Clifton Divers’ job as an ICE agent was to help enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
Instead, prosecutors say, he used his job to help immigrants avoid deportation by running a bribery scheme with a crooked lawyer who got rich scamming clients, including an Albanian woman who once handed the attorney $20,000 cash for inside help.
“It’s gonna keep me here, right?” the woman said to the lawyer, who replied: “This is money to stay and never have to leave.”
Divers was working on the inside to make that a reality, records show. And for that, prosecutors say, he should spend 52 months in prison.
“The highly sensitive nature of the position that Divers held with the Department of Homeland Security cannot be overstated,” prosecutors wrote in a scathing sentencing memo Friday, stressing Divers compromised top secret clearance to help enrich a lawyer: Birmingham attorney Charles Busse, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.
According to court documents, Divers lied to Homeland Security about Busse’s clients, claiming the pending deportees were helping with investigations into drugs, terrorism or money laundering so they could qualify for a special deportation deferral program.
“The scheme was both cunning and nefarious. For Busse, it was also very, very profitable,” prosecutors wrote, noting at least four immigrants were spared deportation during the six-year-long conspiracy.
“But for Divers, Busse would not have been able to exploit the overtaxed and broken immigration system in need of reform,” prosecutors wrote in the filing. “Nor would Busse have been able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars likewise exploiting the inexperience, trust and desperation of his clients and their families.”
According to court documents, Divers and Busse pulled off the scam by pretending immigrants from Iraq, Mexico and Albania were undercover informants assisting in federal investigations. That made them eligible for a deferred action program, which allows officials to defer deportation for people actively assisting in terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other investigations.
But it was all made up. Busse had fabricated information on supposed crimes and supposed criminals, all while the money poured in from immigrants who had reached the end of the road, prosecutors argue.
In exchange for his help, Divers got free legal services and summer work for his daughter from Busse. According to court records, Busse provided Divers free legal representation in at least two separate lawsuits and trust and estate work. He also paid Divers’ then-high school daughter thousands of dollars in cash for working at his law office over the course of three summers, records show.
Though it was Busse who took the cash bribes, prosecutors argue that Divers deserves a stiffer punishment for abusing his role as a federal agent with top secret clearance, “which gave him authority to review classified materials and entrusted him with the duty to protect the nation from harm.”
The scheme took place between 2009 and 2015.
According to court records, it was one of Busse’s clients who helped expose the scheme: a female Albanian immigrant described only as LS. In 2014, while she faced deportation, the federal government used LS to pose as a client of Busse. Her prior attorney had told her there were no legal avenues available.
But then she met Busse.
“Busse summoned LS to his office and explained to LS that he had ‘found a way’ for her to avoid being deported,” prosecutors wrote in court records.
Unbeknownst to Busse, LS was a government plant.
In January, Divers, 49, pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy. He will be sentenced Monday before U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.
Busse, a former Warren City Councilman who once had up to 200 pro bono clients, is not allowed to practice law in the state of Michigan because of his conviction.