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Honolulu’s new head of Homeland Security Investigations says financial crimes, cyber crimes his priority

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John F Tobon

The agency's priorities, he tells me, are “cyber and financial investigations. Crimes of exploitation, public safety, global trade, national security, and counter terrorism.”

HONOLULU (KITV4) - In Hawaii, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the second largest federal agency. It's responsible for keeping not just our borders safe - but the community within them.

This month, a new leader took over. KITV4's Diane Ako sat down with the Honolulu Special Agent in Charge John Tobon to hear how he plans to make an impact on our state.

We are standing at a framed letter on the wall written in Spanish. It’s very long, but it ends with, “Van a tener mucho cuidado porque todos abogados tienen cicarios,” and lists some names, including John Tobon.

“Cicarios?” I ask. “That's assassin.” I watch Narcos.

“Yeah,” Tobon confirms, chuckling. He's laughing today, but having a hit on his life from a Colombian drug cartel is now a daily reminder and a point of pride for Tobon.

“When you look at this, is this a validator that this is a job well done?” I wonder.

“It means I was able to have an impact on their life. That I made them feel a little less safe,” he answers.

That's what Tobon hopes to bring to Hawaii's community as well - scaring bad guys, and keeping law abiding citizens safer. The native Columbian grew up in New York City, and in his quarter century in this federal agency, has worked around the country as well as in Colombia.

The agency's priorities, he tells me, are “cyber and financial investigations. Crimes of exploitation, public safety, global trade, national security, and counter terrorism.”

Tobon says all of those crimes are happening in Hawaii, but one of the bigger issues is financial crimes. And it doesn't just play out like a scene from Narcos. “One of the biggest challenges here is affordable housing. What keeps the price of housing going up? Foreign investment. Some of that foreign investment can be traced back to kleptocrats,” he says.

Kleptocrats - that's generally embezzled money. The money is hidden in luxury real estate. He says it's hard to put a number on it, but “it could be as high as 30 to 35% of those sales that have some tie to some kind of illegal activity.”

He says cybercrimes are also growing issue across Hawaii and the rest of the nation. That includes thieves tricking people out of their money, and luring minors into sex work. “In any given week, we have rescued as many as five or six children,” he says.

Big goals from a man with a broad background. Tobon says he looks forward to partnering with other law enforcement agencies to make a difference in his new home state. “This really is a good time for law enforcement here. We're really positive about what we can accomplish together,” he sums, adding that a win for him is a win for the entire community.

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