- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

The head of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday said he takes “very seriously” accusations of “gross misconduct” at a law enforcement center in Vermont and has ordered an investigation to “get the facts.”

ICE Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia sent investigators to the Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston, Vt., after accusations by agents at the facility. They charged in a letter last month that “unethical and unlawful” conduct by LESC supervisors threatened both national security and public safety.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes very seriously any allegation of misconduct by its employees,” Mr. Garcia said. “As we would with any such allegation, we are conducting an internal investigation to get the facts and therefore cannot comment further at this time.”

Agents Steve Letares and Mathew Markiewicz charged in the letter to Mr. Garcia that LESC mismanagement prevented agents from tracking terrorists, illegal aliens and drug smugglers. They said mismanagement and incompetence put the center “at risk of imploding,” and asked Mr. Garcia to put an end to an “unhealthy and dysfunctional working environment.”



LESC provides critical information 24 hours a day, seven days a week to state and local police on the immigration status of aliens suspected of crimes or under arrest. Its data bank contains information on lawful permanent residents, naturalized citizens, immigration violators and others in whom there is a “special interest.”

The Vermont center previously was a part of the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). It now is controlled by ICE, a new bureau under the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is important to highlight the new and expanding role of ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center as a critical operational component of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security,” Mr. Garcia said. “LESC is the linchpin of our efforts to coordinate investigative actions with state and local law enforcement agencies, particularly in the realm of criminal, fugitive and illegal alien investigations.

“More important, though, is the fact that we are examining how we will further enhance the role of LESC as a primary means of coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement organizations,” he said. “This kind of coordination is crucial to the mission of ICE and DHS, and we anticipate greater operational roles for the facility.”

Building on that foundation, Mr. Garcia said LESC is taking on “even greater responsibilities,” including its expanding role as a critical participant in Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative designed to protect children from sexual predators and others involved in the exploitation of children.

Agent Letares yesterday said LESC agents believe there is “no other viable alternative but to be placed back into the field,” adding that INS officials who previously oversaw the program “jeopardized national security by having 20 trained and able agents relegated to be desk jockeys.” He commended Mr. Garcia’s efforts to get the facts and welcomed the investigation.

Mr. Garcia, who recently visited the LESC facility, said the importance of the center was reflected by a growing demand for its services, saying it fielded 430,000 inquiries from law enforcement last year but had responded to 480,000 inquiries through the first three quarters of this year.

He said the center will handle 650,000 inquiries this year — nearly triple the total of 2001.

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