- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

Department of Homeland Security officials failed to properly investigate accusations that several U.S. Border Patrol agents, particularly among the agency’s top management, engaged in “extensive and fraudulent reimbursement schemes,” according to a report of a federal probe.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said in a report — sent to President Bush last week but made public yesterday —that Homeland Security officials accepted outright the contentions of management personnel under investigation despite evidence to the contrary and failed to hold high-level officials accountable.

In calling for a further investigation, OSC — created to protect whistleblowers — said Homeland Security investigators ?appear to have exerted little effort to follow up on evidence identified by (Border Patrol) whistle-blowers that would call its management into question.

?It stretches credulity that 45 employees at a single Border Patrol station engaged in a kickback and fraud scheme for a number of years … without the knowledge of management,? OSC said.

Special Counsel Scott Bloch said that by refusing to address the issue of punishment for supervisors under investigation, ?there is a real risk of creating the appearance of a whitewash.?

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials said yesterday that the agency, which oversees the Border Patrol, had taken the accusations ?seriously,? that they had been ?investigated and adjudicated,? and that those responsible were held accountable.

The report said agents at the Douglas, Ariz., station as part of Operation Safeguard 99 rented rooms from other Border Patrol employees, who charged rates in 2000 and 2001 lower than the per diem or refunded a portion of the rent charged, and provided their tenants with false receipts reflecting payment of the full per diem amount.

It said Border Patrol whistleblowers — former agents Larry Davenport and Willie Forester — also said many agents accepted cash rebates, credits and other kickbacks from local lodging facilities while claiming the full per diem amount for reimbursement, and that the Border Patrol management was aware of the improprieties ?but refused to take any action to address the problem.?

The OCS report said the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a report in January 2003 substantiating the accusations and that Border Patrol officials repeatedly told OSC investigators that disciplinary action would be taken once the office provided their names.

?In November 2003, however, OSC was informed that the Border Patrol intended to do nothing further in the matter because the ‘Chief, Employee Relations Section’ in the Human Resources unit of another office, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote a memorandum indicating that disciplinary action would be an ‘administrative burden,’? the report said.

At this point, the report said, OSC asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to conduct an investigation and a special panel assembled by CBP reviewed the findings of the inspector general’s report and recommended corrective action to CBP. It said, however, that the secretary’s report was deficient because the agency failed to address the involvement of management in the wrongdoing.

Among the 45 agents suspected, the whistleblowers said at least 16 supervisors were involved.

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