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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Robert Lustyik: Rogue FBI Agent

     Special Agent Robert Lustyik, a 48-year-old assigned to the FBI resident agency in White Plains, New York, was under investigation by various federal agencies for soliciting bribes from a native of Bangladesh named Rizve Ahmed. Agent Lustyik and his lifelong friend, Johannes Thaler, a ladies shoe salesman from Tarrytown, Connecticut, were suspected of selling FBI data to Ahmed. The information pertained to a political opponent of Ahmed's in Bangladesh, material Ahmed could use to harm his rival. Federal authorities believed agent Lustyik's and his accomplice's scheme unfolded between September 2011 through March 2012.

     Federal investigators had acquired a series of text messages between Lustyik and Thaler discussing how to pressure Ahmed, a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, into paying them the maximum amount of money for the information taken from confidential FBI files. In one such message, Lustyik wrote: "We need to push Ahmed for this meeting and get that $40,000 quick…I will talk us into getting the cash…I will work my magic. We are so close." 

     In a text message to his FBI friend, Thaler replied: "I know. It's all right there in front of us. Pretty soon we'll be having lunch in our oceanfront restaurant." 

     The FBI agent's scheme threatened to unravel in January 2012 when Lustyik learned that Ahmed was considering using another source for the information he wanted. In a text message to Thaler, Lustyik wrote: "I want to kill him [Ahmed]…I'm pissed…I will put a wire on and get Ahmed and his associates to admit they want a Bangladeshi political figure offed [murdered]…We'll sell that information to him [Ahmed]." 

     According to their scheme, the FBI agent and his accomplice hoped to secure, from Ahmed, a $40,000 "retainer"and monthly payments of $30,000. Only $1,000 in bribe money had actually exchanged hands. 

     Besides the Bangladesh scheme, the criminally industrious FBI agent and his co-conspirator had another illegal iron in the fire. In a separate, parallel case, Lustyik and Thaler stood accused of using the agent's access to FBI data to thwart a federal investigation into military contract fraud involving a Utah-based company formed by former U.S. soldiers. The company's head, Michael Taylor, was charged in 2011 with using inside information to win inflated government contracts worth $54 million. The contracts were intended to supply weapons to Afghan troops. 

     Agent Lustyik, in exchange for millions of dollars, offered to make Michael Taylor look like a valuable counterintelligence source by creating a dossier of fake interviews with former agents and prosecutors. In a text message to Taylor, Lustyik wrote: "I will not stop in my attempt to sway this [investigation] your way." Johannes Thaler's role in the scene involved acting as a messenger between Lustyyik and Taylor. 

     Unfortunately for Special Agent Lustyik, Taylor and two of his employees pleaded guilty to the defense contract scheme in late 2011. A few months later, when he turned 50, Lustyik retired from the FBI. 

     FBI agents, on August 2, 2013, arrested Lustyik and Thaler for their roles in the Bangladesh bribery case. They were charged with conspiracy to bribe a public official and soliciting and receiving bribes. Lustyik was also charged with disclosing the contents of a FBI Suspicious Activity Report. Lustyik and Thaler posted their bonds and were released from custody to await their trials. If convicted, they faced up to 25 years in prison. 

     Michael Taylor, in December 2013, after spending 14 months in federal custody in Utah, gained his freedom by cutting a deal with federal prosecutors in the cases against Lustyik and Thaler. At this point the focus of the federal investigators was on the ex-FBI agent and his friend. 

     On September 30, 2014, the former FBI agent pleaded guilty in a Salt Lake City federal courtroom to attempting to derail the investigation into Michael Taylor's defense contract case. Lustyik's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, said that his client would not make a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors. He would not testify against his friend, Johannes Thaler. 

     Johannes Thaler, 51, and Rizve Ahmed, 35, on October 17, 2014, pleaded guilty in a White Plains, New York federal court to bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Bangladesh case. Lustyik's trial on these bribery charges is scheduled for November 2014.    

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