EL PASO, Texas -- A top U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement intelligence officer has been suspended amid allegations he helped a subordinate file bogus travel expense reports and took some of the cash they generated, an FBI agent testified in a Texas courtroom Wednesday.
James M. Woosley was ICE's deputy director of intelligence at headquarters in Washington until he was placed on administrative leave Feb. 4. His suspension came the same day the FBI raided the El Paso home of Ahmed Adil Abdallat, a supervisory ICE intelligence analyst, and seized at least 29 boxes of evidence.
Abdallat is accused of using a diplomatic passport to make eight personal trips to Jordan since October 2007, and receiving about $123,000 in reimbursements from phony travel expenses. He is also the subject of a larger money laundering investigation after he made three wire transfers worth a combined $570,000 to Jordan over a six month period, according to the FBI. Authorities also linked Abdallat to an additional $1.2 million in Jordanian bank accounts.
Abdallat, 63, is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Jordan. He appeared at a federal detention hearing in El Paso that stretched well into the evening. Magistrate Judge David C. Guaderrama did not immediately rule late Wednesday on whether he would be eligible for bail.
During the hearing, FBI Special Agent Shannon N. Enochs said determining how Abdallat obtained the money in Jordan is "a priority," saying "the only thing we're sure of is there is more than $1 million waiting for him in Amman," that country's capital.
"We have no idea how he got that much money," said Enochs, though he noted that Abdallat had until recently been receiving an annual salary of over $100,000 at ICE.
Enochs testified that Woosley approved Abdallat's phony travel expenses and that he and another federal official who worked for Woosley were paid about $58,000 as part of the scheme. He said Woosley was Abdallat's supervisor for "over 10 years." He said Abdallat mailed Woosley checks, wired him money, paid his utility and mortgage bills, and sometimes even traveled to Washington to leave his boss cash in drawers.
The FBI agent said scrutiny of Abdallat's personal e-mails revealed evidence that Woosley tried to arrange for an official trip to Jordan for Abdallat "around 2009," after Abdallat's mother died. That trip was not approved, and Abdallat ended up paying his own way.
Abdallat's attorney, Mary Stillinger, said after the hearing that her client was facing "worst case scenario, a couple years in prison." She said he had cooperated fully during interviews with FBI investigators -- most of which focused on Woosley. She said there has been no discussion about lessening the punishment Abdallat might face for cooperating in any larger investigation.
Abdallat was issued a diplomatic passport between 2005 and 2007 after being detailed to the ICE attachDe at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, Enochs said. About 10 FBI agents raiding his home found 31 stamps in a diplomatic passport that was still valid, and Enochs said that while he didn't know how many of those stamps might have represented authorized travel, Abdallat never got clearance to travel to Jordan on official business.
Authorities also seized a personal U.S. passport that had no entry stamps or visas in it, and two expired Jordanian passports, Enochs said.
Enochs said Abdallat admitted to investigators that he had produced fake receipts as part of the expense-report scheme. But he also said Abdallat became "very evasive" when investigators asked about national security concerns that sending so much money abroad might raise.
Abdallat had secret security clearance but had been denied past requests for additional access because ICE authorities determined he had made misstatements during past routine background checks, including about how he ended his service in the Jordanian Air Force, Enochs said.