Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer pleads no contest to exposing himself to a 16-year-old girl
Henry Pierson Curtis
April 6, 2006
One of Florida's top federal cops pleaded no contest Wednesday to exposing himself to a 16-year-old girl last year in Orlando at the Mall at Millenia.
The plea by Frank Figueroa, who ran U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in Central and North Florida, keeps him from standing trial today in the Orange County Courthouse.
"He did this to relieve his family of the stress of going to trial," said his lawyer, A. Brian Phillips of Orlando. "He pleaded no contest contrary to the advice of his counsel. I think it's a winnable trial."
Figueroa, 49, remains on administrative leave and free on $500 bond since his Oct. 25 arrest. He faces the possibility of losing his pension and his job if he is found guilty at his sentencing May 9 by Judge Leon B. Cheek III, according to interviews with federal employees.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for ICE, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., that the agency is still trying to determine if Figueroa will receive a pension when he becomes eligible to retire in August after 30 years of service.
"I find it always wise to never answer a hypothetical question," he said, declining to say if a conviction would cost Figueroa his job. "I'm not even going to speculate."
The arrest last year led to a nationwide review of the background checks conducted on federal employees who investigate the sexual exploitation of children. It was conducted because Figueroa previously ran Operation Predator, a federal program that deports foreign nationals convicted of sex crimes.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called for the review after learning that Figueroa had been arrested years before on what he had been told were similar charges, records show.
The Department of Homeland Security wrote Grassley on Nov. 2 that police records showed Figueroa was arrested in 1977 while working in upstate New York. "That case was dismissed in the interest of justice because the perpetrator was never identified."
While Phillips says Figueroa did nothing wrong in either case, court records show he acted in an unusual fashion for a senior federal official last fall when the crying victim told security guards that a short man in baggy shorts had been masturbating in the mall's food court.
"Suddenly, the Hispanic male . . . removed himself from his table and departed," a security guard wrote. "As both of us, Hispanic male and myself passed Service Court No. 3, the Hispanic male started running through the E-2 employee parking lot toward Ring Road."
Another guard stopped Figueroa as he reached his unmarked government car in a distant parking lot, where he produced an ICE badge upon being asked to stay on the property until Orlando police arrived, records show.
"Special Agent Figueroa gave me his business phone number stating that he needed to get back to Tampa . . . and if OPD had any questions that they could call him," security Sgt. Robert Francisco wrote of asking Figueroa to wait at the security office for police. "Special Agent Figueroa gave an exasperated look, but then asked if we could drive there."
The victim is expected to address the court at Figueroa's sentencing May 9 about what the teen previously described as the most disturbing event in her life.
Figueroa intends to use the hearing to present at least 20 letters of support from friends and federal employees as well as a multipage memo about what really happened, according to his lawyer.
"It's Frank's side of the world in it," Phillips said. "We anticipate putting on a complete presentation of Mr. Figueroa."
The victim's account is not credible, Phillips said, saying that if the teen could see 2 centimeters of flesh from 20 feet away when others sitting much closer to Figueroa didn't notice anything, "she has the visual acuity of most birds of prey."
The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office would not comment on the strength of the case against Figueroa, but spokesman Randy Means challenged Phillips' comment by saying, "This vulgar victim-bashing is very inappropriate and serves no other purpose than to further victimize our child victim."
Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5256.