More Agents Succumb to Bribes!

More Agents Succumb to Bribes!
Posted by FoM on March 07, 1999 at 07:08:37 PT
Drug officers vulnerable to corruption, study says
When Miguel Carreon was hired as Donna police chief in November 1997, he vowed to inject integrity into a force sullied by the recent indictment of six officers accused of helping drug traffickers smuggle 1,700 pounds of marijuana. 
But Carreon realized that his mission would be more challenging than recruiting officers and instituting a better hiring process when a prominent figure in town approached him and hinted that the Police Department should continue to cooperate with drug smugglers."He told me that drug smuggling has always been a way of life, and as long as nobody gets hurt, nobody will know the difference," the 42-year-old chief said recently. "I stopped the conversation before he said, `Let's work together.' "Carreon's encounter in the border community near McAllen reveals the difficulties that law enforcement officials face when struggling to stay clean amid a stream of drugs and illicit cash.From small-town police departments along the estimated 2,000 miles of the U.S. side of the Southwest border to the expanding ranks of federal agencies, officials say they are alarmed by their own vulnerability to the corrupting influence of the drug trade.The General Accounting Office is about to release a yearlong study that concludes drug-related corruption along the Southwest border is a serious and continuing threat, according to a draft of the study obtained by the Star-Telegram."Both INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and customs are vulnerable to this threat," the draft says. "This situation exists, in part, because neither INS nor customs has fully availed itself of opportunities to better ensure the integrity of its employees."The alarm is sounding for several reasons:* Flush with cash, Mexican drug cartels are furnishing their lieutenants and drug-smuggling "mules" with fatter bribes, U.S. officials say."You hear hints like, `What would you do if somebody gave you $5,000 just so you could look the other way -- would it take $5,000 or $1 million?' " said Carreon, who added that he has been approached this way several times in his 19-year law enforcement career. "It's very hard to get away from it. Sooner or later you're going to talk to someone who will offer you a lot of money."* A rapid increase in the number of law enforcement agency workers, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, is attracting younger, inexperienced agents who may not be prepared to resist corruption. At the same time, law enforcement agencies may not be addressing the temptations that their veteran officials face."The potential bad news is that such rapid growth in any agency makes it very difficult to train adequate numbers of experienced managers in place to counter the threat of corruption," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said in a recent Senate hearing. He serves as a ranking minority member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.* Investigators who are charged with looking into allegations of corruption struggle to keep up with an increase in cases. These agencies, often limited in their investigative powers, also confront a new type of corrupt official who is not only looking the other way but is helping drug traffickers smuggle drugs and cash."It's been overwhelming on the Southwest border," said Wayne D. Beaman, the special agent in charge of the McAllen field office for the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General, which investigates allegations of corruption along the Texas-Mexico border. "We are woefully understaffed."The increased awareness comes as Mexican officials are urging their U.S. counterparts to acknowledge a problem with corruption north of the border, rather than just underscoring corruption in Mexico."You read a lot about how drugs make it from South America, through Mexico and to the border," said Juan Rebolledo, the Mexican undersecretary for North American affairs. "But are the same sources of this information telling the public how it is that these same drugs make it from the border to Chicago?"They don't just magically make it there overnight. Drug dealers spread their money all along the trail from source to consumption, so it's naive to think that it is not spread north of the border as well."U.S. officials counter that the problem with U.S. corruption is dwarfed by widespread corruption in Mexico, where an official at every level of government, from the local police officer to the nation's drug czar, has been compromised.The Clinton administration's recent decision to certify Mexico as a partner in the war against illegal drugs drew protests from Congress and speculation that it might debate overturning the decision partly because of charges that Mexico is not attacking deep-rooted corruption."Unlike our Mexican counterparts, we actually put people in jail for corruption," a U.S. Senate source said. "We, unlike the Mexicans, have a good record of grabbing these bad actors and taking them off the beat."Other authorities say that the number of cases against corrupt U.S. officials is small considering the thousands of law enforcement officials stationed along the border and the thriving drug trade there.Although some say a recent increase in the number of cases may reflect better efforts to root out corruption, others say the increase may reflect only the increasing potential that officials will be corrupted.Between 1994 and 1997, there were 46 drug-related indictments of