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Air Marshals and the Law

Dec. 8: This post has been updated.

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Dozens of federal air marshals have been charged with crimes and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct since the government greatly expanded their numbers following the 9/11 attacks. Below are the cases of 32 air marshals who have crossed paths with the law. Offenses range from drunken driving to drug smuggling and bribery.

Graphic by Krista Kjellman. Research by Michael Grabell, Jamie Wilson, Jesse Nankin and Kristin Jones

Air Marshal Case Summary Documents
Jaime Aldaz
Jaime Aldaz
The Las Vegas air marshal was convicted of domestic battery in 2007 after his girlfriend accused him of pressing his thumbs into the corners of her eyes during a fight, according to police records. Because of the conviction, he could no longer possess a firearm and lost his job. Aldaz said the account in police reports isn’t true and that he acted in self-defense only after he was attacked. He was placed on paid leave for a year and a half while the case was pending, mostly doing administrative work in the air marshals field office. Police Report (PDF)
Marshal
Douglas E. Anderson
The Denver air marshal was arrested for drunken driving in August after he was pulled over for speeding and swerving. Officers noticed a strong odor of alcohol, and Anderson failed the field sobriety tests, according to a police report. The case is pending. Anderson declined to comment. Police Report (PDF)
Whitney Ashford
Whitney Ashford
The Houston air marshal was convicted of drunken driving in April 2002 and received one year probation after he was caught driving the wrong way on a highway at 90 mph. Ashford could not be reached for comment. Police Report (PDF)
Marshal
Daniel Ayres
The Pittsburgh air marshal had the police called on him by his son’s elementary school in February 2003 after he got into an argument over whether he could chaperone a field trip, according to administrative hearing documents. Ayres was fired after he was accused of being belligerent and threatening in four other incidents. After getting a ticket for not wearing his seat belt, he allegedly told the police officer, “I’ll have your job,” and threatened to go to the state’s attorney general if the police chief didn’t take care of the ticket. In an interview, Ayres said he didn’t lose his temper in any of the incidents. The accusations were drummed up, he said, as retaliation after he filed a whistleblower complaint about his supervisors’ conduct. Merit Systems Protection Board Decision (PDF)
Eric D. Ball
Eric D. Ball
The Orlando air marshal received one year probation in January after being caught photographing women’s crotches on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while on a layover between missions. Ball was charged with voyeurism and received an indefinite suspension from the air marshals. He could not be reached for comment. Court Record (PDF)

Merit Systems Protection Board Decision (PDF)
John Barbusin
John Barbusin
The New York air marshal was charged for pulling his gun on two men during a dispute over a parking space at John F. Kennedy International Airport in June 2003. According to police and witnesses, Barbusin put a gun to one man’s head. He was fired as a result but was acquitted on felony charges of assault, reckless endangerment and unlawful imprisonment.  Barbusin sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for false arrest and imprisonment. He argued that he was trying to arrest the men after one of them approached him with clenched fists and the other climbed into his truck. The lawsuit was thrown out. Barbusin did not return calls seeking comment. Police Report (PDF)

Lawsuit Filed by Barbusin (PDF)
Marshal
David S. Bernard
The Denver air marshal was charged with drunken driving in March 2003 after being stopped for speeding and failing sobriety tests. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of “driving while ability impaired” and received one year probation. Bernard declined to comment. Police Report (PDF)

