LOS ANGELES – A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Palmdale was sentenced Friday to 18 months behind bars for abusing a program that provided discounted homes to law enforcement officers and misleading an investigator during a background investigation for security clearance.
Kanit Kunnaragthai, 49, was found guilty in June of three felony charges: two counts of making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in relation to a house in Moreno Valley that he purchased under the Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program, and one count of making a false statement to an Office of Personnel Management investigator to maintain his security clearance as a CBP officer.
In imposing the penalty, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. granted the government’s request for a sentencing enhancement based on evidence that Kunnaragthai attempted to persuade his ex-wife to lie on his behalf if called to testify. Ultimately, the woman did not testify during the trial.
“His story is one of the American Dream … but he squandered and took advantage of the opportunity,” the judge said from the bench.
Kunnaragthai also was sentenced to serve three years under federal supervision after his release from prison and was further ordered to pay restitution of $52,000 to HUD — with $20,000 due immediately. The judge said he must surrender to begin his prison sentence on Jan. 22.
Evidence showed Kunnaragthai exploited HUD’s GNND Sales Program, which seeks to revitalize distressed communities by incentivizing law enforcement, firefighters, teachers and emergency medical technicians to live in those communities. The incentive is a 50 percent discount on the purchase price of HUD-owned properties in those communities.
In return for the substantial discount, the GNND Sales Program requires that purchasers live continuously in the property as their sole residence for at least three years and sign a yearly certification confirming compliance.
According to court documents and evidence presented to the jury in Los Angeles federal court, Kunnaragthai did not live in the property in Moreno Valley. Instead, he was a landlord and rented the three-bedroom house to college students. Nevertheless, he provided HUD with annual certifications during the three-year period stating that he lived at the property in Moreno Valley as his sole residence.
Kunnaragthai also omitted an Eagle Rock residence on a security clearance form. When confronted with this omission, Kunnaragthai told the background investigator with OPM that he “never” lived at the Eagle Rock apartment.