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US Customs Agent From Lyndhurst Admits Terrorizing Fellow Workers

The trio "were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security," U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
The trio "were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security," U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said. Photo Credit: INSET: Courtesy Christina Solano / PHOTO: Courtesy Port Authority of NY/NJ

A Customs and Border Protection officer from Lyndhurst admitted beating and terrorizing fellow employees at Newark Airport, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Another CBP worker from Hawthorne and a co-worker were indicted Tuesday on similar charges, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.

Tito Catota, 38, admitted Monday that he and his two co-defendants -- Parmenio I. Perez, 40, of Hawthorne and Michael A. Papagni, 32, of Staten Island – “assaulted, impeded, intimidated, and interfered” with two CBP officers while on the job.

The trio, "who were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security," subjected the victims to "senseless physical abuse,” Carpenito said.

Catota, Perez, and Papagni were assigned to the specialized Passenger Enforcement Rover Team (PERT), which identifies and intercepts drug smugglers and potential terrorists, the U.S. attorney said. It was based on the second floor of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, he said.

Within two weeks of being assigned to PERT last October, one of the victims was told of a “rape table” and threatened to be put on it, Catota told a U.S. District Court judge in Newark at his plea hearing.

Another time, the victim was scanning a document when one of the defendants told him he had five minutes to get out of the office or be taught “what this team is about.”

Moments later, an unidentified officer turned out the lights, after which Catota said he and the others grabbed the victim's arms and legs and threw him on top of the table.

While they held him down, Perez "got on top of [the victim's] mid-section and grinded his body up and down against [his] genitals through the victim’s clothing in a motion simulating a sex act," according to Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

The second victim was assaulted in a similar way in late November, he said.

An unidentified officer locked the door to an office after the victim entered, after which Catota admitted that he, Papagni and Perez then threw him on his side on the PERT office table. Perez then “simulated a sex act” on the victim’s leg, he said.

Catota also admitted that he and other CBP officers discussed the assaults on the Whatsapp chat message service.

Carpenito credited special agents with the New York Resident officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility with the investigation.

Handling the case are Senior Litigation Counsel Leslie Faye Schwartz and Rahul Agarwal, deputy chief of the Criminal Division

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