Richard Castillo
Richard Castillo
The Houston air marshal was indicted in May for indecency with a child, a felony, after his daughter’s 14-year-old friend accused him of fondling her during a sleepover. He is awaiting trial and out on $30,000 bond. Castillo could not be reached, and his attorney did not return calls for comment. Criminal Complaint (PDF)
Louie D. Esparza
Louie D. Esparza
The air marshal pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child after crashing a golf cart in his Fort Worth neighborhood in August 2007 and seriously injuring his 12-year-old daughter. His blood-alcohol content was 0.17, more than twice the legal limit for drunken driving, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In December, Esparza received six years probation and was required to attend alcohol counseling and parenting classes. Esparza could not be reached, and his attorney did not return calls for comment. Indictments (PDF)
Marshal
Melvin Ferguson
The Chicago air marshal was sentenced to three years probation in 2007 for lying in his background investigation in 2002. Ferguson failed to disclose that he had been employed by the Royal Bahamas Police Department, Northwest Airlines and State Department’s U.S. Embassy in Bahamas. After becoming an air marshal, he was denied a passport because of an outstanding debt, which he failed to disclose. He was also $7,000 behind on child support. Ferguson, who is no longer an air marshal, declined comment. Indictment (PDF)
Marshal
Michael L. Florez
The Las Vegas air marshal was charged with drunken driving after an April 2005 accident, in which he rear-ended a car and injured its driver, who complained of neck and spine pain. He refused a breath test, but a blood alcohol test later showed he was over the legal limit, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The charge was reduced to reckless driving, and he was fined. Florez remains on the job. He declined to comment. Accident Report (PDF)
Marshal
John Gale
The New York air marshal was accused of shoving a flight attendant and waving his gun in a Los Angeles hotel, where he was staying in between missions in June 2005. A hotel security officer testified in an administrative hearing that Gale had been drinking and tried to hit on the flight attendant. The security officer said that when he tried to escort Gale to his room, Gale waved his gun and said, “He was the state and the law and that no one could touch him,” according to the administrative ruling. Los Angeles police were called to the scene, but Gale wasn’t arrested. The air marshals eventually fired him in January 2007. Gale’s conduct “raises serious doubts as to his judgment,” the administrative law judge said in denying Gale’s appeal. “His boorish behavior caused embarrassment to the agency.” Gale, who had a previous drunken driving conviction before he was hired, remained on the job. He was involved in another incident a few months later in which police stopped him after a report that he was jumping into traffic and got into an elderly woman’s car after a night of drinking. In an interview, Gale denied the accusations and noted that the agency put him back on flight duty right after the hotel incident, even allowing him to be a team leader on international missions. The judge said that “the fact that management exercised poor judgment” in letting him return to work did not excuse his conduct. Gale also said that the hotel was motivated because they were worried about losing the airline’s business. He has filed a lawsuit to get his job back, arguing that white air marshals with similar charges received a lighter punishment. Lawsuit (PDF)
Marshal
Jeffrey A. Haywood
The Dallas air marshal was convicted of tampering with physical evidence in his previous job as a Dallas police narcotics detective. The charges stemmed from the city’s “fake drug scandal,” which involved paid informants who planted pool chalk on Hispanic immigrants claiming it was cocaine. Haywood’s charge relates to a May 2001 case, in which he falsified a report that he had tested the powder found on a suspect and that it was positive for cocaine, his indictment said. According to the city’s report (PDF) on the “fake drug scandal,” Haywood was involved in several other cases that violated procedure. Haywood received two years probation and is no longer an air marshal. In an interview, he attributed the conviction to “politics” and maintains that the powder was tested and contained some cocaine. Indictment (PDF)

Judgment (PDF)

‘Fake Drug Cases’ Independent Investigative Panel Report (PDF)
Marshal
Patrick H. Hightower II
The Houston air marshal received three years probation for stealing government money after admitting he and another air marshal had doctored hotel receipts to make it look like they’d both been charged for hotel rooms when only one had paid. Hightower and his partner, Burlie Sholar, submitted fraudulent travel vouchers about two dozen times from September 2005 to January 2006, stealing less than $1,000, the Justice Department said. Hightower’s admission came when he was called as a character witness in a drug trafficking case against Sholar. Hightower resigned as a condition of his plea agreement. He could not be reached for comment. Court Transcript (PDF)

Press Release (PDF)

Factual Summary (PDF)
Claude Michael Kahn
Claude Michael Kahn
The Charlotte air marshal pleaded guilty to bribery after he accepted $1,000, meals, drinks and entertainment in exchange for his role in selling stolen bank checks in November 2007. Kahn also agreed to use his position as an air marshal to help cover up the scheme. He was sentenced in August to two years probation, including four months of home detention. At his sentencing hearing, Kahn portrayed the air marshal service as a corrupting influence, noting that he had been a Baptist missionary before succumbing to the long hours and developing a drinking problem. One of the first “compromises” of his values, he testified, was when his supervisors invited him to a strip club for lunch. He said in an interview that he pleaded guilty because he couldn’t afford an attorney. Kahn ministers at a cowboy church in Shelby, N.C. Criminal Complaint (PDF)

