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As she battled her employer, Schneider also repeatedly asked the Justice Department, which oversees the INS, to investigate her claims. In May 1999 Schneider mailed her allegations to the FBI's Anti-Terrorism Joint Task Force in New York City. On March 28 of this year, Schneider warned Attorney General John Ashcroft in a letter that national security was threatened and pleaded for an investigation. The claims in her letter, which was obtained by New Times, include the following:•She has information from five informants on "long-running, extensive, felony bribery conspiracies engaged in by Orlando INS and staff at a former [unnamed] congressional office." The bribery ring involved "over 50 Islamic Muslim Moroccans, an unknown number of whom had ties" to Ihab Ali, an Egyptian who lived in Orlando when he was imprisoned in 1999 in New York for ties to Osama bin Laden and the East Africa embassy bombings.
•INS officials stole cash and jewelry from illegal aliens who had been detained.
•Records of more than 200 felony immigration fraud cases were secretly removed from her office.
•Her investigation "has been suppressed and covered up" with the use of "criminal coercion, intimidation, and harassment of outside informants and myself by select officials."
On August 9, just a month before the New York and Washington, D.C., suicide hijackings, she complained to Sue Armstrong, deputy director of investigations for INS's Office of Internal Audit (OIA). "Never once in three years did I receive any verbal or written response from the FBI other than ... letters informing me that my information was forwarded to the FBI in Tampa," wrote Schneider.
A week later, on August 16, the Justice Department notified Schneider that her allegations had been forwarded to U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis in Miami. On September 11 Schneider wrote to Lewis: "In light of the multiple terrorist attacks on our American soil today, I am forwarding the enclosed documents in hope this material will finally be taken seriously and immediate action taken to reduce and in some way minimize what will assuredly be future terrorist attacks on Our Beloved America."
Aloyma Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Lewis, will not comment on the case because it is a pending matter. The INS also refuses to comment on Schneider's allegations. INS spokeswoman Patricia Mancha says only that all allegations made by INS employees are reviewed and those with merits are fully investigated. Schneider's current attorney, Fort Lauderdale labor lawyer Donald Appignani, disputes that claim, however.
Appignani, who has represented numerous INS employees and won't comment on Schneider's case while it is pending, says OIA is notorious for systematically protecting INS higher-ups. Indeed evidence suggests that the OIA -- and deputy director Armstrong in particular -- has indeed routinely cleared supervisors accused of wrongdoing. Former OIA investigator William Congleton, who is still with INS, swore under oath that Armstrong "does not want allegations against managers, generally, substantiated." He made his comments during a September 1999 deposition taken in the case of another INS whistleblower. "She likes to see managers exonerated...," he continued. "Her view is ... that her job is to protect management and to enforce rules and regulations against members of the bargaining unit."
Armstrong, reached at her Washington office, declines comment. INS media director Russ Bergeron says the INS, under rules of a legal settlement, cannot discuss the Congleton deposition. But he does defend the Office of Internal Audit. "Whatever decisions are made [by OIA] are based solely on the facts and the law and have nothing to do with whether a person is affiliated with union or management," says Bergeron.
Whatever the merit of her allegations, Schneider's warnings certainly proved prophetic. Numerous Orlando ties to the suicide bombings and bin Laden have been uncovered both before and after the attacks -- so many that the Orlando Sentinel recently suggested that Central Florida should be dubbed Terroristland.
Ali, an Egyptian national, drove a cab in Orlando before the FBI tied him to bin Laden and jailed him in 1999. Intriguingly Ali took flight training in 1993 at a school in Oklahoma that has been linked to some of the September 11 terrorists. Since the attacks, it has been discovered that a former Orlando resident named Ziyad Khaleel, age 37, purchased a $7500 satellite telephone that wound up with bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to media accounts. Another Egyptian immigrant living in Orlando, Hady Omar, Jr., was arrested in Arkansas the day after the attacks because authorities found he'd made airplane reservations for three of the hijackers. And relatives of suspected September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta have also lived in Orlando. One of them, a man named Majed Atta, abruptly left the area in September.
The suspects identified in Schneider's complaints "were from areas where there were terrorists, and their backgrounds troubled her," Ross says. "She didn't like the way they got into the country or what they were doing here."
Schneider declines to comment at length, saying only that she had gathered a lot of evidence and still seeks a full investigation. "I would like to see criminal activity stopped, but I don't want to point my finger at the government at this time," she relates. "We all need to be supportive of our government since September 11."