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Drugs, guns and child porn at Homeland Security

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An officer with the Transportation Security Administration screens passangers at  Los Angeles International Airport. Since the start of 2004, over 2,500 Homeland Security employees have been convicted of crimes.

Ann Johansson/AP

The Department of Homeland Security is the first line of defense against threats to Americans, entrusted with guarding the borders, protecting the skies and cracking down on potential terrorist attacks.

But instead of protecting America’s citizens, hundreds of DHS agents have been busy smuggling drugs, guns and illegal immigrants, obtaining child porn, and raking in thousands in bribes and theft. 

Those are just a sampling of the crimes DHS agents committed, according to the “Summary of Significant Investigations” released by Homeland Security’s Inspector General this month.

It was a busy 2011 for the IG’s office, which investigated 1,389 allegations that resulted in 318 arrests and 260 convictions. Fines and recovered funds saved more than $45 million in taxpayer funds, according to agency estimates.

DHS is a massive government agency, with “over 225,000” employees, so it may not be surprising that there would be some individuals breaking the rules. But the seriousness of the crimes — including cases where American security was directly compromised by the very agents who are supposed to secure the borders and airports — is eye opening.

“A corrupt DHS employee may accept a bribe for allowing what appear to be simply undocumented aliens into the U.S. while unwittingly helping terrorists enter the country,” warned Charles Edwards, the acting inspector general (IG) at DHS, in Congressional testimony August 1. “Likewise, what seems to be drug contraband could be weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or biological weapons or bomb-making materials.”

Among the more incendiary crimes profiled in the report:

  • Two TSA agents plead guilty in unrelated cases of having child pornography in their possession. One was sentenced to 20 months in prison; the other received 132 months in jail.
  • One border agent in Arizona physically assaulted another agent before he “pulled his service weapon and pointed it at the victim’s head.” The agent served an unspecified amount of time in jail.
  • While on duty and driving his government issued vehicle, a uniformed Immigration Enforcement officer was viewed buying crack cocaine in Arkansas. The agent received 60 days in prison and 60 months of probation
  • A detention officer at an immigration holding facility was sentenced to 10 months in prison after forcing “nonconsensual sexual contact” on an adult being detained at his facility.
  • One TSA agent was arrested after he “he was observed chasing and threatening to kill a young Somali male.” At the time, the agent was carrying a pair of handguns. The agent, who had also assaulted an 82 year old Somali in 2010, became the second-ever conviction under the 2009 Matthew Shepard hate crimes act.

In all the above cases, the agents were relieved of duty.

While the largest percentage of cases came from FEMA agents — including a consultant who had to pay a nearly $3 million fine for settle a false claims suit and a contractor that billed the government almost $40,000 for a fake employee — many of the most dangerous cases involved agents from Customs and Border Protection. 

“We take all allegations of corruption very seriously,” David V. Aguilar, the acting commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said during an early August hearing. “While the number of corrupt individuals within our ranks who have betrayed the trust of the American public and their peers is a fraction of one percent of our workforce, we continue to focus our efforts on rooting out this unacceptable and deplorable behavior.”

Cases involving border security agents were spread throughout the nation. In New York, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was discovered to be working with a drug cartel to rob other drug traffickers and sell their product. In Texas, a border agent allowed vehicles carrying “approximately 1,700 pounds of marijuana through his inspection lane in exchange for approximately $10,000 in bribes.” And in Georgia, a border agent working at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport used his position to bypass security and carry drugs and weapons for the cartel. 

One notable case involved a border protection officer who “provided drug traffickers with his work schedule and lane assignments, which they used to coordinate their smuggling efforts through his inspection lane.” The agent received more than nine years in prison for his actions; his estranged wife, who also pleaded guilty to assisting the scheme, is on the run after not showing at a Texas courthouse.

Not all crimes are created equal, of course. A customs agent in Boston apparently let his inner fanboy get the better of him when he stole an immigration card filled out by astronaut Neil Armstrong at Logan airport before attempting to sell it through an auction warehouse. The agent was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

Edwards, the acting IG, testified that 2,527 DHS employees have been convicted of crimes since 2004. During this period, the grand majority (65 percent) of those crimes have come from FEMA employees, many of whom were involved in kickbacks with contractors or schemes to steal taxpayer funds. 15 percent of the crimes came from border protection agents, 6.5 percent came from immigration officials, and over 5 percent was from TSA agents.

Unfortunately, DHS doesn’t seem to have licked the corruption problem. As of July 15, fiscal year 2012 has seen 146 convictions of agents. That number is guaranteed to increase; last week, two border protection agents were convicted of smuggling hundreds of people into the U.S. aboard Border Patrol vehicles.