Kahn’s Sentencing Plea (Audio)
Marshal
David Neal Kellerman
The Miami air marshal was sentenced to 27 months in prison in September for concealing stolen government property. According to court records, Kellerman, while on military leave from the air marshals, was finishing up a tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Special Forces in August 2006 when he was caught with 32.5 pounds of C4 explosives, 11 grenades, two AK-47 rifles, and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher hidden in his luggage. He told investigators they were training aids for his job as an air marshal firearms instructor. Prosecutors said he was stockpiling weapons with an accomplice nicknamed “Mr. Monster”. A search of Kellerman’s houseboat “Bravo” and storage units in Florida uncovered more illegal weapons and 16,500 rounds of ammunition stolen from the air marshals, court records said. Before becoming an air marshal, Kellerman had served probation on two felony charges: unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon in 1990 and dealing in stolen property after he was caught peddling a shipment of stolen swordfish to seafood warehouses in 1983. Kellerman’s attorney, Daniel Koleos, said the weapons were for a private security business Kellerman was trying to start in Afghanistan. He said others were war trophies taken from two al Qaeda operatives Kellerman helped capture. Kellerman has had a sterling career that includes fighting the Taliban as a Green Beret, defending ocean researchers against Somali pirates and infiltrating a neo-Nazi group, Koleos said. Indictment (PDF)

Affidavit on Weapons (PDF)

1983 Affidavit (PDF)

Army Evaluations (PDF)
Marshal
Thomas Keohane
The Cincinnati air marshal pleaded guilty to drunken driving in August 2005. According to the police citation, Keohane had a blood alcohol content of 0.13; the legal limit is 0.08. He told the officer he had drank about five beers that night and requested that the officer let a friend come and get him, the officer’s report said. He was fined $350 and had to attend alcohol awareness classes. Keohane remains on the job. He did not return calls seeking comment. Citation (PDF)
Marshal
James A. Kokkinis
The Houston air marshal was hired in April 2002 despite being under investigation by his former employer, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for having a relationship with an illegal immigrant who was the subject of an FBI drug investigation. According to federal court documents, Kokkinis was fired when the air marshals discovered the relationship and the investigation 17 months later. He had failed to disclose them during his background check. In an interview, Kokkinis said more than six months had passed since INS interviewed him about the relationship; so he figured the investigation was closed. Relationships with illegal immigrants were common in INS, he said, and employees were rarely disciplined for them. Appeals Court Deicison (PDF)
Marshal
Byungki Koo
The New York air marshal received four years probation for his role in a human trafficking ring operated out of a Queens nightclub. According to the criminal complaint, the club recruited young women from South Korea, promising them jobs as hostesses. But when they arrived, the women were sexually molested, and one was repeatedly kicked in the head. The two were told they would be sold to a Chinatown brothel. When one victim planned to testify against club owners in late 2003 and early 2004, the club enlisted Koo and a U.S. customs inspector for a plot in which they would kidnap her and threaten to deport her, a prosecutor said at sentencing. Koo refused, but he gave club employees advice about how to get rid of the witness through immigration. And even though he wouldn’t participate, he attended a second meeting where he translated so that the customs inspector could further plan the kidnapping with bar employees, according to a transcript of the sentencing hearing. People in the Korean community in Queens wrote letters pleading with the judge to be lenient because Koo had young children, was taking care of his paraplegic mother and had gone to work with senior citizens in the immigrant community after his dismissal from the air marshals. Koo declined to comment, saying that he wished to move on with his life. Criminal Complaint (PDF)

Indictment (PDF)

Sentencing Transcript (PDF)

Character References (PDF)
Michael J. McGowan
Michael J. McGowan
The New York air marshal was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he tried to purchase child pornography over the Internet. Investigators searched his home in June 2004 and found 1,300 videos and images, along with fake FBI and CIA badges. Federal prosecutors also presented evidence that McGowan had used his position as an air marshal to lure a young boy to a Corpus Christi hotel room, where he showed him child porn, took pictures of him naked and sexually abused him. After being convicted, McGowan called the boy and engaged in sexually explicit phone calls with him. In a separate case, McGowan was indicted for aggravated assault after he pulled a gun on another driver during a road rage incident on the Garden State Parkway in May 2004. Before becoming an air marshal after 9/11, McGowan served probation for arson and was convicted of disorderly conduct. He declined an interview. In a court hearing, he said he never intended to harm anyone and wanted to get help. Indictment (PDF)

Sentencing Transcript (PDF)

