Honolulu woman pleads guilty to unauthorized removal and retention of classified material

HONOLULU, HAWAII – Asia Janay Lavarello, 31, pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii to one count of knowingly removing classified information concerning the national defense or foreign relations of the United States and retaining it at an unauthorized location. Chief U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright took Lavarello’s guilty plea and scheduled sentencing for November 4, 2021.

Lavarello, a Department of Defense employee, admitted to having removed and retained numerous classified documents, writings, and notes relating to the national defense or foreign relations of the United States without authority. While working as an Executive Assistant at the United States Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, Lavarello accepted a temporary assignment working at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. There, Lavarello had access to classified computers and documents, and attended classified meetings as part of her official duties. Court documents list several specific instances in which Lavarello mishandled classified material of the United States.

On March 20, 2020, Lavarello removed classified documents from the U.S. Embassy Manila. She took the classified documents to her hotel room where she hosted a dinner party later that evening. Among the guests were two foreign nationals. During the party, a co-worker at the U.S. Embassy Manila discovered the documents, which included documents classified at the SECRET level. Lavarello’s temporary assignment in the Philippines was ultimately terminated due to her mishandling of SECRET classified documents.

Around March 28, 2020, Lavarello returned to Hawaii. In June of that year, investigators executed a search warrant at her workplace at the United States Indo-Pacific Command. In her desk, investigators found a notebook containing Lavarello’s handwritten notes of meetings she attended while working at the U.S. Embassy Manila. The notes contained facts and information classified at the CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET levels. Investigators determined that Lavarello did not send the classified notebook via secure diplomatic pouch from the U.S. Embassy Manila to Hawaii, as required. Instead, she personally transported the documents to Hawaii, unsecured, and kept the classified notebook at an unsecure location until at least April 13, 2020.

Investigators also discovered that Lavarello included information from the classified notebook in a January 16, 2020 email from her personal Gmail account to her unclassified U.S. Government email account. The information she transmitted over unsecure networks was classified at the SECRET level.

The charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. According to a plea agreement filed in the case, the United States will not file charges against Lavarello related to false statements she made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting United States Attorney Judith A. Philips; Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko; Steven B. Merrill, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Honolulu Field Division; and Norman Dominesey, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Hawaii Field Office made the announcement today.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Judith A. Philips said: “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.”

“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,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill. “Today’s guilty plea is a direct result of the professional and thorough investigation conducted by the FBI and NCIS. We will always work together with our partners to keep our communities safe and bring perpetrators to justice.”

“The NCIS appreciates the opportunity to have worked in partnership with the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion,” said NCIS Special Agent in Charge Norman Dominesey. “For those entrusted with safeguarding our national security interests, this case underscores the far-reaching ramifications of violating that trust.” 

This conviction is the result of a joint investigation between the FBI and NCIS. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib and Trial Attorney Stephen Marzen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division are prosecuting the case.

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