Trial Begins for Former ICE Agent Cory Voorhis

March 31 2008, 6:29 PM

Former ICE Agent Cory Voorhis, accused of improperly accessing a database containing information about individuals charged with crimes while Gov. Bill Ritter was the Denver District Attorney to establish that Ritter made plea deals with immigrants that allowed them to remain in the U.S. following conviction, began today in federal court.

Prosecutors say Voorhis used the database -- which may be used only for law enforcement purposes -- to look up information on illegal immigrants who received plea deals from Ritter when he was Denver district attorney. The deals, in which defendants pleaded guilty to trespassing on agricultural land, allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the country. Voorhis gave the information to the Beauprez campaign, which used it in an attack ad that said at least one of the suspects had gone on to commit other crimes. The Ritter campaign cried foul, saying the only way Beauprez's campaign could have gotten the information was if someone with access to the database looked it up for them. Voorhis was indicted about one year later.

Voorhis is charged with three misdemeanor counts. Each charges him with a violation of 18 USC Section 1030(a)(2)(B) by using an ICE computer to access and retrieve data, specifically, the criminal histories of various individuals, from the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database while acting outside his official capacity as an ICE agent. In all, the Government alleges Voorhis obtained data on 7 individuals, and that he sought the information in order to provide it to a candidate for political office, which is a prohibited use of the NCIC system. Voorhis has a lot of support among those opposing "illegal immigration" who believe he was a whistle-blower and that he is being selectively prosecuted. The Government disagrees. In its motion arguing why selective prosecution doesn't apply, it writes:

The candidates in the 2006 Colorado gubernatorial race were Bob Beauprez, then serving as a United States Representative for Colorado's Seventh Congressional District, and Bill Ritter, who had formerly served as the District Attorney for Denver County. In late August of 2006, Representative Beauprez criticized plea bargains entered into with illegal immigrants by the Denver District Attorney's Office while Ritter served as district attorney. Ritter responded to this criticism and on August 23, 2006, an article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News which stated:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter on Tuesday strongly defended his record as district attorney of prosecuting illegal immigrants, challenging criticism from Rep. Bob Beauprez, his GOP opponent, that he failed to aggressively pursue immigrants who broke the law. Ritter said he made it a policy to always send illegal immigrants to jail so federal authorities would have the chance to detain them.
Following the publication of this news article, as well as similar accounts in other Colorado media outlets, the Defendant, using a cell phone provided to him by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, contacted the Beauprez for Governor campaign headquarters. The Defendant spoke with John Marshall, Beauprez's campaign manager. At the outset of the call, the Defendant identified himself as an ICE agent, and he told Marshall that he had information that contradicted Ritter's account of the plea bargaining practices of the district attorney's office during Ritter's tenure as district attorney. During this conversation, Voorhis and Marshall agreed to meet face to face later that day at a coffee shop located in the same building as the Defendant's office.

The Government goes on to detail meetings between Voorhis and political types from the Beauprez campaign, including Beauprez campaign chief John Marshall, and a conservative political action committee called Trailhead; Marshall's tendering, through an aide, of 52 hispanic names for Voorhis to research; Voorhis' later access of NCIC information; and his subsequent delivery of the information regarding 7 people on Marshall's list to the Beauprez campaign. The Beuprez campaign then used the information in an ad to attack Ritter. The ad focused on one individual who had been charged with drugs, allowed to plead to a offense that does not require deportation, and then committed a sex offense in California. Voorhis allegedly provided the man's alias to the Beauprez campaign which used it in the ad.

[On]September 29, 2006, the Defendant met with John Marshall at the Beauprez campaign headquarters. The Defendant returned the list of Hispanic surnames to Marshall. Marshall noted the list contained handwriting and notations he had not put on the list. Importantly, the Defendant told Marshall to concentrate his efforts on one of the individuals on the list, Walter Noel Ramo. The Defendant said that this individual had been charged with a serious drug offense and subsequently pled guilty to a lesser offense. The Defendant went on to explain that after his court case in Denver, Walter Noel Ramo went to California where he committed a sex offense involving a 14 year old girl. The list the Defendant gave back to Marshall contained a hand written name "Carlos Estrada Medina" an alias for Ramo. Marshall was told by the Defendant that the arrest records for Walter Noel Ramo would be located in San Francisco, California. Finally, according to Marshall, the Defendant provided him with the FBI number assigned to Ramo aka "Carlos Estrada Medina." On October 10, 2006, less than two weeks after the Defendant returned the list of names to Marshall with the instruction to pay particular attention to Ramo, the Beauprez campaign ran a television advertisement which specifically referenced the Ramo case, using his alias, "Carlos Estrada Medina." The announcer for the advertisement read the following text while images of Ramo appeared on the screen:
Case File: Carlo Estrada Medina. Illegal Alien. Felon. Arrested in Denver for distribution of heroin. Prosecutor Bill Ritter plea bargains down to agricultural trespassing. Estrada avoids deportation and walks away with probation. He's arrested again for sexual abuse of a minor. Bill Ritter's bad judgment allowed felons who should have been deported to plea bargain. That was Ritter's policy. How many more of these criminals walk the street now.
When he was arrested and convicted in Denver, Walter Noel Ramo did not use the alias Carlos Estrada Medina. That alias did not appear in any public document on file in the Denver state court system. Additionally, the name Harold Noel Ramo did not appear in any public document in the California court system where Ramo was arrested for the sex offense using the alias "Eugene Alfredo Estrada-Acosta." In fact, the only way to connect the names " Walter Noel Ramo," "Carlos Estrada Medina" and "Eugene Alfredo Estrada-Acosta" as aliases used by the same individual is through the NCIC database.

