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Man arrested on charges of impersonating federal agent and 'deporting' distant cousin's wife [Updated]

February 3, 2010 |  3:00 pm

A Southern California man has been arrested on suspicion of posing as a federal marshal to kidnap a distant cousin’s wife and put her on a plane to the Philippines, police said Wednesday.

Witnesses said Gregory Denny, 37, turned up at the Hemet home of Craig Hibbard, a distant cousin, on Jan. 15, wearing a fake badge and a shirt imprinted with “U.S. Federal Agent,” said Lt. Duane Wisehart of the Hemet Police Department.

Displaying what turned out to be a pellet gun, Denny reportedly handcuffed Hibbard’s wife, Cherrie Belle, and told the couple she was being deported, Wisehart said. Denny allegedly drove Belle, 28, to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Murrieta.

When he was told there was no warrant for her in the computer system, he apparently returned to the couple’s house in the 1200 block of Stepstone Court and instructed her husband to purchase a ticket for her online to her home country, Wisehart said.

Police were told Denny drove the woman to the international airport in San Diego, where he flashed his fake badge to get through security. He allegedly escorted her to the departure gate, uncuffed her and watched her board a plane to San Francisco en route to Manila, where she remains.

When Hibbard reported the matter to authorities three days later, police reached Denny by telephone and asked him to come into the station for questioning. Denny arrived wearing the “U.S. Federal Agent” shirt, identified himself to police as a U.S. marshal and verified the family’s general account of what happened, Wisehart said.

“This person is not and never was employed by the U.S. Marshals Service, and as far as we can ascertain, has never been employed by any law enforcement agency in any capacity,” the Hemet Police Department said in a statement.

Police arrested Denny last month on suspicion of kidnapping, false imprisonment, impersonating a peace officer, burglary and false arrest, Wisehart said. He was released the next day on $50,000 bail and is expected in court Feb. 16.

The Riverside County district attorney’s office is considering whether to file charges, said spokesman John Hall. Hemet police also notified the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration.

Denny told the Press-Enterprise the kidnapping claims are false but did not elaborate. The Police Department did not provide a motive. [Updated at 2:48 p.m.: “There is no clear motive except that he felt he was doing a 'favor’ for the family, and that they, the family, wanted her deported,” Wisehart said.]

Hibbard told the Press-Enterprise that his wife is five months’ pregnant and that they have been married for three years. He said she canceled her green card last year in a dispute with him, saying she wanted to go home to the Philippines.

The couple later reconciled and she tried to renew her immigration documents, the paper reported. Hibbard said they were told by immigration officials in San Bernardino that she was allowed to remain in the U.S. while her application was being processed.

[Updated at 12:07 a.m. Feb. 4: An earlier version of this post referred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection as U.S. Border Patrol.]

-- Alexandra Zavis

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