What to Know
Bombshell hazing 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
The Department of Homeland Security is investigating allegations that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency officers at Newark Airport have been subjected to sexually abusive hazing by veteran officers, including the pinning down of victims to a "rape table."
"I’m afraid for my life, my safety," CBP officer Diana Cifuentes told the NBC 4 New York I-Team in an exclusive interview about the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of fellow officers. "This is terrorizing. How is it that officers believe they’re free to do whatever they want to do?"
CBP confirmed the investigation by the DOH Inspector General after Cifuentes and two other current officers, all members of the agency’s Passenger Enforcement Roving Team, detailed the shocking allegations to NBC 4 New York.
"Hazing wouldn’t do this justice. This is complete assault. They take you in a room and your fellow officers are all watching as officers grab you," said CBP officer Vito Degironimo.
The officers say the abuse has been happening for years in a secure room in Terminal C where security cameras are monitored. A conference table in the room, they say, is central to the hazing rituals.
"They call this table itself the 'rape table,'" Degironimo said. He said that while clothing was never removed, the ritual involved the grinding of genital areas on victims.
"Once the lights go out, they grab you up like a gang, and they forcibly throw you on the table and one officer ended up mounting me and pretty much riding me like a horse," he said, describing it as sexual attack. "I’m grabbed by other officers against my will. I don’t know how much more criminal you can get."
CBP officer Dan Arencibia told NBC 4 New York says he narrowly escaped becoming a sex crime victim, but that he was haunted by a song from the MTV series "Jackass" that played in the room during the hazing ritual.
"It’s called the 'Party Boy song.' It’s something they played in the past and it becomes their theme for the event," Arencibia said, adding that he documented the alleged abuse. "They’re monsters in a sense. They know that we can’t do anything about this."
Cifuentes told NBC 4 New York she escaped the "rape table" only to suffer other terrors from her fellow armed officers.
"There was a back and forth between another officer and myself," she said. "He said, 'You deserve to be put on the rape table.' And that’s when he started chasing me. … [Eventually] I was held down by another officer and one additional officer taped me with green customs tape to the chair."
The harassment, Cifuentes claims, escalated with one officer pulling his gun on her in the office.
"I was very afraid for my life," she said. "I took a deep breath and kept on typing like nothing was happening. I know that if I reacted either he was going to pull the trigger or I was going to draw the weapon myself and shoot him."
All three officers said they were originally too intimidated to make official complaints.
"People are too scared to go anywhere because these guys are well connected," Degironimo said. "Our immediate supervisors are best friends with these officers. The repercussions were that they removed the [rape] table. There was no punishment for the officers involved."
Degironimo said he did end up filing an internal complaint after months of abuse. Eventually, all three officers went to an attorney, seeking help to file a lawsuit.
"This was armed hazing. It’s an accident waiting to happen," said their attorney, Patrick Metz. "These are armed federal officers assaulting other armed federal officers. It’s gang assault."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told NBC 4 New York an investigation into the hazing allegations is ongoing.
"We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we cooperate fully with all criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, whether it occurs on or off duty," CBP said.
The officers fear that won’t be enough.
"For this to stop we have to go to the public," said Cifuentes. "We have to let people know that this is going on. We have to let other branches of the government know that this is going on."
Local congressional leaders expressed shock Wednesday at the I-Team report.
New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., who sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security, wanted answers.
“This is thoroughly and absolutely unacceptable behavior and we have to get to the bottom of it,” Payne said.
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is also on the committee, said she was sickened by the description of the “rape table.”
“Anybody who has created or supported or allowed this corrosive behavior to take place needs to face the consequences,” Watson Coleman said, adding that she may call for congressional hearings.
“Is this a culture within the organization? Is it happening in other places?” she said.
The three officers would probably be front and center in any congressional hearings. They have already spoken with federal investigators and have been moved out of Newark for their safety.