Maryland prison guard indicted for immigration fraud

A Cameroonian citizen who federal authorities say fraudulently became a lawful permanent resident of the United States-and allegedly lied repeatedly while attempting to become a naturalized U.S. citizen-has been working as a Maryland correctional officer (CO) since January 2007. On Oct. 4, a federal grand jury indicted the 44-year-old man, who used the name Marcus Akwecheh Ufuoka as an employee of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), on charges of perjury and unlawful procurement of citizenship. DPSCS spokesperson Erin Julius says Ufuoka is currently on leave without pay.

Ufuoka's real name, court documents say, is Marcus Akwecheh Onekon. He was previously convicted in Virginia federal court in 1995 for felony misuse of a U.S. passport in the name of Gordy Agwere Nelkon-a crime for which he was sentenced to probation and a fine-and was deported in 1997. In 2005, court documents say, he returned to the U.S. to marry his sister, Frida Ibenwie Onekon, who had successfully applied for a fiancé visa on his behalf. After their marriage, in January 2006-a year before he became a Maryland CO-Ufuoka was granted status as a lawful permanent resident. The two were granted a divorce earlier this year.

Since becoming a CO, Ufuoka applied for naturalization in 2010 and 2011, and allegedly lied in the forms about his use of other names, whether he'd been deported, and his prior criminal conviction. In the first application, he requested that his last name be changed to Onekon-a request he did not include in his second application. In an April naturalization interview in Baltimore, Ufuoka allegedly lied again in sworn statements about his use of other names, his deportation, and whether he'd attempted to enter the U.S. prior to 2005.

Julius, asked for comment about the case, writes in a series of e-mails that "we don't discuss background checks publicly," but that, generally speaking, "DPSCS follows federal guidelines and law in hiring foreign nationals." The department asks for "I-9 documents as required by federal law"-passports, visas, or other documents that establish identity and employment eligibility-and "if a potential employee submits those documents, and they appear to be official and legitimate as required by law, we accept them," Julius continues, adding that, "to do otherwise could be an unfair immigration-related employment practice."

The immigration-fraud charges against Ufuoka is unusual for DPSCS. More typically, the department contends with COs who get caught delivering contraband to inmates or otherwise aiding criminal conduct behind prison walls. Correctional staff caught up in the federal prosecution of the Black Guerilla Family prison gang prompted City Paper to examine corruption among COs in Maryland ("Inside Job," Feature, May 12, 2010), which was found to be widespread and prompted calls for reform.

The problem is ongoing, with two COs-Michael McCain and Victoria Mackall-scheduled for trial later this year on separate charges that they attempted to deliver contraband inside a place of confinement. In a long-running civil rights case in Maryland federal court involving an inmate who was severely beaten and stabbed by another inmate who allegedly was aided by a gang-affiliated CO ("Inmate's Lawsuit Claiming Guard Ordered Gang 'Hit' Gains Traction," Mobtown Beat, June 15, 2011), internal DPSCS documents filed on Oct. 18 show that the CO-Duwuane Crew, who has since resigned-admitted in interviews shortly after the incident that he was an "involuntary" member of the Tree Top Piru set of the Bloods gang. The documents also include interviews with inmates who are Bloods and reveal that "Crew and other correctional officers should and do indeed take orders from the Blood top-ranking officers, be they inmates or not."

In light of the well-documented corruption problems at DPSCS, the case against Ufuoka appears enigmatic. Asked whether DPSCS has had any other immigration-fraud cases involving COs in recent years, Julius says, "We have not."

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