A former federal investigator pleaded guilty Friday to disclosing confidential government information – a federal misdemeanor.
As an agent working with a Homeland Security Investigations task force, Daniel Chaves had knowledge of a confidential drug investigation that concerned an allegedly corrupt Border Patrol agent. Nonetheless, according to public court documents, he illegally passed on details of the investigation to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee in the Nogales area last summer.
Per a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Chaves was sentenced at U.S. District Court in Tucson last Friday to one year of unsupervised probation, according to his attorney, Jason Lamm.
Speaking to the NI Monday, Lamm said the defense and government had agreed that Chaves’ violation had been a relatively minor one, with “no nefarious intent whatsoever.”
He also underscored that while Chaves had disclosed confidential details, he had passed the information along to a CBP employee who appeared to have no involvement with the allegedly corrupt Border Patrol agent.
“(Chaves) never divulged anything … to any individual who was a potential target of the investigation, or anything or to anyone who could have made the targets aware,” Lamm said.
Despite the guilty plea, Chaves appears poised to potentially re-apply for a position with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where he’s worked since 2008, according to a CBP spokesperson.
On Nov. 1, Lamm penned a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynnette C. Kimmins, requesting that Chaves retain his firearm possession rights throughout the course of his probation.
Why? Because, Lamm said, Chaves will possibly be working for U.S. Customs once again.
“Mr. Chavez will, however, be eligible to re-apply for a uniformed position with CBP,” Lamm wrote, “and it will more than likely be offered to him.”
In the spring of 2021, Chaves was working with an HSI task force investigating illicit drug activity that possibly involved “public corruption by a Border Patrol agent,” according to a publicly available affidavit sworn out by an FBI agent.
The allegedly corrupt Border Patrol agent is not named in any public court documents, and it’s not entirely clear whether the agent has been formally charged. A spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations declined to comment for this story.
Chaves, along with several other HSI agents, personally knew the Border Patrol agent who was under investigation. As a result, Chaves and his colleagues signed a nondisclosure agreement, pledging to keep the investigation’s details confidential.
Chaves signed the document, but leaked details of the investigation anyway, according to the FBI agent’s affidavit.
In August 2021, in the Nogales area, Chaves reportedly spoke to a CBP employee and revealed the identity of the Border Patrol agent being investigated by HSI.
The CBP employee who received the information is not named in any court documents, and is only referred to as “Person A.”
“Chaves subsequently communicated with Person A about the corruption investigation,” the FBI agent said, “using code words in order to mask the nature of their communication.”
According to the FBI agent, Chaves borrowed an ATV from Person A “for an operation in connection with the corruption investigation.” However, in messages, Chaves appeared to mask that information by referring to the ATV as a “coin” – a code word.
Several months later, the FBI, along with DHS, sought to interview Person A “concerning the ATV,” the FBI agent stated. Before the interview, Chaves told Person A to hide the fact that he knew anything about the investigation.
During that conversation between Chaves and Person A – recorded by investigators – Chaves told Person A, “that’s why … we never had anything specific in the text messages, remember?”
When a criminal defendant is sentenced to probation, they’re often barred from possessing firearms. However, Chaves will be permitted to carry a firearm for “work purposes,” Lamm confirmed Monday.
The possibility of CBP hiring an officer back after an arrest is not unheard of. The federal government can hire individuals who possess a criminal record, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, although there are many exceptions. CBP states on its website that all applicants must “successfully” pass a background check.
Data on the number of CBP employees with criminal records is fairly limited to the public. So far in 2022, CBP has reported 221 arrests among its agents. It’s not clear how many of those agents were terminated from their position or re-hired.
What’s more, CBP notes on its website that despite a requirement to report their own arrests, agents sometimes “delay reporting and/or fail to report such arrests” to the federal government.
Speaking Monday, Lamm asserted that while Chaves’ actions had been wrongful, his client had not intended to compromise the investigation.
“Had anyone believed that there was any corrupt intent, as opposed to a one-off kind of thing ... it never would have proceeded this way,” Lamm said. “It never, ever, ever would have proceeded this way.”