A former Customs and Border Protection officer who admitted groping three female passengers at Miami International Airport was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison on Thursday.
Paulo Morales, 48, of Miami, also must submit to one year of supervised release as part of the sentence, handed down in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. He has until Oct.19 to turn himself in.
Federal prosecutors said while working as a Customs and Border Protection officer on Jan. 14, 2011, Morales placed his hands under the clothing of a Guatemalan woman and “willfully touched her breasts” without her consent after she arrived on an international flight and was going through an immigration line.
He was charged with doing the same thing to a Honduran woman on Jan. 20, 2011. A week later, on Jan. 27, 2011, he was charged with touching the breast of an Israeli woman on top of her clothing without her consent.
Prosecutors said Morales had ordered the women to a private area, saying he wanted to conduct further questioning after they had been removed from the immigration line. In each case, Morales intended to “abuse, humiliate and degrade” the women, “and to arouse and gratify” his own sexual desire, prosecutors said.
Initially charged with several felony counts of abusive sexual conduct and depriving the women of their civil rights, Morales faced up to nine years in prison. But the charges were reduced to misdemeanors after he made a plea agreement.
As part of the deal, he resigned on July 23 and agreed never to seek federal employment again. He also is receiving counseling and has no criminal history.
Though he didn’t speak in court on his own behalf, Morales is “deeply ashamed, deeply remorseful” and insisted on quickly pleading guilty, according to his attorney, Jude Faccidomo. Morales also apologized, via his attorney, to the victims during Thursday’s hearing.
Faccidomo said the offenses were “an aberration” that all occurred within a one-month period of an otherwise respectable five-year career with Customs and Border Protection.
As U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum read the sentence, Morales covered his face with his hands. Before leaving the courtroom, he embraced his sobbing wife.
Rosenbaum said the offenses had “far-reaching consequences” because they undermined the public’s confidence in an important security process. She said it was particularly disturbing because Morales used his position of authority to take advantage of the women.
Several of Morales’ co-workers wrote letters of support to the court. Margarita Crompton Perez, a Customs and Border Protection officer, said she had helped train Morales.
“I found him to be extremely kind, dependable and professional and of good moral character, showing compassion for others,” Perez wrote. “He always conducted himself as a proper gentleman.”
Stuart Toth, a Customs and Border Protection supervisor, wrote, “When I first heard of his legal problems I was shocked. I saw no indication of the potential of that kind of behavior.”