Court Awards $1.2 Million Based on Finding that United States Asylum Officer Abused His Authority in Demanding Sexual Favors and Money in Exchange for Grant of Asylum

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A Los Angeles Federal Judge ruled that the United States is liable for an asylum officer's demand of sexual favors and money in exchange for granting the asylum applications of two Chinese female refugees. Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison lawyers prevail after a fourteen year legal battle.

Rather than protection, Asylum Officer Thomas Powell persecuted these vulnerable women while basing their asylum on sex and money. After 14 years, the truth prevailed and justice has finally been achieved.

On August 5, 2013, a Los Angeles Federal Judge ruled that the United States is liable for an asylum officer’s demand of sexual favors and money in exchange for granting the asylum applications of two Chinese female refugees. In the case of Xue Lu and Jie Hao v. United States, Case No. 2:01 01758 CBM, Federal Judge Consuelo Marshall of the Central District of California ruled that former Asylum Officer Thomas Powell acted in violation of two Chinese refugees’ civil rights when he demanded sex and money in exchange for granting their asylum applications. The Court awarded $1.2 million to compensate the two women for the mental suffering and emotional distress endured since the incident occurred in 2000. The Case was tried in United States District Court Central District of California with closing arguments on March 1, 2013.    

Lead attorney V. James DeSimone of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison stated:

“Our clients came to the United States seeking protection and freedom. Rather than protection, Asylum Officer Thomas Powell persecuted these vulnerable women while basing their asylum on sex and money. After 13 years, the truth prevailed and justice has finally been achieved in Court.”

Plaintiff Xue Lu came to the United States and applied for asylum because of the persecution she suffered for violating China’s family planning policy. Plaintiff Jie Hao suffered persecution for her Christian religious beliefs and came to United States for a better life.

At trial, both women testified that they looked to the United States as a country of freedom, as a country of integrity, and as a country where they would be treated fairly. Those beliefs where shattered when Asylum Officer Thomas Powell (of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service), representing the United States of America, contacted them for what he termed a “private” offer. He isolated each of them and preyed on their vulnerability.    

The Court ruled that Ms. Lu was in a vulnerable state when subjected to Powell’s sexual advances and suffered, among other things, “loss of enjoyment of life, grief, anxiety, humiliation, emotional distress and has signs of PTSD and physically suffered weight loss, insomnia and avoidance of traumatic reminders . . . ” as a result of Officer Powell’s conduct. The Court awarded Ms. Lu $500,000 in damages. The Court further found that Ms. Hao, also a vulnerable victim, “suffered loss of enjoyment of life, grief, anxiety, nervousness, worry, humiliation, indignity and emotional distress. This was aggravated by the nearly eight year delay in adjudicating her asylum application.” The Court awarded Ms. Hao $700,000 in damages.

Court documents allege the following:

In February 2000, after Ms. Lu had an asylum interview with Officer Powell, he arranged to have a private second meeting with Ms. Lu and asked that nobody else – neither her immigration attorney, interpreter nor husband – be present. On February 26, 2000 Officer Powell went to her home while her case was pending.

First he demanded money from Ms. Lu. Ms. Lu denied having any, so he demanded sex in exchange for a grant of her asylum application. He fondled her buttocks and breasts and started to unbutton her overalls while telling her that he can approve or reject her application. When Ms. Lu rejected his advances, he told her that he wouldn’t approve her application and sent her a denial the very next day.

In May 2000, Jie Hao had her asylum interview with Officer Powell at the INS asylum office. Subsequently, Officer Powell called Ms. Hao to set up a private meeting. Ms. Hao reported this request to her immigration attorney, who had also been Ms. Lu’s immigration attorney. The attorney reported Officer Powell to the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ videotaped two meetings between Ms. Hao and Officer Powell.    

Ms. Hao had tremendous fear of Officer Powell during both meetings during which he demanded money and made sexual advances towards her, including spanking her and asking whether he could embrace her.

Based on the videotaped evidence and the plaintiffs’ testimony, Officer Powell was criminally prosecuted and convicted. He later died while in prison. The civil case was stayed until the criminal prosecution was completed.

After 13 years of civil litigation, the case went to trial in February 2013 before district court Judge Consuelo Marshall. Judge Marshall found that the United States was liable for Officer Powell’s violation of plaintiff’s civil rights under the Bane Act, California’s civil rights statute (Cal. Civ. Code §52.1) and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and awarded $700,000 to Jie Hao for her emotional distress and $500,000 to Xue Lu for her emotional distress.

For more information contact:

V. James DeSimone
Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison
723 Ocean Front Walk
Venice, CA 90291
T: (310) 396-0731
vjdesimone@gmail.com
http://www.losangelesemploymentlawyer.com

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