as Churchwell, also testified. She described how she would pick up the fraudulent passports from the will-call desk and deliver them to co-conspirators, knowing the true identities and immigration status of the co-conspirators.

Eventually, the fraud was uncovered when one employee came forward and confronted Churchwell.

At trial, Churchwell’s defense contended was he was guilty only for being a nice guy and did not commit any crimes. He further suggested he did not know that the applicants were fraudulent. 

The jury ultimately did not believe all of his story and found him guilty on two counts of making false statements in the application and use of a passport.

Churchwell, who had worked for the Department of State for several years, was placed on indefinite suspension after his arrest in September 2012.

Judge Hittner remanded Churchwell to custody following the return of the verdicts where he will remain pending transfer to a to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The case was investigated by the Diplomatic Security Services with the Department of State and the Department of Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Suzanne Elmilady and Robert Stabe are prosecuting the case.

Updated April 30, 2015