Blaine ICE official under under investigation

Published on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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A Blaine Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official is under internal investigation after misconduct allegations arose from his work on an international sexual abuse case in California in 2008 and 2009.

Special Agent in Charge Gary J. Phillips, based in Blaine since April 2009, is under investigation for having an inappropriate personal relationship with a Vietnamese interpreter who worked on the case of a man who was later convicted of having sex with seven Cambodian girls, ranging in age from 9 to 12. Phillips was the lead investigator for ICE on the case.

Phillips’ relationship with the interpreter, Ann Spiratos, was revealed near the conclusion of the trial, according to court documents.

Spiratos interpreted for the Cambodian girls who were flown to Los Angeles to testify against Michael J. Pepe, the man accused of having sex with them while working in Cambodia as a teacher.

While Pepe was convicted, he has yet to be sentenced.

In July, one of Pepe’s attorneys, deputy federal public defender Charles Brown, filed a motion for a re-trial based on the claim that Spiratos’ interpretations of the Cambodian girls’ testimony were biased.

Brown claimed in his motion that Spiratos’ personal relationship with a lead member of the prosecution influenced her interpretations and robbed Pepe of his right to a fair trial.

“The taint of [Spiratos’] bias was so fundamental and interwoven into the fabric of these proceedings that justice requires a new trial,” Brown wrote.

Judge Dale Fischer has not made a ruling on the motion.

ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers confirmed, via e-mail, that ICE referred the matter to their office of professional responsibility once they heard of the allegations against Phillips. Dankers said she could not offer any more details on the investigation because it is pending.

Phillips began work for the agency in 1988. In October 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder presented Phillips with the Award for Distinguished Service for his work in the Pepe case, Dankers said.

According to Brown’s motion, Phillips and Spiratos developed a romantic relationship after working closely together for several months on the Pepe case starting in 2008. They both admit having been “romantically involved” during this time, but differ as to when they first became romantic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Lulejian, one of the attorneys for the prosecution, said he did not facilitate a romantic relationship between Phillips and Spiratos, according to the re-trial motion. Lulejian said he contacted his office’s ethics department once he suspected the relationship in April 2009.

Phillips said in sworn declarations, sealed from public view but referenced in Brown’s motion, that Lulejian encouraged Phillips’ relationship with Spiratos on at least two occasions.

Phillips said Lulejian also commented on Spiratos’ physical appearance, referring to her as “very hot” and suggesting Phillips “take care of” her on her birthday.