LOS ANGELES — Last May, agents from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service showed up at an Orange County retirement community to serve a search warrant. They were joined by a man wearing a ballistic vest, a pistol strapped to his thigh and a badge on his chest, who introduced himself as a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
Donovan Nguyen accompanied the agents and was the first one through the door of the home they searched, one of the agents recalled last month to Alnahl Jones — a real agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
Nguyen, Jones wrote in an affidavit, is a civilian who has masqueraded as a federal agent for years, parading around in body armor, openly carrying firearms, pulling over motorists with red and blue lights installed in his pickup truck, and purchasing guns with fake Department of Homeland Security credentials.
Nguyen, who lives in the city of Orange, was arrested Monday and charged with impersonating a federal agent. It wasn’t immediately clear from court records if he had a lawyer.
Nguyen, 34, has never been employed by Homeland Security Investigations, much less worked for the agency as a special agent, Jones wrote in the affidavit. Most recently, he has worked as a security guard at Laguna Woods Village, a gated retirement community in Orange County.
Federal agents were tipped to Nguyen in June by investigators from the Riverside County district attorney’s office, court records show.
The owner of a gun store in Riverside had reported a potential criminal case to the county prosecutor’s office and asked their investigators to partner with Nguyen, whom he believed to be a special agent. The gun salesman had sold Nguyen seven firearms over the years, with Nguyen presenting credentials at each purchase identifying him as a “lieutenant” with the Department of Homeland Security, Jones’ affidavit said.
Riverside investigators left Nguyen several voicemails, and in June, he called them back, Jones wrote in the affidavit. Nguyen said he had reviewed the gun dealer’s tip but wasn’t willing to take the case because a witness had been deported, the affidavit said.
The Riverside investigators followed up with a Homeland Security Investigations office in San Bernardino. No one by that name worked for the agency, investigators quickly determined, and they started digging into Nguyen’s background.
They found his LinkedIn profile, which describes him as a 12-year agent, and a YouTube interview in which he introduces himself as a special agent and discusses federal immigration policies.
Investigators learned Nguyen had previously worked for Paragon Systems, a contractor that provides security at Department of Homeland Security sites. Assigned to a base in Riverside, the Air and Marine Operations Center, one of Nguyen’s duties was to print access cards for employees and visitors, Jones wrote in the affidavit.
Nguyen was barred from the base in 2015 after an internal investigation found he had printed fake Homeland Security credentials for himself and two co-workers, Jones wrote.
The Riverside gun salesman told investigators Nguyen and the co-workers used the ID cards to buy weapons. Presenting law enforcement credentials “allowed him to avoid taking and paying for certain firearm safety courses required by the State of California,” Jones wrote in the affidavit. Nguyen bought seven weapons at the Riverside shop and purchased 42 firearms in all in California, Jones wrote.
After being ousted from the Riverside base, Nguyen took a job as a supervisor at Laguna Woods Village, an upscale retirement community, where he worked alongside a number of retired police officers, Jones wrote.
Although the community’s security guards were supposed to be unarmed, Nguyen carried firearms openly and attributed the weaponry to his primary job as a federal agent, employees told investigators.
Tom Siviglia, a security manager and a retired Cypress police officer, said Nguyen often showed up to work late and left early, explaining he was “doing his ‘agent’ duties,” Jones wrote in the affidavit. He often came to the retirement community “tacted out” — wearing full tactical gear — and sporting a firearm and a Homeland Security badge, Siviglia told investigators.
Nguyen kept a plaque on his desk that identified him as a captain with the Department of Homeland Security, Jones’ affidavit said. He sent emails from a “dhs.gov” account he’d kept from his time working at the Riverside base, signing off emails with a signature that identified him as the “director” of an unspecified “JTF,” or joint task force, according to the affidavit.
With Carlos Rojas, the retirement community’s security director and Santa Ana’s former police chief, Nguyen discussed the civil unrest sweeping the country “in which DHS agents have played a prominent and controversial role,” Jones wrote. According to the affidavit, Nguyen texted Rojas, “We got orders to shoot freely just now.”
Rojas told the agents Nguyen used red and blue lights installed in his Toyota Tacoma to pull over co-workers. Robert Martinez, a retired police officer, told investigators he “was leaving work when he saw red and blue lights in his rear-view mirror and heard a siren chirp.” He pulled over and Nguyen pulled alongside him, Jones’ affidavit said.
“Did I scare you, Martinez?” he recalled Nguyen saying, before laughing and driving away.
Of all his alleged charades, the most daring came when a pair of agents from the State Department showed up at Laguna Woods Village to serve a warrant in May 2019.
A few days earlier, one of the agents, Nico Figueroa, had visited the retirement community and met Nguyen, who introduced himself as a security supervisor and a Homeland Security agent, Figueroa told investigators.
The morning of the takedown, Nguyen greeted the State Department agents in “tactical raid gear, a thigh holster with a weapon and ballistic vest displaying an HSI badge,” Jones’ affidavit said. Nguyen told the agents he was assigned to a terrorism task force and had “worked all night,” but he “still wanted to show up to help execute the warrant,” Figueroa recalled him saying.
Nguyen accompanied the State Department agents and was the first one through the door of the home they searched, the agents told Jones.
“Agents would never allow an employee of a private security company, even if the company worked security at the facility being searched, to participate in executing a warrant in that manner,” Jones wrote.
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