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Customs officer on trial in coverup

A trial about illegal access to a sensitive Department of Homeland Security computer and an alleged coverup began Wednesday in Buffalo federal court.

Kelly Bossinger, a suspended U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer, is accused of illegally accessing a Homeland Security computer system, making a false statement and conspiracy related to a series of incidents in May 2004.

The alleged crimes took place after Bossinger learned that the car of one of her close relatives had been stopped and searched at the Peace Bridge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory L. Brown told jurors.

The relative's car was extensively searched because she was one of the subjects of a drug investigation, the prosecutor said in his opening statement. No drugs were found.

"[Bossinger] misused her position as a Customs & Border Protection officer to find out why" the search was conducted, Brown said.

Bossinger is accused of encouraging other officers to run computer checks to help her determine why her relative was searched and then encouraging the officers to lie to cover up the activities, Brown said.

Defense attorney Nelson S. Torre said Bossinger did nothing illegal and is now being blamed for the actions of other officers.

"She did not ask them to do that," Torre said.

Two other customs officers -- identified in court papers as Maryann Crooks and Amy Miller -- have already taken misdemeanor plea deals in the case, and a third officer, Robert Murphy, retired after being notified he was under investigation, authorities said.

Crooks, Miller and Murphy are all listed as potential witnesses for both the government and the defense. According to Brown, Crooks is also a relative of the woman who was searched at the Peace Bridge.

The computer system that was illegally accessed is one that contains sensitive material about people whose activities at border crossings are under investigation by the government, Brown said.

The system is restricted to official business only and never to obtain information about friends or relatives.


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