- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner wants the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General to investigate accusations that Border Patrol supervisors failed to hold themselves accountable in a suspected kickback scheme.

The request follows a report last week by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) saying the supervisors did not act on accusations in 2001 that per-diem kickbacks were paid to Arizona field agents and that an inquiry into the charges appeared to be a ?whitewash? to protect agency managers.

?I have asked the Inspector General’s Office to review the investigative reports from the Justice Department and the Office of Internal Affairs at CBP in this matter, with instructions that if a further investigation is warranted, then do it,? Mr. Bonner told The Washington Times.

?Nothing will be swept under the rug,? he said.

The report, sent to President Bush, said an investigation begun in 2001 and completed in 2003 found that supervisors ?exerted little effort to follow up on evidence? identified by whistleblowers 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,? the report said.

According to the report, Border Patrol agents in Douglas, Ariz., as part of ?Operation Safeguard 99,? rented rooms from other agents who charged rates lower than the per diem and provided tenants with false receipts showing payment at the full amount. It said agents accepted cash rebates, credits and other kickbacks from local lodging facilities while claiming the full amount.

The report said Border Patrol supervisors in Douglas became aware of the accusations in May 2001, reporting them to Tucson Sector Chief David V. Aguilar, now chief agent in Washington. They were then turned over to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and to the Office of Internal Audit at the now-defunct U.S. immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

In January 2003, records show, the Inspector General’s Office substantiated the accusations, but within six weeks, the Border Patrol was moved as an agency from Justice to Homeland Security — with the investigative files going to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security’s investigative arm.

By November 2003, ICE’s human resources division ruled that disciplinary action against so many agents would be ?an administrative burden.?

That same month, Mr. Bonner learned about the investigative files and ordered an immediate review by a panel of senior CBP managers. The panel ordered disciplinary action for 45 agents and recommended a further review of the Border Patrol managers. Five agents were fired; 37 were suspended for 30 days; one was demoted and suspended; and two received 14-day suspensions.

In February 2004, Mr. Bonner ordered a new investigation into whether Border Patrol management at Douglas and Tucson were aware of the improprieties. In October 2004, that review concluded there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the accusations.

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