OGDENSBURG Todd M. Siegel always knew he wanted to be a federal agent, but the Ogdensburg native never figured he would be working to prevent Americans from marrying foreigners seeking U.S. citizenship, also known as marriage fraud.
I first wanted to become a federal agent as a young boy, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations special agent and section chief said in a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. I really had no idea about the wide variety of crimes that federal agents are tasked with enforcing.
Mr. Siegel heads a nationwide Department of Homeland Security initiative aimed at stopping marriage fraud.
He was a member of the Ogdensburg Free Academy Class of 1988, but left high school a year early to finish his senior year at Stoughton High School near Boston, Mass. Mr. Siegel attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston for a year before transferring to the University of Connecticut, Storrs, where he graduated in 1993 with an undergraduate degree in political science and history.
Mr. Siegel said after graduation he worked on another passion spawned by an Ogdensburg childhood hockey. He worked as assistant hockey coach at the University of Connecticut, and later coached other college and junior teams before pursuing a graduate degree.
I decided I had to get a real job, he said.
Mr. Siegel received a masters degree in public administration from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and in 2001 worked as an investigator with the Missouri attorney generals office. He took a job with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General the following year. I spent about five years as an agent working criminal health care fraud investigations, he said.
Mr. Siegel said perhaps his most valuable experience was as a federal child support enforcement agent. I only did this for a short time, but it really taught me how to track down people who didnt want to be found, he said.
In 2006 he took a job with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security. There he was charged with investigating customs and immigration crimes that ran the gamut from human smuggling and child exploitation to intellectual property and cybercrimes. As if that were not enough, Mr. Siegel also has worked on security details for high-ranking federal bureaucrats, including the secretary of Health and Human Services.
Mr. Siegels position places him in more of a policy oversight role for benefit-fraud prevention. There his previous field agent work investigating cases involving immigration-benefit fraud serves him well.
The most common is marriage and naturalization fraud, he said. Those are people who seek to obtain lawful status in this country when theyre not entitled to it.
American movies have portrayed marriage fraud as a romantic partnership between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner looking for citizenship with the potential for a happily-ever-after ending. Mr. Siegel said that is rarely the case in real life, and it puts national security at risk.
People think they are doing somebody a favor because popular culture has told them that its not a big deal, he said. But youre marrying somebody, and you dont know what their purpose is in gaining U.S. citizenship.
When somebody obtains a Green Card to remain lawfully in the U.S., that person is on a fast track to citizenship, he said.
Once that happens, it is very difficult to remove you from the country, he said.
Mr. Siegel enjoys what he does, but is excited at the prospects of where his job could take him next. He expects to return to the field, but has no idea where he might be assigned.
We worked a stolen-antiquities case in Delaware a few months ago, Mr. Siegel said. We have found a Nazi war criminals diary that we were able to present to the Holocaust Museum. There was a big raid in New York last week where multiple defendants had been arrested that were trading photos of underage children. Or I could be going into cybercrime next.
Mr. Siegel is the son of Nancy R. Siegel, a longtime elementary school teacher in Ogdensburg who recently moved to Albany. He said he got much of his work ethic and moral compass from his mother.
She was a single mom working as a teacher, and she made sure we were able to participate in every sport we wanted and that we had everything we needed, he said. She worked very hard.
Mr. Siegel lives in Arlington, Va.