Career-Ending Move for Immigration Officer Trying to Help a Friend

A Senior Immigration Officer, fired by DHS for misuse of her agency position and lack of candor, appealed with the federal court. See how this worked out for her.

The case is Sphatt v Dept of Homeland Security (CAFC No. 2020-1451 (nonprecedential) 4/7/2021).

According to the court’s decision, Jane Sphatt came under scrutiny when she used her official position on a document she submitted in support of an immigration petition filed by a friend and his wife. She included her job title and a copy of her credentials with an affidavit attesting to the bonafides of her friends’ marriage in a petition before the agency. She eventually admitted that she did this to give more credence to the testimony she was providing before the agency in support of her friends.

DHS launched an investigation and in the process uncovered additional problems involving Sphatt. Eventually the agency proposed her removal for misuse of her official position, misuse of the Treasury law enforcement data base on several occasions to look up personal files on herself and relatives (a clear no-no), and her lack of candor in official documents by not disclosing her relationships with foreign nationals as required time to time in agency filings.  (Opinion pp. 2-3)

So, what started out as a misuse of credentials in a misguided effort to help a friend, grew into a far more serious situation for Ms. Sphatt. Originally the agency Disciplinary Review Board proposed a 7-day suspension for the misuse of credentials and position. But the intervening investigation uncovered 13 instances of Sphatt’s misuse of the TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communication System), a system that provides access to law enforcement databases and that was strictly limited to official business. Sphatt tapped the secure system to check on herself and relatives. (P. 3)

With the newly discovered facts, the agency Board amended its notice to propose Sphatt be removed for the original reasons, as well as misuse of the TECS system, and lack of candor in her attestations to the agency. The deciding official sustained all of the charges and most of the specifications supporting those charges. Sphatt was removed and took her case to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in an effort to salvage her 17 plus year career. 

Following a hearing by an MSPB administrative judge, the Board upheld Sphatt’s removal. As is her right, she filed an appeal with the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. That court has now ruled that MSPB committed no error in sustaining Sphatt’s removal. In short, Sphatt remains fired.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.

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