Fugitive Found Working at Homeland Security

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Tahaya Buchanan, a 39 year old continued working for the Atlanta office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, while a fugitive wanted in Essex County, New Jersey for insurance fraud. It was not until yesterday that the CIS office in Atlanta became aware of the criminal charges, despite her having been arrested on July 9th and spending the subsequent week in a Georgia prison, a warrant in the National Crime Information Center system (nationwide law enforcement notification) issued on January 8th, 2008, and her pleading guilty to one charge of insurance fraud on Monday.

Time line of Events

  • March 2005: Tahaya Buchanan of Newark, NJ falsely reports her car, a Range Rover, stolen and files an insurance claim.
  • April 2005: The Range Rover is found by police in a garage in Irvington, NJ owned by Buchanan’s aunt. The police discovered the car after responding to a fire at the garage. Her insurance company denies her claim and a criminal probe is opened.
  • Between April – November 2007: At some point during the investigation, it appears Buchanan transferred from a Homeland Security office in New Jersey to the Georgia office.
  • November 2007: Buchanan is indicted on a charge of second degree insurance fraud.
  • January 2008: On January 8th, 2008, a warrant is entered into the National Crime Information Center system, entering a nationwide notification to law enforcement agencies that Buchanan is a fugitive, based on the issuance in December of an arrest warrant by a New Jersey judge.
  • July 2009: Buchanan is arrested on July 9th of this year in DeKalb County, Georgia after a traffic officer noticed a December 2007 warrant for her arrest. She spends the following week in prison in Georgia.
  • December 2009: On December 7th, Buchanan pleads guilty to one count of insurance fraud for which she faces up to three months of probation.
  • December 2009: On December 8th the USCIS finds out Buchanan was a fugitive when asked for comment by news sources.
Tahaya Buchanan, Essex County Prosecutors Office

Tahaya Buchanan, Essex County Prosecutors Office

Dueling Quotes

Of interest are the subsequent quotations from both USCIS and the Essex County Prosecutor, each engaging in a bit of finger pointing as to what the real lead of the story is:

“”It’s amazing they couldn’t find her. Good Lord,” – Kevin Kerns, Office Chief of Staff at USCIS

“We found it surprising, alarming that an employee of the Department of Homeland Security is a fraudster, and we do not understand how she could have remained employed there with an open criminal warrant for her arrest remaining on the interstate system without being discovered,” – Michael Morris, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor.

Easily the most bizarre response is from USCIS spokesperson Ana Santiago, who states that she does not have the information available as to whether the office regularly checks its employee lists against national criminal warrants, but does note that the “USCIS has zero tolerance for any type of employee misconduct or criminal activity“.

Providing an answer for Ms. Santiago, the USCIS (obviously) does not regularly check their employee lists against nationwide issued warrants. Additionally Buchanan is still employed by USCIS.

Finally

USCIS is hardly alone, in corporate America many firms fail at hiring an investigation firm to conduct competent background checks on newly hired employees, let alone conduct checks for subsequent criminal behavior after the date of hire. Still, this is a strange story, on one hand demonstrating that the unusual behavior of Tahaya Buchanan went completely unnoticed by supervisory staff at USCIS, on the other showing the competency of local law enforcement in identifying and arresting an out of state fugitive. Still, the Department of Homeland Security agencies have a different level of responsibility and impact than a regular business, and this incident will likely result in changes including potentially regular background checks of existing employees, background checks on employees doing job or regional transfers, or verifications against well known law enforcement registries (Sex offenders, National Crime Information Center, et al) at some regular time interval.

For the corporate information security officer, this is a good excuse to meet with Human Resources, dust off the new hire policy to see if changes are needed, and make sure the investigative agency retained to do background checks is performing adequately and as expected. Want a good way to verify? On your next two new hires, use both your existing investigations firm and an additional firm, and compare the reports to see if the quality level of your existing provider is matching up to that of its similar rate competitors. It is a low cost exercise for a process that can cause high level headaches if it fails and an inappropriate employment choice is made.

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Filed Under: Security Policy

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Comments (3)

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  1. Seymour B says:

    I can’t wait for the Federal Government to be in charge of my healthcare!

  2. Alexander Goristal says:

    “this incident will likely result in changes including potentially regular background checks of existing employees, background checks on employees doing job or regional transfers, or verifications against well known law enforcement registries (Sex offenders, National Crime Information Center, et al) at some regular time interval.” You have an astounding, naive, and in my opinion (and in conformance with evidence to date) completely unwarranted faith in the capacity of that warren of arrogant bureaucratic hubris to reform itself.

    -AleG

  3. Prefect says:

    We prefer to call it optimism combined with effectively disguising suggestions as actions likely taken.

    Although in considering this from the organizations point of view, such an incident would turn out the exact same way in most organizations. That is because very few conduct any manner of background checks on employees after the employee is hired. And there would be some push back on implementing this (cost, perception of a lack of trust).

    So with that said, this is a good opportunity to see the problem presented above for what it is (primarily a PR problem that immigration can’t find that its own people have outstanding warrants), and start to find reasonable solutions (such as regular automated checks against offender databases).