What emerged after that first step was the harrowing story of a woman who authorities say was harassed and extorted by a man preying on immigrants by impersonating a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. Prosecutors say he eventually raped her.
That man, Jose "Panama" Antonio Haughton, was convicted Wednesday of second-degree robbery, first-degree theft and seven counts of criminal impersonation. The 37-year-old faces additional charges of first-degree robbery and second-degree rape in King County Superior Court next month.
A call to Haughton's defense attorney, Sandro Parrotta, was not immediately returned.
Immigrants illegally in the country are vulnerable to abuse and scams because of the threat of deportation, an immigrants rights advocate said.
Haughton's case led ICE officials to the unusual step of asking immigrants illegally in the country to come forward if they had been victims of Haughton's. In total, investigators found seven people victimized by Haughton.
"Our focus in these cases is to arrest and criminally prosecute impostor officers, like this defendant, who hope to profit by preying on the vulnerable," Shawn Fallah, resident agent in charge of ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility in Seattle, said in a statement. "Having people come forward to report such schemes is crucial to deterring this type of fraud and preventing others from becoming victims."
The office usually investigates in-house misconduct by ICE, Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services. The office led this investigation because Haughton posed as an ICE officer.
The woman, referred to as G.C. in probable-cause documents, said Haughton approached her at a fast food restaurant in Kent in January 2012, saying he could get her $3,000 worth of food stamps for $400. She rebuffed him, but he wrote down her number when she said it aloud during a call, charging documents say.
Charging papers say that over a month, Haughton managed to convince the woman he was an immigration officer, telling her that he could fix her and her family's status. She referred Haughton to her brother-in-law, named in documents as "Arturo." Haughton asked Arturo for $1,000 to fix his status. He then began demanding more money and threatening the family.
"Over this period of time Haughton became more angry and scared G.C., making her believe he would hurt her and her family if she did not help him get money from Arturo," probable-cause documents say.
The family ended up giving Haughton $3,000. Haughton told the woman to meet him at a motel to drop off the money. When she refused to enter his room, he pulled her in and raped her, prosecutors say.
Jorge Baron of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said his organization has seen a lot of cases of immigrants being extorted.
"Scammers know because the person is undocumented, they know they are less likely to go to the police," he said. "It's a huge issue; unfortunately something we see. People are being taken advantage in that way."