Drug and illegal alien smuggling. Bribes. Kickbacks. Possession of child pornography. Attempted child sex abuse. These are just some of the crimes employees of the Department of Homeland Security were convicted of in fiscal year 2009, according to an internal report released today.
Drug and illegal alien smuggling. Bribes. Kickbacks. Possession of child pornography. Attempted child sex abuse. These are just some of the crimes Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees and contractors were convicted of in fiscal year 2009, according to a report (.pdf) released today from the department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) .
In between October 2008 and September 2009, the OIG's Office of Investigations worked on approximately 16,800 complaints it received. Of the 1,056 investigations initiated, OIG made 283 arrests that led to 241 convictions. The DHS internal watchdog has statutory authority to investigate complaints across DHS's component agencies, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Coast Guard (USCG), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
DHS has roughly 188,000 employees and 200,000 contractors, according to the agency.
The OIG describes the 24-page report's release as a reminder to DHS employees not to betray the public trust. "We trust this special report will serve as a deterrent to fraud, waste, and abuse, and serve to promote more effective, efficient, and economical operations within the department," writes the Inspector General Richard L. Skinner in the report's preface.
The 24-page report, however, recounts only a chosen few crimes listed by the DHS agency in which they occurred. Many of the anecdotal summaries of convictions described general corruption, particularly at the U.S. border and other ports of entry
♦ A TSA supervisor and two CBP officers conspired to smuggle narcotics through a checkpoint at a U.S. international airport. The TSA supervisor and the organizer are currently serving multi-year sentences while the CBP officers await sentencing.
♦ Three contractors working for CBP released illegal aliens in Los Angeles that they were transporting to the border for deportation. The three transportation officers collected $2,500 from each illegal alien they released. All three contractors received time in prison for their corruption.
♦ A guard at an ICE Federal Service Processing Center accepted cash from an OIG undercover agent to smuggle marijuana, an MP3 player, cell phones, and U.S. currency into the facility for immigration detainees. Cell phones are a particularly hot commodity inside U.S. prisons , allowing detainees and prisoners to make contact with the outside world and, in some instances, continue criminal activity. The guard was fired and sentenced to 24 months of supervised release.
In congressional testimony in March, OIG's Thomas Frost, assistant inspector general for investigations, told lawmakers that the U.S.-Mexico border breeds corruption among DHS employees (.pdf) as drug trafficking organizations seek to get their product into the United States.
"As the Department becomes more efficient and successful in deploying techniques, technologies and manpower to disrupt traditional smuggling routes and networks, the smuggling organizations have redoubled their efforts to evade our efforts by using alternative tactics, including bribing DHS employees and engaging in fraudulent schemes to acquire immigration benefits," he said. The tactics used by drug trafficking to corrupt border officers and agents, Frost said, are similar to those wielded by foreign intelligence agencies.
But crimes committed by DHS employees were not just limited to the border and the government's fight to keep illegal narcotics out. Some of the more disconcerting convictions concerned the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. One ICE Special Agent found himself busted by Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" for attempting a lewd act with a child under 14. He received a year in prison. Another ICE Deportation Officer was caught with sexually explicit pictures of a child after a hotel surveillance camera caught the man entering his room with a child while on business outside the United States. He's currently serving 15 years in prison.
Not all the investigations focused on DHS employees. Sometimes private citizens and local authorities were also investigated and convicted, mainly for helping employees commit crimes or abusing DHS programs. A major target for fraudsters was FEMA's relief programs to Hurricane Katrina victims. In one instance, a joint OIG-FBI investigation nabbed a local police chief making false claims of residence damage from Hurricane Katrina, which earned him $19,514 in benefits. The easy money, however, also landed him in jail for 2-and-a-half years as well as 3 years on probation with orders to make full restitution.
Through the investigations, the OIG reports its actions saved taxpayers approximately $86 million from fines, restitution, administrative cost savings, and recoveries. According to the numbers, fiscal year 2009 saw a reduction in cases accepted for prosecution, arrests, and convictions over 2008. Complaints received, however, were up significantly with approximately 16,800 in 2009 compared to approximately 11,400 in 2008.
Asked about the disparity between the complaint rates and arrest and conviction rates, Metelko said arrests and convictions could be down while complaints are up because drug smuggling operations continue to grow in sophistication and learn new ways to cover up their corruption campaigns.
♦ Photo by Ken Mayer/Flickr