A Kellogg woman who U.S. attorneys say continued to impersonate a federal agent even after being convicted of that crime was sentenced Monday to eight months in prison.
Wendi Leigh Harris, 43, was convicted in August in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene on two counts of detaining two men while impersonating an agent. Court documents show Harris told two tow truck drivers she was investigating alleged thefts at another towing company and threatened one with prison if he didn’t cooperate.
“This is a pattern of activity by a person who has been warned by law enforcement … yet she continues to do it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Mitchell said.
During sentencing Monday, Mitchell introduced new witnesses who accused Harris, a one-time private investigator, of similar behavior. A Spokane Valley couple testified that Harris claimed to be a former agent with the FBI while assisting their family with personal problems. Wayne and Wanda Kamps ended up paying Harris $1,800 for drug testing and court filings that testimony showed cost much less.
“I felt Miss Harris lied to me, preyed on emotion and preyed on our situation,” Wanda Kamps said in court Monday.
Defense attorneys Joshua Rosen and Roger Peven showed that, in the Kamps’ case, Harris did help with the problem for which she was hired. Wanda Kamps said on cross-examination that she felt affection for Harris and had given her a bracelet. Wayne Kamps said he was pleased with the way his daughter’s life turned around following Harris’ assistance.
Harris had been associating herself with federal law enforcement for years, documents show. FBI agent Kevin Dunton spoke to Harris in November 2004 and warned her not to identify herself as a federal agent, in response to complaints the FBI had received, court documents show.
In the January 2008 incident with the tow truck drivers, Harris said she was the lead investigator working with FBI agents in an investigation authorized by a federal judge, according to court documents. When one man questioned her credentials, Harris flashed a badge and threatened him with 10 years in prison if he didn’t cooperate.
The two men reported the incident, which led the FBI and the Idaho State Police to search Harris’ home. The investigators found a badge matching the men’s description, along with notes Harris had taken during her meeting with the men.
Defense attorney Peven said that Harris never set out to detain the tow truck drivers and that he didn’t understand why Harris lied. He questioned her mental health and said the best way to protect the public would be to impose several years of supervised probation instead of jail time. He recommended counseling and community service.
Harris said in a statement before sentencing that the dissolution of her marriage created stress in her life. Noting that she “tries to help people,” she added, “my mouth gets me into trouble. That seems to be a recurring problem.”
However, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan said Harris’ behavior needs to stop. The public, he said, deserves protection from her.
The “repetitive and reoccurring lying, and lying being used to accomplish something” has been “going on long before this offense and has continued after this offense,” Bryan said. “The activities that have led her to this offense have not ceased.”
The eight-month sentence included a year of supervised probation, a requirement that she not work in an investigative function upon her release and a recommendation that she seek counseling.