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U.S. Customs Agent From Hawthorne Charged With Terrorizing Fellow Workers

All three were arrested early Wednesday and had initial court appearances set for that afternoon.
All three were arrested early Wednesday and had initial court appearances set for that afternoon. Photo Credit: INSET: Courtesy Christina Solano / PHOTO: Courtesy Port Authority of NY/NJ

PATERSON, N.J. -- A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Hawthorne was arrested early Wednesday and charged along with two colleagues with beating and terrorizing fellow employees at Newark Airport.

Parmenio I. Perez, 40, and two co-defendants -- Tito Catota, 38, of Lyndhurst and Michael A. Papagni, 32, of Staten Island -- assaulted, impeded, intimidated and interfered with the two victims on the job, a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Newark charges.

All three had initial court appearances Wednesday afternoon.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer released Catota and Perez on $100,000 unsecured bond and Papagni on the same amount secured by $75,000.

The trio, "who were members of a unit responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security," subjected the victims to "senseless physical abuse, all while on duty at Newark Liberty International Airport,” Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said.

“This behavior would be abhorrent in any environment, especially one serving a critical law enforcement function," Fitzpatrick said. "The hard-working men and women who protect our borders deserve better.”

According to the federal complaint, Catota, Perez, and Papagni were assigned to the specialized Passenger Enforcement Rover Team (PERT), which identifies and intercepts drug smugglers and potential terrorists.

Within two weeks of being assigned to PERT last October, it says, one of the victims was told of a “rape table” and threatened to be put on it.

Another time, the victim was scanning a document when one of the defendants told him "he had five minutes to get out of the office or Papagni would teach him 'what this team is about'," Fitzpatrick said.

Moments later, an unidentified officer turned out the lights, after which Papagni, Catota and a fourth officer grabbed the victim's arms and legs and threw him on top of the table, the U.S. attorney said.

While they held him down, Perez "got on top of [the victim's] mid-section and grinded his body up and down against [his] genitals through the victim’s clothing in a motion simulating a sex act," he said.

The second victim was assaulted in a similar way in late November, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick credited special agents with the New York Resident officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility with the investigation.

Handling the case is Senior Litigation Counsel Leslie Faye Schwartz of Fitzpatrick's office.

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