- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

Two Immigration and Naturalization Service agents were targeted for an internal probe after telling the news media they and other criminal investigators at a critical INS center that tracks illegal aliens, including potential terrorists, were not allowed to do their jobs.
Veteran agents Steve Letares and Mathew Markiewicz, both assigned to the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC) in South Burlington, Vt., were accused of releasing "unauthorized official/sensitive information to the press" when they told the Williston, Vt., Whistle in November they were confined to desk jobs instead of investigating criminal aliens and would-be terrorists.
According to internal INS documents, they were accused of leaking information from two INS databases used to identify foreign-born visitors at U.S. ports of entry, although they denied releasing any unauthorized information and there is no mention of any intelligence data in the article.
The agents said the only comments they made to the newspaper were about employee grievances, including their concerns that mismanagement and a lack of aggressive investigations at LESC threatened national security.
Their plight has drawn the renewed attention of Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who asked last year whether LESC mismanagement had hampered the nation's ability to control its borders and if criminal investigators were being misused. The internal INS probe has stalled while Mr. Grassley's staff investigates the accusations.
LESC provides information to police on the immigration status of aliens suspected of crimes or under arrest. Its computer-based information system contains data on lawful permanent residents, naturalized citizens, immigration violators and others "for whom the Service has opened alien files or in whom it has a special interest."
In an August letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mr. Grassley said LESC criminal investigators were paid to do investigative work and while LESC claimed that investigations constituted 90 to 95 percent of the work being done by the agents, that was not the case.
"The agents do none of the criminal investigative work that supposedly entails 90 to 95 percent of their work," he said, adding that they currently compare information from police agencies nationwide with LESC information on file and then advise local INS agents of a positive or negative match.
"Such administrative work could easily be handled by the dozens of law-enforcement technicians on staff," he said.
Mr. Letares and Mr. Markiewicz said 140 law-enforcement technicians at LESC should be doing the background checks, not trained criminal investigators. They said none of the dozen LESC criminal investigators, who average $75,000 a year, makes arrests, seizes evidence, conducts investigations or presents cases for prosecution.
"The approximately $1 million the taxpayers spend annually on the 12 special agents to contribute to the national security and safeguard the public has been, since 1998, irrefutably stagnating behind a desk at LESC, answering phones, photocopying pictures and listening to talk radio," said Mr. Markiewicz.
Mr. Grassley also questioned the record of LESC Director Carol Chasse, saying the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General named her in 1995 as being "most responsible for a scheme to mislead" a congressional inquiry into questions of whether an INS processing center in Miami was overcrowded.
He said investigators recommended Mrs. Chasse receive punishment ranging from a 30-day suspension to termination, but instead she was suspended for one day and then assigned to head LESC.
"I am hard-pressed to explain to Iowans how a $21,000 pay increase constitutes disciplinary action," he said, noting the pay increase she received to take the LESC position.
INS has said that LESC's mission is to support police agencies in determining whether a person they have contacted or have in custody is an illegal, criminal or fugitive alien. It said LESC gives the agencies direct access to INS and that the interaction increases public safety by identifying criminal aliens who might pose a threat.
It also said INS criminal investigators are necessary because of their "field expertise."


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