ICE Agent and Customs Officer Charged With Fraud in Alleged Government Credit Card Scam

An agent with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a Customs officer were arrested this morning after being indicted on suspicion of stealing government money. Agent Michael J. Kittson, 34, and U.S. Customs Patrol Officer Douglas R. Bothof are named in a 47-count indictment that accuses them of buying more than $55,000 worth of personal goods with Border Patrol credit cards. The agent and officer conspired with a former Customs officer and two employees of a Tucson-area auto shop to pimp out their rides, says a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona (scroll down for full text of release). The men lived large with your tax money in numerous ways, the government alleges, buying expensive sunglasses, mini-bikes for their kids, "thousands of dollars in gift cards" and other stuff. Maybe this isn't such a big deal, though -- just an unauthorized, miniature version of a federal economic stimulus program.



TUCSON, Ariz. - A 47-count indictment was unsealed today charging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Michael J. Kittson, 34, and U.S. Customs Patrol Officer Douglas R. Bothof, 41, both of Tucson, with Conspiracy, Theft of Government Money, Wire Fraud and Bribery. Kittson and Bothof (pronounced Baa-toff) surrendered without incident this morning to special agents with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) and will make their initial appearance at 2 p.m. today in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

"Law enforcement officers have sworn to uphold and enforce the law," stated U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa. "Those officers who violate the public's trust will be thoroughly investigated and appropriately charged."

Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Special Agent in Charge Kirk Beauchamp stated, "The Office of Inspector General will continue to be committed to working with our law enforcement partners to identify and aggressively investigate all allegations of corruption to protect our borders and the integrity of DHS personnel, programs, and operations."

The indictment alleges that Kittson, Bothof, and a third officer, authorized the fraudulent charging of Border Patrol credit cards for $55,479 in personal goods and services, including paint and body work, tires, exhaust systems, programmers and other work on their personal vehicles, tool boxes, tools, children's mini-motorcycles, thousands of dollars in gift cards, numerous pairs of expensive sunglasses, expensive ATV helmets and services to vehicles belonging to relatives and friends.

Three co-conspirators have pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme. On April 30, 2009, former Customs Patrol Officer Curtis W. Heim pleaded guilty to an Information charging Theft of Government Money. On June 15, 2009 Dustin Curley, a former employee of the automotive repair shop where part of the scheme occurred, pleaded guilty to an Information charging Misprision of a Felony. On June 19, 2009, Jack Lundell, the former manager of the same automotive repair shop, pleaded guilty to an Information charging Aiding and Abetting Theft of Government Money. The investigation revealed the company Lundell and Curley worked for had no knowledge or involvement in the illegitimate activities of its employees. Heim, Curley and Lundell are released on bond and will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Frank R. Zapata at a later date.

A conviction for Conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine or both; for Theft Government Money a maximum penalty of 10 years, a $250,000 fine or both; for Wire Fraud a maximum penalty of 20 years, a $250,000 fine or both; and for Bribery a maximum penalty of 15 years, a $250,000 fine or both. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Zapata will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted by DHS-OIG, with assistance from U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The prosecution is being handled by Mary Sue Feldmeier, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Tucson.


KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.