What to Know
Bombshell abuse allegations pit customs officers against each other at Newark Airport
One officer claims there was a notorious conference table known as "the rape table" in middle of the room where senior officers went wild
The feds confirm an ongoing investigation and say U.S. Customs and Border Protection is cooperating fully with the probe
A fourth federal Customs and Border Protection officer has come forward to corroborate accounts of three others who described a pattern of extreme hazing and abuse by co-workers at Newark Airport -- allegations first exposed in a bombshell I-Team report last month.
The veteran officer, who did not want to be identified by name, said he was attacked several times beginning in late 2011 in a secure area of Terminal C.
He said that other officers duct-taped him to a chair so tightly that he was unable to get up.
CBP Officer Diana Cifuentes described a similar scenario in an interview with the I-Team in May. She said she was taped to a chair in the office last fall, suggesting a longtime pattern of disturbing internal behavior.
In the same interview, another CBP officer, Vito Degironimo, claimed he was pinned down on a so-called "rape table" and sexually abused.
"I mean his genitals are on my chest, he’s humping me, dry humping me with clothes on," Degironimo said.
The latest officer to come forward said there was no conference table when he was assigned to the office, but he said he was sexually abused more than once.
"They’ll try to walk behind you and just grab you and rub their genitals behind your buttocks, like a sexual act, assaulting you," he said.
He claimed the abuse escalated. One time, he says he thought he was going to die.
"For some reason, somebody put a bag over my head and he started choking me," the officer said. "It was a plastic bag. At this point he’s not just suffocating me, but he’s choking me at the same time, so I was struggling. I tried to get it off and he held it tighter."
He said he was finally able to free himself and confronted the officer. "I said, ‘Why did you hurt me, you were trying to kill me, you were choking me.’"
He added that other officers in the room were laughing and he wondered, "Why would they come to this? Why are they trying to kill me?"
New Jersey attorney Patrick Metz, who is representing Cifuentes, Degironimo and a third officer as they seek to file a lawsuit over the alleged abuse, described the fourth officer's claim as sickening.
"Somebody put a bag over his head and choked him until he almost passed out. What other workplace does that go on in?" Metz said. "Everybody from the rank officers on up knew or apparently knew and just looked the other way."
The same year the officer says he was choked, CBP issued a directive saying it did not tolerate violence in the workplace, including, "A direct or indirect threat of physical, mental or emotional harm."
All of the officers said they were afraid to complain to CBP management for fear of retaliation. They have since been interviewed by investigators from the Office of Inspector General and all have requested transfers out of Newark Airport.
New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security, is intensifying her demands for Congressional hearings in the case.
"This has got to stop," she said. "It is illegal, it is violent, and someone must be held accountable."
On May 15, Coleman Watson and other Democratic members of the Committee sent a letter to Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, expressing concern about the allegations and asking for a response to a list of questions. The deadline was May 29. McAleenan has not yet responded.
In a prior statement, a CBP spokesman told the I-Team the agency is cooperating with the investigation by the Inspector General.