Ritter filed a complaint with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, charging that the only way the alias could have been discovered was through unauthorized access to NCIC. The CBI launched an investigation. The Government alleges:

During the course of investigating this matter, agents with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation discovered that three operators of the CCIC/NCIC system had queried the name Walter Noel Ramo, aka Carlos Estrada Medina, during the months of September and October 2006. Specifically, CBI determined that the Defendant had queried the name on September 27, 2006, and 10 that on October 4, 2006, an individual using the login information assigned to an employee of the Harris County, Texas District Attorney's Office had also queried the name. The other query occurred on October 12, 2006, by an employee of the Denver County District Attorney's Office.

That triggered further investigation which revealed:

In regard to the Texas NCIC query of October 4, 2006, it appears from the investigation of this matter that the query was directly related to the information provided Marshall by the Defendant. William Winkler, a researcher hired by Trailhead Group in 2006, and who had participated by phone in the late August conference with the Defendant that took place at the offices of the Trailhead Group, hired a private investigator located in Texas to seek out information confirming the information given to Marshall by the Defendant. The Texas private investigator, in turn, asked a friend employed by the Harris County District Attorney's Office to query NCIC about Ramo. The friend confirmed the information about Ramo also being arrested in California, using yet another name "Eugene Estrada." The actions of Rodgers and the employee of the Harris County District Attorney's Office are currently under investigation by Texas law enforcement authorities.

Voorhis' lawyers don't dispute the essential details -- that he got a list of names from Marshall, accessed the database and turned the results over to the Beauprez campaign -- but disagree with the Government about his intent :

In fact, Voorhis accessed the NCIC database to check the immigration status of foreign nationals whom he reasonably suspected to be unlawfully present in the United States and for other legitimate law enforcement purposes. His access was well within his assigned duties as an ICE agent and concomitant authorization granted to him by the Government. Even assuming for the sake of argument, however, that the Government could prove the truth of the allegations it has filed against him, the Information should be dismissed in its entirety because the Government has singled Voorhis out for investigation and prosecution from similarly situated persons it has chosen not to investigate or charge, in order to prevent or punish Voorhis's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and derivative statutory and political rights.

Voorhis' lawyers explain his intent in accessing the information and turning it over to Marshall and the Beauprez campaign:

Voorhis's intent at this juncture is important. Contrary to the apparent theory underlying the Government's case, and its evident motivation in bringing this case, Voorhis was indifferent to the outcome of this gubernatorial election. He was not indifferent, however, to statements made during the course of that campaign about practices that impeded the mission of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Voorhis's previous attempts to bring this matter before a Member of Congress and other executive branch officials had little practical effect. Voorhis's disclosures were intended to bring to light the threat to public safety and attendant problems posed by these plea bargains in the context of the policy debate that had become part of the gubernatorial campaign. Voorhis sought to underscore that public safety was and continued to be compromised by lenient plea bargaining practices for criminal immigrants.

As for what former Rep. Bob Beauprez knew, Voorhis' lawyers write in a footnote to their pleading:

Copies of investigative reports provided to Voorhis by the Government demonstrate that FBI and CBI investigators determined that John Marshall met with Voorhis with the express permission and knowledge of Congressman Beauprez.

The trial is before Senior U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane, Jr. Judge Kane previously has denied motions by Voorhis both to dismiss the case because of selective prosecution and to suppress Voorhis's statements to authorities on grounds that they were coerced and he wasn't advised of his Miranda rights. For those who are interested, criminal trials are open to the public. The Voorhis trial is taking place at the U.S. Courthouse, 20th and Curtis. You will need a photo ID to enter the building and you can't bring in your cell phone if it has a camera or any recording device.

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