border law enforcement officials in the United States. The number of state and local law enforcement and public officials investigated by the FBI and convicted of drug-related corruption has increased from 79 in 1997 to 157 in 1998."These arrests raise grave concerns about the integrity of some of the agents guarding our borders," former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York said. "Public confidence must be restored."Echoing the concern, the GAO, the federal government's watchdog, is expected to recommend by the end of the month that the U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service take more aggressive steps to combat corruption.The GAO study looked at 28 convictions between 1992 and 1997 of INS and customs employees for drug-related crimes along the Southwest border, which extends from Brownsville to Imperial Beach, Calif.The cases included employees' waving vehicles carrying drugs through ports of entry, coordinating the movement of drugs across the border, transporting drugs past Border Patrol checkpoints, selling drugs and disclosing drug intelligence information.In some cases, the officials found ways of getting around methods of preventing corruption. For example, a customs inspector in El Paso used a cellular telephone to send a prearranged code to a drug smuggler's beeper to tell him which lane to use and what time to use it.But many times, the drug smugglers relied on close relationships with law enforcement officials. An immigration inspector in Calexico, Calif., agreed to allow her boyfriend, a member of a narcotics smuggling family, to drive a vehicle loaded with marijuana through her lane without inspection. On numerous occasions, INS detention officers transported drugs in INS vehicles past Border Patrol checkpoints, the report says.The GAO report concludes that customs and INS missed opportunities to provide in-depth anti-corruption training to employees and did not keep up with background investigations that are required after an employee has been with the agencies for five years. In some cases, the report says, the investigations were overdue by as much as three years.The agencies also failed to require enough financial information from their employees and failed to regularly use it to detect corruption, the report says.The INS did not question a Border Patrol agent who owned a $200,000 house with a five-car garage and an Olympic-size pool in its own separate building. He also owned six vehicles, two boats, 100 weapons, $45,000 in Treasury bills and 40 acres of land.Because neither INS nor customs had completed an evaluation of policies and procedures or had corrected internal weaknesses that surfaced, "neither agency can be sure that adequate internal controls are in place to detect and prevent employee corruption," the researchers conclude in the draft, which is expected to be released this month.In a recent report to Congress, the U.S. Customs Service Office of Professional Responsibility acknowledged problems with its internal affairs division and described the corrupting influence of drugs as "the undisputed, greatest corruption hazard confronting all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies today."Customs Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told the Star-Telegram that his agency has started taking steps to tighten the hiring process, tackle the backlog of five-year background checks and hire a former federal prosecutor to head internal affairs.The agency is also revamping its employee training by hiring a department director who will focus on anti-corruption tactics, Kelly said.Ironically, he said, customs may have unintentionally left itself open to more scrutiny than other agencies because of its recognition of the temptation that its employees confront."We are tackling the issue head-on," Kelly said.INS spokesman Greg Gagne said he would not comment directly on the GAO report because it was a draft. But he said his agency is confident that its training practices and background checks are thorough and rival those of any other federal agency.The INS has little control over investigations into corruption because the Office of the Inspector General, an agency within the Department of Justice, handles the cases, he said. But once an employee is convicted, INS takes any necessary steps to adopt policies to avert future corruption, he said.Although Gagne said there is no indication of an increase in corruption in the agency, he said INS is concerned that its growing number of employees along the Southwest border is being targeted more often by drug smugglers. By year's end, INS hopes to have a work force of 29,000, compared with 10,000 in 1992."It has become perfectly evident that drug smuggling and the use of money to penetrate the border has become a more serious problem," he said.The U.S. government's handling of corruption has not always been discussed openly. Phil Jordan, former head of the El Paso Intelligence Center, said he encountered resistance from his superiors in the mid-1990s when he tried to point out an increase in corruption allegations along the Southwest border."It's not good public relations to admit that there could be corruption within law enforcement agencies," he said. "Unfortunately, because of the increase of the flow of narcotics into the country and the mind-boggling amounts of money that is out there to buy protection, there is more exposure for law enforcement officials to corruption than ever before."Marisa Taylor, (817) 685-3819Send your comments to marisataylor
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