New Border War: Corruption of U.S. Officials by Drug Cartels

The Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration held a hearing on Thursday, March 11, 2010 on the New Border War: Corruption of US Officials by Drug Cartels.

The stated purpose of the hearing was to review the efforts by drug trade organizations (DTOs) to infiltrate and corrupt federal, state, and local law enforcement in order to improve their ability to counter U.S. border control measures. The hearing established the scope and nature of resulting corruption in federal, state and local governments, where the problem is most prevalent, and the strategy and methods being employed by DTOs. The hearing also provided an opportunity for witnesses to outline efforts to combat this problem, including new or proposed programs and policies relating to the prevention of DTO-related corruption in our nation’s law enforcement and political entities.

Representatives from the FBI, DHS’s OIG and Internal Affairs of Customs and Border Protection provided some interesting insights. To read the full testimonies, click on the hyperlinks “view testimony” below.  Quick excerpts:

Kevin L. Perkins [view testimony]
Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice

Each day, the federal government is charged with protecting over 7,000 miles of land bordering Canada and Mexico, 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline and over 300 ports of entry across the United States. Each of these entry points has the potential for criminal and/or terrorist organizations to exploit corrupt officials willing to misuse their official positions for financial and/or personal gain.
One particular case highlights the potential national security implications of public corruption along our nation’s borders. In that case, an individual gained employment as a border inspector for the specific purpose of trafficking in drugs. Through our collaborative efforts and a year-long investigation, this former public official pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States and received more than $5 Million in bribe payments. This individual has since been sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Thomas Frost
[view testimony]
Assistant Inspector General for Investigations
Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Border related corruption is not limited to one DHS component, but, unfortunately, could involve employees and contractors from across DHS, from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) and others.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) received about 12,458 allegations of fraud and initiated over 1,085 investigations. Our investigations resulted in 313 arrests, 293 indictments, 281 convictions and 59 administrative actions. Additionally, we reported over $85.7 million in fines, restitutions and administrative cost savings and recoveries.
Specific to employee corruption on the border, since 2003, we have made 129 arrests of corrupt Customs and Border Protection Officers and Border Patrol Agents. In FY 2009, we opened 839 allegations involving DHS employees:                        
  • 576 CBP
  • 64 CIS 
  • 35 TSA
  • 164 ICE
Without discounting the excellent work of our own agents, much of our success is due to our collaboration with law enforcement partners.
James F. Tomsheck [view testimony]
Assistant Commissioner, Office of Internal Affairs
Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
CBP is the largest uniformed federal law enforcement agency in the country, with over 20,000 Border Patrol Agents operating between the ports of entry and more than 20,000 CBP officers stationed at air, land, and sea ports nationwide. These forces are supplemented with more than 1,100 Air and Marine agents and 2,300 agricultural specialists and other professionals. In FY 2009 alone, CBP processed more than 360 million pedestrians and passengers, 109 million conveyances, apprehended over 556,000 illegal aliens between our ports of entry, encountered over 224,000 inadmissible aliens at the ports of entry, and seized more than 5.2 million pounds of illegal drugs. Every day, CBP processes over one million travelers seeking to enter the United States by land, air or sea.
While the overwhelming majority of CBP agents and officers demonstrate the highest levels of integrity and perform their duties with honor and distinction every day, isolated acts of corruption do occur. Corruption by these individuals tarnishes the CBP badge and reputation, brings dishonor to our service and, most importantly, jeopardizes our border security.
There is a concerted effort on the part of transnational criminal organizations to infiltrate CBP through hiring initiatives and compromise our existing agents and officers. Since Oct. 1, 2004, 103 CBP law enforcement officers have been arrested or indicted on mission-critical corruption charges, including drug smuggling, alien smuggling, money laundering and conspiracy.