Hawaii Woman Pleads Guilty to Mishandling Classified National Defense Information

July 20, 2021 Updated: July 21, 2021

A Honolulu woman pleaded guilty on July 20 to knowingly removing and retaining classified national defense information from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.

Asia Janay Lavarello, 31, admitted to removing documents classified at the secret level from the U.S. Embassy in Manila in March 2020, according to a statement from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Lavarello had access to classified computers and documents during a temporary assignment at the embassy. On March 20, 2020, she removed documents from the embassy and took them to her hotel room where she hosted a party that same evening. Two foreign nationals attended the gathering, according to the DOJ. A coworker discovered the documents and Lavarello was later fired from her temporary assignment in the Philippines over the matter.

Lavarello returned to Hawaii on March 28, 2020. In June 2020, investigators searched Lavarello’s government workplace and found a notebook with notes that contained information classified at the confidential and secret levels. The investigation determined that Lavarello had transported the documents unsecured to Hawaii and kept them in an unsecured location at least until April 13, 2020, according to the DOJ.

The investigators also found that Lavarello had sent information from her classified notebook from her personal Gmail account to an unclassified U.S. Government email account.

The investigation, which is still ongoing, is being conducted by the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Lavarello faces up to five years in prison. As part of the plea deal, she won’t be charged for the false statement she made to the FBI and the NCIS, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.

“Protecting the national security of the United States is our highest priority, and failing to adhere to the most basic security practices, as this defendant did, is contrary to this critical priority,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Judith Philips said.

The FBI’s Hawaiian branch released a statement on the Lavarello case as well.

“Government employees are entrusted with a responsibility to ensure classified information is properly handled and secured. Asia Janay Lavarello failed in her duty when she removed classified documents from the U.S. Embassy Manila,” Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill said.

NCIS Hawaiian Field Office Special Agent in Charge Norman Dominesey also released a statement regarding the case.

“For those entrusted with safeguarding our national security interests, this case underscores the far-reaching ramifications of violating that trust,” Dominesey said.

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