A federal grand jury Thursday indicted a former supervisor in the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on charges of embezzling money from a fund for confidential informants.
The one-time agent, James Contreras, was charged with one count of embezzlement and 30 counts of making false statements in a 38-page indictment alleging he repeatedly took money from a cash account he supervised.
Contreras, 51, of Maple Valley, was free on his personal recognizance pending a court appearance next month. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on the embezzlement count and five years for each false-statement count.
The false-statement counts allege Contreras improperly took $19,700 from the ATF’s confidential informant fund, often falsifying signatures of other agents, between March 2010 and April 2012. Money to be paid to 12 informants was never given to them, the indictment said.
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Contreras resigned in June 2012 amid an internal ATF investigation over his handling of a paid informant who sexually abused a woman while working for the ATF, a federal source told The Seattle Times at the time.
Contreras came under scrutiny after a May 2012 Times story about the informant, Joshua Allan Jackson, who was hired despite a lengthy history of violence against women. While working for the AFT, Jackson engaged in criminal activity that included sexually assaulting a young woman in a Seattle motel room paid for by the agency.
In a jailhouse interview with The Times in December 2011, while awaiting trial in that case, Jackson alleged Contreras was taking money from the agency. Jackson said he often met Contreras in a bar.
The case was presented to a grand jury in Seattle by the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, apparently because federal prosecutors in Seattle recused themselves. The indictment identifies one informant by the initials “JJ,” but it wasn’t clear whether that was Jackson or whether he cooperated with the investigation.
At the time Contreras resigned, an internal investigation of his dealings with Jackson remained under review, including what the federal source described as allegations of improper conduct.
Contreras disputed then that he had resigned, saying he had retired. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night. His attorney, Scott Terry, declined to comment Friday morning.
Contreras had worked at the agency since October 1999.
Jackson was sentenced to 10 years in prison April 2012 after admitting he sexually abused an 18-year-old woman who was held against her will for days inside a South Seattle motel that was being paid for by the ATF.
As part of his guilty plea in King County Superior Court, Jackson also admitted to criminal impersonation for telling several people — including the woman — he was a federal agent or a police officer.
In one incident, Jackson triggered a citywide “help the officer” call in June 2011 when, during a fight with an alleged drug dealer, he told the manager of a North Seattle motel he was a federal agent. The manager called 911, prompting officers to rush to the motel.
In the jail interview, Jackson said he came in contact with the ATF through a Seattle police officer he had met on the streets.
Jackson said he was “really cool with” Contreras and that Contreras would fill out expense forms several at a time and give him money.
Jackson also claimed Contreras let him into the evidence room at the ATF offices and gave him drugs and cigarettes to sell on the street to gain credibility.
Contreras expressed concerns that their dealings would get him in trouble with the special agent in charge, Jackson said.
When contacted about Jackson’s allegations at the time, Contreras declined to comment.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706