Federal authorities have charged the civilian head of the Capitol Police Department’s Office of Diversity with embezzling public funds, the result of an investigation stemming from her previous employment at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A plea-agreement hearing is set for Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington for Deborah K. Lewis, who since July 3, 2011, has been the diversity officer and equal employment manager for the Capitol Police.
Lewis is just the second person ever to hold that job, a post created in 2008 to combat the department’s history of race- and gender-based discrimination complaints and lawsuits.
The probe that led to Lewis being charged was handled by the Office of Inspector General investigators assigned to ICE at the Homeland Security Department.
It is unclear whether their investigation was underway when Lewis was interviewed in the summer of 2011 for the Capitol Police job and was subsequently hired. If so, there could be questions about why any background check did not flag the ongoing investigation, or whether a background check was not done or was ignored.
A work history also shows that after leaving ICE, Lewis was subsequently employed for about one month at the Agriculture Department.
Lewis has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case, according to a statement released Wednesday to National Journal by a Capitol Police spokeswoman. In fact, say sources, Lewis was immediately escorted out of the police headquarters building when word arrived in late March of the criminal charge lodged by federal prosecutors.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, would not comment on the case Wednesday, he said, beyond what is now in the court record.
What is known from court documents is that federal prosecutors filed an initial charging document against Lewis on March 31. It alleges that between April 2008 and April 2010 she “knowingly and willfully did embezzle, steal, and convert to her own use property of the United States having some value, that is money.”
The charge against Lewis was officially listed as “Theft of Public Money.”
The document does not provide more details, including the amount of stolen money, or from where that public money was embezzled and how.
An ICE spokeswoman had no immediate comment about the Lewis case on Wednesday. She also did not immediately confirm a work history showing Lewis was employed at that agency from 2004 to 2010, or the accuracy of a description posted on the Internet of Lewis’s job title in an announcement of a 2010 public appearance she was making. She was described in the online posting as “chief diversity officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
An Agriculture Department spokesman also would not answer questions about Lewis. “As there is there is an open and ongoing federal investigation into this matter, all questions regarding the case should be referred to the Department of Justice,” Cullen Schwarz said.
But when Lewis appears in court on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, more details are anticipated. According to papers filed by her lawyer, David Benowitz of Washington, “Ms. Lewis is prepared to enter a guilty plea to one count of misdemeanor Theft of Public Money, Property or Records.”
The plea agreement hearing was originally scheduled for May 1, but was canceled. It was then rescheduled for May 28, but was canceled again because Lewis’s sister was scheduled to have surgery during the week. Then the hearing was rescheduled for June 10, but Benowitz reported he had a conflict from another case.
Benowitz did not respond to emails on Wednesday seeking more information about the case, including whether Lewis will be following through with her request to be permitted to enter a guilty plea. A spokesman for his law firm said Benowitz did not have any immediate comment.
The Capitol Police diversity office was created in 2008 under former Chief Phillip Morse to respond to complaints from minorities in the department that they had trouble getting their discrimination complaints in front of top managers.
Former Capitol Police Inspector General Carl Hoecker was among those who raised issues about the department’s lack of a formal diversity program or an Equal Employment Office function.
The departmental statement given to National Journal about Lewis on Wednesday said: “The Diversity Officer advises the Department on proactive strategies to prevent employment discrimination, ensure workforce diversity, address workplace conflict, and create an inclusive environment where all employees feel they are valued, respected, and free to develop and perform to their fullest potential.”
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