Imagine you’re translating highly confidential wiretaps for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The wiretaps are perfectly legal. They’re actually part of a multi-year drug trafficking investigation. As a Spanish interpreter, you’ve been charged with listening to calls made over the tapped lines and translating them for DEA officials. You hear the voice of someone you know — not just one person you know, but two: a friend and her fiancé.
What would you do?
When Spanish interpreter Liliana Moreno faced that scenario, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) says it knows exactly what she did. In 2018, Moreno was tasked with monitoring tapped phone lines during a US DEA drug trafficking investigation. Her job was to listen to Spanish language calls that took place over those lines and to translate. Working at a DEA wire room in San Jose, California, the callers’ pictures and identifying information was displayed for Moreno to see. According to a criminal complaint the DOJ filed February 9th in the Northern District of California, when a photo flashed on the screen that Moreno recognized, she “did not immediately notify DEA” that the suspect was engaged to her friend. Instead, DOJ claims she met with his fiancé.
“[O]n or about March 17, 2018,” reads the complaint, Moreno “disclosed to [the fiancé] that [the caller] was one of the targets of a DEA wiretap investigation.” After that, both the fiancee and the drug dealer stopped using the tapped phones.
DOJ charged Moreno with unlawful disclosure of electronic surveillance on February 9th. The complaint was unsealed February 17th.
““Releasing sensitive government information can have devastating consequences. Not only does it damage a case — often beyond repair — but more importantly, it also endangers the lives of those agents and officers assigned to the investigation,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Daniel Comeaux said in an online release.