Congressional Staffer Charged for Falsifying SF-86

Security Clearance

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One can say that 2017 has not been a good year for Issac Lanier Avant, who is Chief of Staff for Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and who previously served as Staff Director and Deputy Staff Director for the House Committee on Homeland Security.

In January 2017, Avant was sentenced to four-months in prison for tax evasion. Now, some ten months later, Avant is getting a second dosage of DOJ love, on October 11 he found himself indicted for the federal offense of willfully making a false statement on his SF-86.

In 2008 and 2013, the indictment tells us, Avant dutifully filled out his SF-86 in order to receive a Top Secret security clearance for his work with the Committee on Homeland Security.

Specifically, Avant answered “NO” to the question: “In the past seven (7) years have you failed to file or pay federal, state, or other taxes when required by law or ordinance?”

As Avant was convicted of not filing income tax returns for the years 2009-2013, the above statement was false.

In May 2005, Avant filed a W4 to his employer, the House of Representatives, and claimed he was exempt. Though he earned approximately $170,000 from 2008-2012, he failed to file an income tax return.

His January conviction for four-months was broken down into 30-days incarceration and then every weekend for 12 months, followed by one-year supervised release. He was also ordered to pay the IRS $142,962.

Advising the Homeland Security Committee from Jail

Rep. Thompson is the ranking Democratic member of the House’s Homeland Security Committee, and Avant remains his Chief of Staff, though it remains to be seen how Avant will be able to function in this role, given the charges he now faces which appear to put his suitability for a security clearance in doubt. If found guilty and incarcerated (again) perhaps he is no longer suitable as Thompson’s Chief of Staff.

Do federal prosecutions happen often for lies on the SF-86?

Often enough. A quick survey of recent activity showed events occur with regular cadence in any year. Three of the more interesting instances are:

  • In 2015, we saw an individual in Florida indicted for lying about his sex life on his SF-86. What did this individual fail to report? He neglected to declare a close and continuing relationship with a foreign national. Furthermore, the gent lied to background investigators on three separate occasions. The kicker? His female companion may have been using an alias, and her true identity was never known. The court strongly hinted that the lady-friend had a foreign intelligence affiliation.
  • Also in 2015, an individual in Virginia, was indicted for making false statements on his SF-86. In this instance, the individual falsely claimed to have been employed by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1973-2000 as a “Outside Paramilitary Special Operations Officer.”
  • Another incident in 2015, involved an individual in Massachusetts, who was indicted for making false statements on his SF-86. This charge was one of many, involving the individual, but focused on his having previously served in a foreign military. The individual had been an anti-aircraft gunner in the People’s Liberation Army of China.

Employers and employees filing the SF-86 need to remember, when the signature dries on the SF-86, a legal and binding attestation of the truthfulness of the contents has been made by the signatory. Should any of the content be false, the signatory is opening themselves up for federal prosecution and very serious penalties.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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