JAY WEAVER AND ALFONSO CHARDY
March 5, 2008
Bribery. Drug trafficking. Migrant smuggling.
|A Customs and Border Protection officer at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was charged in February with conspiring to assist a New York drug ring under investigation by tapping into sensitive federal databases.|
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is supposed to stop these types of crimes. Instead, so many of its officers have been charged with committing those crimes themselves that their boss in Washington recently issued an alert about the ”disturbing events” and the “increase in the number of employee arrests.”
Thomas S. Winkowski, assistant commissioner of field operations, wrote a memo to more than 20,000 officers nationwide noting that employees must behave professionally at all times — even when not on the job.
”It is our responsibility to uphold the laws, not break the law,” Winkowski wrote in the Nov. 16 memo obtained by The Miami Herald.
Winkowski’s memo cites employee arrests involving domestic violence, DUI and drug possession. But court records show Customs officers and other Department of Homeland Security employees from South Florida to the Mexican border states have been charged with dozens of far more serious offenses.
Among them: A Customs and Border Protection officer at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was charged in February with conspiring to assist a New York drug ring under investigation by tapping into sensitive federal databases.
Winkowski, a former director of field operations in Miami, called the misconduct ”unacceptable.” He told The Miami Herald that while he wrote the memo because of an uptick in employee arrests last fall, he didn’t believe the problem was pervasive.
”Do I believe this is widespread in our organization? No, I do not,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Are there examples where we fall short? Yes.”
Two highly controversial issues, illegal immigration and national security, have thrust the Department of Homeland Security into the public eye as it labors to prevent another terrorist attack in the post-9/11 era.
The bureaucratic behemoth grew out of a controversial consolidation five years ago of several agencies, including the U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Employees of both joined either Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known for their acronyms CBP and ICE.
CBP handles the border, airports and seaports, while ICE investigates immigration and customs law violators.
”We as an agency are constantly policing ourselves so that the public trust is not diminished as a result of inappropriate activity, whether it’s on the job, off the job, criminal or not criminal,” said Zachary Mann, a special agent and spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in Miami.
Some Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees also have been caught up in episodes of alleged misconduct. But Anthony Mangione, the special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miami, said he was not aware of any increase in criminal or administrative actions “even though we have had a substantial increase in personnel since the merger.”