Rep. Chris Stewart: Disarm the Feds!


On last night's episode of The Independents, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) talked about one of the lesser-known factlets illuminated by the standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management: that dozens of federal agencies have their own fully armed police forces, capable of executing warrants, raids, and arrests:

Rep. Stewart mentioned in his segment an outrageous case that I played a small part in spreading the word about back in June 2011: the dawn raid on the Stockton home of Kenneth Wright, in which a dozen or so armed cops handcuffed the man in front of his three bawling kids in order to execute a warrant on behalf of the Department of Education to gather information on a loan-fraud investigation. Stewart, like many others (including myself, at first) boiled this down into Dept. of Education's SWAT team raids man over financial aid.

As I updated in that original post, and in a follow-up, the raid was part of a more serious criminal investigation than mere loan default, and it also involved at least a token presence of the local Stockton police in addition to the DoE's Office of Inspector General (this is the name that federal agencies put on their police forces, which technically are not SWAT teams, but sure can act like them).

Kenneth Wright and his wife Michelle Wright (from whom he was reportedly estranged at the time of the raid) were later indicted for fraud with some co-conspirators. From the Department of Justice's 2012 description of the indictment:

Michelle Wright, 31; Kenneth Wright, 34; Jaymar Brown, 33; Jennifer Brown, 54; Brandy Miner, 36, all of Stockton, and Janeigh Mendoza, 31, of Tracy.

According to the indictment, from July 2007 to June 2011, the defendants conspired with each other and with others to obtain federal student assistance funds by fraud. Michelle Wright and Mendoza used stolen personal identity information to apply for additional FSA funds. Some of these individuals were severely handicapped and unable to read or write, let alone attend college. The defendants recruited straw students and used their own names to apply for FSA funds. Michelle Wright and Mendoza completed the paperwork necessary to obtain the funds. As a result of their scheme, the Department of Education lost more than $285,000.

In February of this year, the Wrights were convicted and sentenced. From the DoJ press release:  

Michelle Wright was part of a…conspiracy to commit student loan fraud. She and her co-defendants recruited straw students to sign up for college classes for the purpose of receiving financial aid funds. Some of the individuals agreed to have their identities used to commit fraud; other individuals had their personal information used to commit fraud without their consent. […]

Five others have been convicted and sentenced in Wright's case. Janeigh Mendoza, 32, of Tracy, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison. The others, including Michelle Wright's husband Kenneth Wright, were sentenced to terms of probation. Michelle Wright was ordered to pay $129,171 in restitution.

It's important to emphasize, as I did back when this started, that even if the couple were guilty as charged (and now they are!), that doesn't justify sending a dozen armed men into the house of a father of three children at 6 in the morning. You can execute search warrants on suspected non-violent criminals without gratuitously creating a dangerous situation, traumatizing kids, and damaging property. And as Rep. Stewart pointed out, there is no particularly good reason to have a comparatively unaccountable and presumably less-experienced federal agency playing at being cops.