SEATTLE — A federal judge has sentenced the former agent in charge of the Seattle office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to one year in prison for lying about money he took from an informant fund.
Other charges against James Contreras, 52, were dropped under a plea agreement, The Seattle Times reported.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman imposed the maximum term under a federal sentencing range of six to 12 months, saying she was “taken aback” by the prosecution’s recommendation of three months of imprisonment and three months of home detention with electronic monitoring. Contreras’ attorney asked for probation.
Charged dropped against Contreras included 29 other false-statement charges and an embezzlement count that carried a 10-year penalty.
Pechman said he put cases and other agents at risk when he forged their names to obtain $19,700 from an informant fund. She said she remains “highly suspicious what happened to the money” despite Contreras’ insistence he personally gave it to informants and didn’t pocket it.
Contreras, of Ravensdale, resigned from the ATF in 2012 after the agency opened an investigation into his ties to a confidential informant who was arrested and sent to prison for sexually abusing a woman in Seattle.
The investigation was trigged by a May 2012 story in The Seattle Times, which detailed the ATF’s relationship with the informant, Joshua Allan Jackson, who was hired despite a lengthy history of violence against women.
According to a grand jury indictment, Contreras took the money from the informant fund between March 2010 and April 2012, often falsifying the signatures of other agents. Money that was supposed to be paid to 12 informants wasn’t given to them, according to the charges.
The charge Contreras pleaded guilty to involved the forging of the name of another agent on a voucher for $700 to give to a confidential informant.
Standing before Pechman, a contrite Contreras said he did not keep any of the money for his personal use. He said when there wasn’t enough money for informants, he cut corners to expedite payments to them for lodging, food and medical care.
“I threw away basically a 27-year, 28-year career by trying to fudge the paperwork,” he said, referring to his 13-year career with the ATF and his time before that with the El Paso Police Department in Texas.
In urging probation, his attorney, Scott Terry told Pechman that his client’s loss of his career and recognition of his wrongdoing should be considered.