A 16-year veteran of the CIA pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal fraud charge after using undercover agency credit cards to run up $75,000 in personal expenses, including costly hotel stays and a $700 watch.
Steven J. Levan, 48, worked as a case agent at the CIA until his recent termination over the fraud. According to an affidavit (.pdf) by a U.S. postal inspector who investigated the case, Levan made unauthorized personal use of four special credit cards that, while not officially billed to the government, are “customarily paid by the agency.”
“The agency had to pay the defendant’s fraudulent charges on those credit cards, in order to maintain the means by which the agency protects the identity of certain of its employees,” reads the affidavit.
Despite the relatively mild charges, Levan’s been held without bail since his arrest on January 12, based on the government’s assertion that the former spy could begin peddling national security secrets to foreign powers to raise more money. Levan’s attorney slammed the espionage rhetoric as “rank speculation” in a motion for bail (.pdf) last month.
“Nothing about the underlying allegations relate to espionage or the deprivation of honest services,” wrote Federal Public Defender Michael Nachmanoff. The lawyer acknowledged that Levan has suffered from financial difficulties.
Government filings in the case don’t name the CIA as Levan’s former employer, but Nachmanoff’s bail motion does. Levan apparently joined the agency after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute in 1982, then receiving a Master’s degree in national security studies from the Naval War College and spending four years in the Army.
Judging from his salary tier, Levan occupied a fairly senior position in the CIA: as a GS-15, he earned between $115,000 and $149,000 a year, the top level for government civil service. He’s lived in Virginia — where the CIA is headquartered — and the Washington DC area since 1987, “with the exception of several tours overseas,” wrote Nachmanoff.
In a plea deal with prosecutors this week, Levan agreed to abandon his bid for release on bail, and he pleaded guilty to a single count of access device fraud for running up $7,446 on one of the CIA credit cards at the Staybridge Suites hotel in McLean, Virginia.
Levan also admitted (.pdf) using the identity information on the CIA cards to obtain two more credit cards he had sent to his home. Additionally, he stole another covert credit card from a different, unnamed, government agency, and lifted a coworker’s personal credit card to ring up another $15,000. In all, the losses topped $100,000.
The government has agreed to recommend a term of no more than a year in prison, and full restitution, when Levan is sentenced on May 1.
Levan is the second CIA official to be outed by allegations of criminal conduct in recent weeks. In late January, ABC News published the name of the former station chief of the CIA’s outpost in Algeria, who’s come under suspicion in the alleged date-rape of several women there.
According to court records, Levan is separated from his wife, who lives in his house with the couple’s children. He committed much of the fraud while living at a Residence Inn in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. Under an assumed identity, naturally.