3 Customs officers charged in ‘rape table’ incidents at airport
Ellie Kaufman and Rene Marsh, CNN
(CNN) — Three Customs and Border Protection agents were arrested after allegedly assaulting two of their fellow colleagues in hazing-type incidents that involved what was referred to as a “rape table” at their office in Newark Liberty International Airport, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office.
In both incidents, the two alleged victims were locked in a conference room and forced onto a table, which was referred to as a “rape table” by the men charged with assaulting the victims. The victims were held down by colleagues while one officer got on top of them and “moved his genitals up and down” in “simulation of a sex act,” according to the press release.
CBP officers Tito Catota, 38, Parmenio I. Perez, 40, and Michael Papagni, 32, were charged with forcibly assaulting, impeding, intimidating and interfering with two men identified as victims in the criminal complaint. Both the victims were working as CBP officers when the incidents occurred, according to the press release.
The three officers charged with the assaults worked in the Passenger Enforcement Rover Team, or PERT, of CBP at Newark Airport. PERT is a specialized unit within CBP tasked with preventing passengers from bringing illegal items into the United States. One of the victims worked in PERT as well. The other victim was assigned to the Port Director staff of CBP at the time he was allegedly assaulted.
“The defendants, who were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security, allegedly subjected their own colleagues to senseless physical abuse, all while on duty at Newark Liberty International Airport,” acting US Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said in a press release. “This behavior would be abhorrent in any environment, especially one serving a critical law enforcement function.”
One of the alleged victims joined PERT’s Newark office in October 2016. On January 10, 2017, the victim was asked to forward a document. While the victim tried to scan the document with a co-worker, Papagni, Catota and another CBP officer grabbed him and threw him on top of the table. Perez then got on top of the victim and “grinded his body up and down” against the victim’s genitals through his clothing, according to the press release.
The second alleged victim was assigned to the Port Director staff at the time of his alleged assault. The victim went to the PERT office to speak to one of the CBP officers on November 30, 2016. A few minutes after getting there, the victim noticed another CBP officer lock one of the doors to the office. When the victim tried to walk to the other door to leave, Catota, Papagni and Perez grabbed him and threw him on top of the table on his side. While two people held him down, the other person got on top of the victim and “moved his genitals up and down” the victim’s leg, according to the press release.
CBP headquarters first learned about the incidents at the end of January. They then informed the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which opened an investigation.
“US Customs and Border Protection welcomes these indictments and fully supported the Office of the Inspector General-led investigation with Special Agents from our Office of Professional Responsibility,” a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told CNN. “We do not tolerate misconduct in our ranks and are committed to a safe workplace environment free of harassment or intimidation.”
After CBP headquarters learned about the incidents, they placed 11 Newark employees, including three supervisors, on administrative duty and suspended their access to their firearms, badges, and sensitive databases pending the results of the investigation, according to a CBP spokesperson. Three supervisors have been relieved of their supervising duties, according to Customs and Border Protection.
In May, the PERT team in Newark was disbanded. CBP brought managers and PERT team trainers from the John F. Kennedy International Airport office to Newark’s office to help reorganize the team. JFK’s PERT staff will review and assess operations and provide training to the Newark team, according to CBP.
CNN has reached out to the US Attorney’s Office for information on who is representing those charged and had not heard back at time of publication.