MINNEAPOLIS — Mark A. Cangemi and Herbert A. Igbanugo have a relationship that spans years. They were both involved in the justice system and occasionally shared a roof and sometimes had lunch together. But they were never on the same side.
Cangemi was a Special Agent of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in charge of the Twin Cities Area of Responsibility, which includes the five states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska; Igbanugo, the Nigerian-born lawyer, was an immigration defense attorney. That meant that Igbanugo had to fight to win the freedom of some of the people Cangemi’s officers arrested for violation of immigration law.
“Mr. Cangemi and I have fought each other for many, many, years,” Igbanugo says, as Cangemi sits at a desk in his office with his arms crossed, attempting a smile. “But we always fought with mutual respect.”
Over the years that mutual respect led to trust. Igbanugo remembers a case where, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, immigration officials went to arrest one of his clients, an Iraqi man suspected of having ties with terrorists. The man called Igbanugo in an apparent attempt to avoid spending a weekend in jail. When Igbanugo called Cangemi saying he knew the man well, and promised to take him to Cangemi’s office the following Monday, Cangemi did not object.
In addition to defending the accused, Igbanugo sued ICE on behalf of some of his clients.
Because Cangemi was the head of the law enforcement arm, he was always named as the defendant. Who won the cases?
“He will tell you differently, but I think I won most of them,” Igbanugo says jokingly and laughs.
Cangemi smiles in a mocking way, but does not say anything.
“But it was never personal,” Igbanugo adds.
Regardless of who won, the two men continued to treat each other with respect. Today, because of the courtesy they accorded each other, they are partners. Cangemi retired after 34 years in law enforcement and in August joined Igbanugo Partners Int’l Law Firm, a minority-controlled company.
For a layman, it might seem like Cangemi crossed over to the other side – to fight his former employer. But he doesn’t think so.
“I never saw the positions as one side or the other,” he says. “It’s more of defending the system with integrity.”
In the American justice system, strong defense is just as important as strong prosecution, says Cangemi. The strength of both ensures balance and therefore people working on either side are not necessarily working against each other, but towards a common goal of justice.
Having worked as a prosecutor, Cangemi say he has a lot to bring to Igbanugo Partners.
Cangemi specializes in business immigration law, corporate compliance, and corporate defense in administrative and criminal enforcement matters related to U.S. immigration laws. But he plans to take a preventive, rather than a defensive, approach.
“Isn’t it much better to encourage people to do things appropriately within the confines of the law so you never get into that position where you have to defend yourself?” he asks.
Cangemi compares the post-Sept. 11 government to a “major hourglass.” He grabs a pen and legal pad and begins to illustrate. He draws an hourglass that covers most of the entire page and scribbles little circles at its brim to represent various federal and local law enforcement agencies that have information-gathering mandate and investigative responsibilities.
“They are all feeding different levels of information,” he says, repeatedly circling the middle of his drawing. “At the section where the hourglass is constricted, that information is being analyzed, distributed, reviewed and coming to the other side.”
His goal will be to ensure that his corporate clients do not fall through the constricted. That, he says, will not only keep the companies out of trouble, but also restore the public’s trust.
Cangemi also plans to get into advising minority entrepreneurs, who he says often find themselves in trouble with the law because they do not understand the U.S. system.
“I look at the United States when I started 34 years ago and it’s not the same country it is today. That’s good, and challenging at the same time,” he says.
His experience will serve him well, says, Igbanugo.
“I couldn’t find a better partner,” Igbanugo says. “He knows the internal workings of the system its agencies. Very few people actually understand the way the U.S. government agencies are interconnected to one another from [Homeland Security], to the FBI, to the Labor Department.”
Cangemi graduated cum laude with a Juris Doctor degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 1992. During his years in the U.S. government he held various positions in the Department of Justice, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Cangemi first joined the INS in 1973 as an Immigration Inspector in Port Huron, Michigan, where he remained until 1975. He then served as an INS Criminal Investigator in Chicago from 1975 to 1985, primarily as an anti-smuggling agent. For his investigative work in the high-profile alien smuggling case, “Operation Gypsy,” Cangemi received the prestigious Newton-Azrak award, and was nominated for the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement.
From 1985 to 1988, Cangemi was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona as an anti-smuggling agent and was later promoted to Assistant District Director for anti-smuggling.
In 1988, he was promoted to Assistant District Director for Investigations of the INS office in St. Paul, Minn. In this capacity, Cangemi managed the expansion of the office to include duty posts in Fargo, N.D, and Sioux Falls and Rapid City, S.D.
As Special Agent in Charge, Cangemi coordinated overall enforcement of 400 immigration and customs statutes and oversaw Resident Agents in Charge across the five states. He coordinated investigative and operational law enforcement activities related to document vending, drug smuggling, money laundering, commercial fraud, identity and benefits fraud, national security, strategic crimes, human trafficking, alien smuggling, human rights, and cyber crimes.
His highest profile role in law enforcement was coordinating the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be 20th hijacker of Sept. 11, who was taking flight lessons in Egan, Minn.
Cangemi is married and has two grown children, a daughter and a son.
About Edwin Okong'o - Mshale Contributing Editor
Edwin Okong'o is a Mshale Contributing Editor. Formerly he was the newspaper's editor.