ENID — Illegal immigrants using fake identification cards have repeatedly breached security and gained entrance to Vance Air Force Base to work on construction projects, a recently fired civilian police officer has told The Oklahoman. Base officials verified breaches have occurred, but said the pilot training base has multiple layers of security meant to prevent unauthorized access and penalties can be severe. Former officer Corey Spradlin, of Enid, said it is disturbing that even after the 9/11 terrorists’ attack and shooting spree at Fort Hood, "we’ve got people who aren’t even legally authorized to be in the country that are gaining access to an Air Force base.” "I know none of the people were part of the Mexican al-Qaida, but, the point is, if they’re getting on, then what’s to say some extremist isn’t,” he said. "There’s an attitude this is Vance, America. Nothing ever happens here.” Spradlin said he was terminated within days of denying entrance to the mother of the base commander’s housekeeper because she had an expired visa. The housekeeper and her mother told police they were on their way to meet the commander’s wife for a Bible study, according to an Enid police report. Spradlin said he previously had upset Air Force base officials by verbally clashing with a construction contractor over illegal immigrants being brought on base to do construction work. Lax security procedures had enabled illegal workers to obtain long-term contractor passes, Spradline said. Spradlin has filed retaliation complaints over his dismissal with the base’s inspector general and equal opportunity officer.
Commander respondsCol. Chris Nowland, 71st Flying Training Wing commander, said he could not discuss Spradlin’s dismissal. However, he said he has not tried to influence the investigation. Nowland said his wife hired the housekeeper, who has a "very good reputation” in Enid and is in this country legally. Security forces "did exactly what they were supposed to do” by detaining the housekeeper’s mother and calling Enid police when they discovered the woman had an expired visa, the commander said. Spradlin was employed as a civilian police officer at Vance Air Force Base from Sept. 14 until Feb. 2, according to 1st Lt. Agneta Murnan, public affairs officer for the base. "He was terminated for failure to demonstrate fitness for further federal employment” prior to the end of his one-year probationary period, she said. Spradlin said during his short tenure at Vance, he encountered at least three illegal immigrants who successfully used fake identification cards to get base long-term contractor passes, enabling them to work on base. Two eventually were taken away in handcuffs after the deceptions were discovered. The third was turned away at the gate after his fake identification card and contractor pass were confiscated, Spradlin said. One of the men arrested was Victor Martinez-Ochoa, 18. Spradlin said Martinez-Ochoa had a long-term contractor’s pass, which would indicate he previously had cleared the base security force’s background check. Martinez-Ochoa’s boss said his employee had worked on and off at the base for about three months before he was arrested on Jan. 11. Spradlin said he detained Martinez-Ochoa because he recognized the man’s Texas identification card was a fake. Spradlin said Vance officials hadn’t trained him to recognize fake identification cards, but he had prior experience as a border patrol agent. "Victor told me the picture on the ID was his, but the rest was fake,” the officer said in a sworn affidavit. "He stated it was purchased from a place in Dallas. He would not tell me where.” Martinez-Ochoa pleaded guilty to a state felony charge of displaying a false identification card and was given a three-year suspended sentence. After his conviction, he was turned over to federal immigration officers, officials said.
Are breaches common?Spradlin thinks illegal immigrants still are working on base. "I cannot speak to repeated cases,” Col. Nowland responded. "I do know that we had a subcontractor ... who was working in our landscaping on our Pinnacle Hunt housing development, which resulted in us doing a sweep and those individuals were gone,” Nowland said. Nowland granted a reporter and photographer for The Oklahoman interviews with key security officials and access to the base to see the several levels of security. Visitors must be sponsored by authorized individuals while on base and must present photo identification cards to the base’s security forces squadron before being allowed entrance. A guard at the gate checks the identification of drivers as they enter the base, and sometimes passengers as well. Employees of contractors and subcontractors are subjected to even more scrutiny. The government requires contractors and subcontractors to verify the identities of their employees, said Tom Patton, contracting officer for the Air Force base. The list of verified employees goes to the contracting agency for review. The base security forces squadron then performs background checks before deciding whether they will be issued contractor passes, officials said. The passes and identification cards of workers are checked by security guards at the gate whenever the workers enter.
How the system failedMartinez-Ochoa, one of those arrested, worked for True Steel of Ada. Greg Perry, his employer, said he has about 10 workers and doesn’t have the in-house expertise to determine whether identification cards are valid. "It’s a bad deal,” he said. "We’re a small company.” Vance’s security forces squadron also failed to detect the fake ID during its background check. Maj. Michelle Stringer, 71st Security Forces commander, said detecting fake IDs can be extremely difficult because there are dozens of state driver’s licenses and other picture identification cards. Stringer said Spradlin was very good at detecting fake cards because of his border experience and the rest of the unit tried to learn from him. Additional technological help is on the way in the form of a new generation of bar code readers, said Stringer.
• Location: Four miles south of downtown Enid.
• Base population: About 3,500.
• Mission: Train pilots for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allies. ONLINE: For a video about base security, search for "Vance Air Force Base” on NewsOK.com.