A federal jury sitting in Houston has convicted Nyle Churchwell, 51, for his role in the issuance of passports for unqualified people, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with George M. Nutwell III, special agent in charge of the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The verdict was returned moments ago following four days of trial and approximately six hours of deliberation.
“The DSS is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime related to passport and visa fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Nutwell. “When a public servant in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony such as passport fraud, we vigorously investigate claims of corruption.”
Churchwell was a passport office adjudications manager at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston. 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 has worked for the Department of State for several years, was placed on indefinite suspension after his arrest in September 2012.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who presided over the trial, remanded Churchwell to custody following the return of the verdicts today where he will remain pending sentencing, which has yet to be determined. At that time, he will face a maximum of 10 years on each count of conviction.
Brown and Russell both pleaded guilty in advance of trial and will be sentenced in June and April, 2014, respectively.