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Ogdensburg native finds his calling in investigating federal criminal cases

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OGDENSBURG - Todd M. Siegel always knew he wanted to be a federal agent, but the Ogdensburg native never figured he would spend part of his career focused on stopping Americans from marrying foreigners looking to obtain U.S. citizenship.

“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 is currently heading up 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. Mr. Siegel attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston for a year before transferring to the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., where he graduated in 1993 with an undergraduate degree in political science and history.

Mr. Siegel said after graduation he worked with another passion a childhood in Ogdensburg cultivated — hockey. He initially took a job as assistant hockey coach at the University of Connecticut, and coached various college and junior teams for a few years before pursuing a graduate degree.

“I decided I had to get a real job,” he said.

He received a masters degree in public administration from the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., and got a job in 2001 as an investigator with the Missouri Attorney General’s 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 didn’t want to be found,” he said.

He took a job with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security, in 2006, tasked with investigating customs and immigration crimes that run the gamut from human smuggling and child exploitation to intellectual property and cyber crimes.

He has also been a member of security details for high-ranking federal bureaucrats, including the secretary of Health and Human Services.

His current position places him in more of a policy oversight role for benefit fraud prevention, but he previously was a field agent investigating cases involving immigration benefit fraud.

“The most common is marriage and naturalization fraud,” he said. “Those are people who seek to obtain lawful status in this country when they’re 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. He 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 it’s not a big deal. But you’re marrying somebody, and you don’t know what their purpose is in gaining U.S. citizenship,” he said.

When somebody obtains a Green Card to lawfully remain in the U.S., they are on a fast track to citizenship, he said.

“Once that happens, it is very difficult to remove you from the country,” he said.

He said he 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 to what unit he could be assigned.

“We worked a stolen antiquities case in Delaware a few months ago,” he said. “We have found a Nazi war criminal’s 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 cyber crime next. When I took this job, I had no idea what I was getting into, and I am so proud to be part of an organization that plays such a significant role in protecting the public.”

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 currently resides in Arlington, Va.

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