A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Palmdale could be sentenced to federal prison Friday for abusing a program that provided discounted homes to law enforcement officers and misleading an investigator during a background investigation for security clearance.
Kanit Kunnaragthai, 49, was found guilty in June of three felony charges: two counts of making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in relation to a house in Moreno Valley that he purchased under the Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program, and one count of making a false statement to an Office of Personnel Management investigator to maintain his security clearance as a CBP officer.
Prosecutors are recommending that U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. sentence Kunnaragthai to 21 months behind bars and order restitution of $52,000. Defense attorneys are asking for a 10-month sentence, split between prison and home confinement.
Kunnaragthai exploited HUD’s GNND Sales Program, which seeks to revitalize distressed communities by incentivizing law enforcement, firefighters, teachers and emergency medical technicians to live in those communities. The incentive is a 50 percent discount on the purchase price of HUD-owned properties in those communities. In return for the substantial discount, the GNND Sales Program requires that purchasers live continuously in the property as their sole residence for at least three years and sign a yearly certification confirming compliance.
According to court documents and evidence presented to the jury in Los Angeles federal court, Kunnaragthai did not live in the property in Moreno Valley. Instead, he was a landlord and rented the three-bedroom house to college students. The evidence showed that Kunnaragthai actually lived with his family nearly 70 miles away in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. Nevertheless, he provided HUD with annual certifications during the three-year period stating that he lived at the property in Moreno Valley as his sole residence.
Kunnaragthai also omitted his Eagle Rock residence on a security clearance form. When confronted with this omission, the defendant told the background investigator with OPM that he “never” lived at the Eagle Rock apartment.