Appeals Brief (PDF)
John J. Moya
John J. Moya
The Phoenix air marshal was charged with “extreme driving” while under the influence of alcohol after being caught going 20 mph over the speed limit in December 2007. He refused a breath test, but a blood sample showed him to have a blood alcohol level of more than 0.15, above the 0.08 limit. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and was sentenced to one day in jail and five years probation. In a second incident in April, Moya and another air marshal were also involved in a fight outside a bar in Arlington, Va., in which one of them pulled out a gun and fired multiple times in the air, the commonwealth’s attorney said. Police investigated, but the commonwealth’s attorney decided not to prosecute. Moya could not be reached for comment, and his attorney did not return calls for comment. Police Report (PDF)
Marshal
Shawn Ray Nguyen


Marshal
Burlie L. Sholar
The Houston air marshals were sentenced to seven years and nine years in prison, respectively, for using their top-secret clearances to smuggle cocaine and drug money past airport security and onto planes across the country from late 2005 to early 2006. According to court records, Nguyen, a former narcotics agent, told an informant: “I’m the man with the golden badge” and “I don’t care what’s in the [expletive] package, you know what I mean? Just tell me how much it is and what I’m getting in money.” Eventually, Nguyen recruited Sholar in a plot to transport 15 kilos of cocaine to Las Vegas. In a separate case, Sholar and another air marshal were found to have doctored hotel receipts to steal government money. Nguyen’s relatives testified that he had fallen into a severe depression after a divorce, bankruptcy, a neck injury and addictions to painkillers, alcohol and cocaine. “I was just going through a lot of personal issues,” Nguyen said in an interview from prison. “During a very weak time in my life, I did something that I’m going to pay for for the rest of my life.” Sholar, a former Los Angeles and U.S. Capitol police officer, was himself struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, according to testimony. Once, he came to work and fell asleep smelling of alcohol. The air marshals kept him on but demoted him from training officer. Sholar declined an interview request. Criminal Complaint (PDF)
James Brian Phelps
James Brian Phelps
The Chicago air marshal was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to hire a hit man to kill his ex-wife and her boyfriend. According to court transcripts, Phelps said he wanted to see his wife’s picture on a milk carton and asked a fellow air marshal who had worked Chicago’s roughest housing projects if he knew anyone who could make her disappear. The colleague said he knew of a guy named “The Crucifixer” and then reported Phelps to his supervisor who alerted the FBI. In an interview from prison, Phelps insisted that he was only venting with the morbid humor frequently used by cops and had no money or plans to go through with a hit. But Phelps had numerous conversations with two FBI agents posing as hit men, going so far as discussing sites to dump the bodies. Before becoming an air marshal, Phelps had worked for five small police departments in Alabama, though never for more than a year. He was fired from one police job because he often lost his temper and acted before thinking things through, prosecutors said. In a second police job, Phelps was given the option to resign or be fired for misconduct while on duty. Prosecutor’s Opening Statement (PDF)

Defense Attorney’s Opening Statement (PDF)
Marshal
Louis Pirani
The air marshal from eastern Arkansas was sentenced to five months in prison and five months of home detention in 2003 on charges related to accusations that he and several other officers stole money from suspected drug couriers during traffic stops from 1997 to 2001. According to prosecutors, Pirani, a Crittenden County sheriff’s deputy, tried to hide the money, about $114,000, by buying a Cessna and a ski boat. Pirani became an air marshal in early 2002, but he had been under FBI investigation as far back as August 2001, when he was interviewed by agents about the boat and plane. Pirani, who is no longer an air marshal, declined to comment. Indictment 1 (PDF)

Indictment 2 (PDF)

Indictment 3 (PDF)
James R. Rivers
James R. Rivers
The Denver air marshal was charged with drunken driving in November 2002 after being uncooperative and refusing all sobriety tests, a police report said. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of “driving while ability impaired” and received one year probation. Rivers said his arrest was “eye-opening” and a one-time “mistake in judgment.” He said he kept his job after the conviction but resigned in May 2007. Police Report (PDF)
Marcus Rogozinski
Marcus Rogozinski
The Orlando air marshal was sentenced to six years in prison for bank fraud in September. He was convicted of trying to cash a counterfeit $10.9 million check he received from a woman he said he thought was Cambodian royalty. He said the money was a partial settlement for a “personal lawsuit” after he was scratched by the woman’s cat. As an air marshal, several flight attendants and colleagues raised questions about Rogozinski’s behavior during flights. “I can’t believe he is able to carry a gun!” one flight attendant said in 2006, while a partner wrote in 2007, “No [federal air marshal] should have to pay more attention to their partner than to the passengers.” Rogozinski was suspended by the air marshals after failing a psychological test. He said in an interview that he had gone to the bank only to see if the check was legitimate, not to cash it. He said the complaints about his behavior were exaggerated to force him out of the service because he’d spoken up about defensive maneuvers that he said jeopardize safety. Criminal Complaint (PDF)

