A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced two former special agents for the Commerce Department Office of the Inspector General to eight months in prison for submitting false expense claims and clocking hours they didn’t work.
Judge Charles B. Day, of the U.S. District Court in Maryland, ordered Rachel Ondrik, 35, of Frederick and Kirk Yamatani, 38, of Ashburn into federal custody immediately after their sentencing.
“It’s extremely rare in my experience for law enforcement officers to not be afforded an opportunity to self-surrender,” said attorney Steven Levin, who represents Yamatani. “We intend to appeal the sentence as well as the order for immediate detention.”
Levin said that the prosecutors had not asked for prison terms and that they stated on the record that probation would be appropriate for the defendants.
Ondrik and Yamatani pleaded guilty in April to seeking payments of more than $36,000 apiece in false relocation expenses and to committing time and attendance fraud. Their penalties included $42,000 each in fines and restitution, as well as one year of supervised release.
Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser issued a statement in April accusing the two former agents of waging a smear campaign against his office while they were under investigation for their crimes.
Ondrik and Yamatani filed complaints against Zinser with the commerce secretary, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office for Civil Rights, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The Office of Special Counsel has investigated the inspector general because of allegations that four Commerce agents were blackmailed into signing gag agreements that kept them from talking to investigators and the public about undisclosed claims of wrongdoing.
Zinser retracted the non-disclosure agreements after the Merit Systems Protection Board issued a stay order against them.
The four agents involved in the complaints against Zinser said he threatened to place negative appraisals in their personnel files unless they agreed not to speak out against his office, according to the Office of Special Counsel.
The lawyers who represented Ondrik and Yamatani have criticized Zinser for suggesting that their clients were connected with the whistleblower case. In a joint statement issued last month, Levin and attorney Tom Abbenante said: “Mr. Zinser’s efforts to absolve himself of any of his own alleged wrongdoing by connecting these two matters in a press release was inappropriate, to say the least. It is our understanding that Mr. Zinser’s alleged misconduct against other special agents is a separate and unrelated matter.”
The Office of Special Counsel last month said Ondrik and Yamatani did not bring the whistleblower case against Zinser, who was still under investigation by the agency at the time.