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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guardian of Justice Award

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FBI Agent Honored for Mortgage Fraud, Credit History Fraud Investigations; Buchanan County/St. Joseph Team Honored for Arrest of Violent Fugitive Under Fire

KANSAS CITY, MO—Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, presented area law enforcement officers with the Guardian of Justice Award last night during the 9th annual LECC Training Seminar in Springfield, Mo.

The annual Guardian of Justice Award recognizes a state or local officer as well as a federal agent for investigative excellence, selfless collaboration, tireless trial support, commendable diligence and professionalism, and noteworthy assistance to prosecution. The prestigious law enforcement award is presented by the U.S. Attorney each year during the law enforcement training conference.

FBI Special Agent Julia Jensen was the federal recipient of the Guardian of Justice Award. This is based on her work investigating mortgage fraud and credit history fraud cases during the past year, but also reflects her work on many other mortgage fraud cases in prior years. Mortgage fraud has been a scourge on Kansas City in recent years, but Jensen’s work has helped to stem the tide. Due largely to her tireless investigations, the Western District of Missouri has been among the leading districts in the country in terms of number of defendants prosecuted for mortgage fraud. She was among the first in the nation to identify credit history fraud and, as a result, this district charged the first credit history fraud case in the country in August 2010, which received nationwide media attention. In the process, Jensen has become a leading national expert on this subject.

Five members of the Buchanan County/St. Joseph Police Department Special Response Team—Detective Sergeant Eric Protzman, Detectives Steve McClintick and Shane Luikart, Officer Jason Stron, and Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Tiger Parsons—were the state and local recipients of the Guardian of Justice Award. These Special Response Team members distinguished themselves during their arrest of an armed federal fugitive and violent offender who fired upon the officers before he was taken into custody.

Buchanan County/St. Joseph Police Department Special Response Team
An arrest warrant had been issued for Christopher A. Punzo for both a state violation as well as a violation of his supervised release on a prior federal conviction. Armed with two loaded firearms, Punzo had barricaded himself in a small bedroom of a St. Joseph, Mo., residence. The Buchanan County/St. Joseph Police Department Special Response Team responded to the scene, but Punzo resisted hostage negotiators attempts to peacefully arrest him.

After several hours of negotiation and deployment of tear gas in an attempt to force Punzo to surrender, team members Protzman, McClintick, Luikart, Strong, and Parsons entered the bedroom to take Punzo into custody. Punzo aimed a loaded revolver at the approaching officers, which they knocked from his hand by shooting him with bean bags. Punzo then pointed a loaded assault rifle at the officers and fired a round, striking Strong in the leg and hitting his thigh holster and sidearm.

Punzo tried to fire additional rounds from the assault rifle at the officers before one of the officers grabbed the barrel of the rifle and forcibly took it from him while another team member grabbed Punzo.

On June 29, 2010, Punzo was indicted for being a felon in possession of firearms. He was sentenced on April 7, 2011, to 10 years in federal prison without parole, the maximum penalty. Because Punzo had violated conditions of his supervised release in the earlier federal case, he was also sentenced to a consecutive two years in federal prison without parole, for a total prison term of 12 years.

FBI Special Agent Julia Jensen
It is likely that in no other area of local law enforcement has one agent made a broader impact to deter a specific type of crime than Jensen has in the area of mortgage fraud. She spots new trends and stays on the pulse of what types of fraud are going on, and who the perpetrators are, and then one by one, she prepares strong, winning cases against them. Preparing successful mortgage fraud cases requires laborious work to gather all of the myriad necessary documents, and painstaking attention to detail to uncover the scheme and prepare it for prosecution. Usually, dozens of witnesses must be carefully interviewed.

Jensen frequently lectures to professionals in the mortgage and real estate industry and others about how to avoid these fraud schemes, which are constantly being reinvented.

While investigating mortgage fraud, Jensen noticed that subjects appeared to be doing things that affected their credit histories. She began investigating this conduct and came to realize the subjects were manipulating and falsifying their credit histories as a way to circumvent the protections and increased credit requirements imposed following the mortgage meltdown. Credit history fraud is extremely problematic since lenders rely heavily on credit scores and credit histories in making lending decisions, and most lenders have not realized the possibility that credit histories and scores may be manipulated and falsified. Her investigation resulted in the first federal indictment for credit history fraud (U.S. v. Washam-Hawkins, et al).

Among her most recent cases, Jensen investigated a significant mortgage fraud scheme with 19 defendants in a $12.6 million conspiracy that involved 25 upscale residential properties in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and Raymore, Mo. All of the defendants have pleaded guilty (U.S. v. Clark, et al). Jensen also investigated an $11 million mortgage fraud scheme with nine defendants (U.S. v. Turner, et al), several of whom have pleaded guilty.

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