E-mails and Memos on Rogozinski’s Behavior (PDF)
Alex Silva
Alex Silva
The Houston air marshal was charged with drunken driving after crashing his motorcycle into a car in August 2007. His blood alcohol content was 0.27, about three times the 0.08 limit, according to the police report. He was sentenced in August to one year probation. Silva remains an air marshal. He declined to comment. Police Report (PDF)
Marshal
Gregory Skyles
The Seattle air marshal was charged with unlawful imprisonment in October 2003 after he used his badge to force a teenager into his car because he thought the boy had been teasing his wife. To get the case dismissed, Skyles attended a first-time offender program, in which he was required to admit guilt and attend counseling. He is now assistant operations officer for the air marshals’ Seattle field office. His wife, Angela Skyles, said the case was based on the victim’s word and that her husband is serving in Iraq. “You can believe one person who says something or you can believe a person who’s dedicated his whole life to serving the country,” she said. Probable Cause Declaration (PDF)

Motion to Dismiss (PDF)
David W. Slaughter
David W. Slaughter
The Cincinnati air marshal was convicted of abduction after a July 2006 incident, in which he held an escort in a hotel room against her will. Prosecutors said Slaughter and the escort were discussing how they would spend the time when he went into the bedroom and returned with his gun and handcuffs. The escort tried to flee, but he prevented her from leaving and unplugged the phone, prosecutors said. When she broke free, Slaughter held her on the ground in a modified chokehold. Slaughter was sentenced to 15 days in jail but was released with time served. The air marshals fired him. In an interview, Slaughter said he hired the escort because his birthday was two days before and he wanted somebody who knew where to get a good steak dinner. He added he was having marital problems and wanted a neutral female perspective. Slaughter said the encounter went south after the escort solicited him for sex, which prosecutors deny, and he returned with a gun and handcuffs to show that he was a law enforcement officer. When she ran away, he said, he suspected that she was hiding something. “I felt like she was a legitimate threat to public safety in the hotel,” he said. Slaughter said he unplugged the phone because he wanted to call the police but denied holding her in a chokehold. It was the first time he ever detained someone and he was nervous, he said, but feels that he acted appropriately. Indictment (PDF)

Character References
Deno Stamos
Deno Stamos

The Houston air marshal pleaded guilty to his second drunken driving offense in July and received 15 months probation. He was previously convicted of drunken driving in 1998 and served one year probation before becoming an air marshal. Stamos declined to comment but said he was recently fired. According to TSA policy, employees with drunken driving convictions before being hired are terminated if they are convicted of a second offense. 1998 Criminal Complaint (PDF)

2008 Criminal Complaint (PDF)
Lorenzo Walker
Lorenzo Walker

The Philadelphia air marshal was charged with drunken driving in April 2006 after police stopped him for driving recklessly. His blood alcohol level was 0.20, said Philadelphia police spokeswoman Jillian Russell. Walker entered a court-ordered alternative rehabilitation program but was fired from the air marshals. He said in an interview that the night he got arrested, he had drunk about five glasses of wine at a bar a few blocks from his home. After he got behind the wheel, he said, he had second thoughts and tried to park the car so he could walk home. But before he could do that, the police pulled him over. He had previously been through a treatment program with the air marshals, he said, after a TSA screener smelled alcohol on his breath before a mission and he registered a blood alcohol level of 0.03.

Court Docket (PDF)

*The federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service do not release mug shots of inmates who are or have been in federal custody. Some states have similar policies. In other cases, ProPublica decided not to publish photographs to avoid jeopardizing the cover of air marshals who remain on the job and have not been identified by other news outlets.

Update: Esparza pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child in December, received six years probation and was required to attend alcohol counseling and parenting classes.

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