A new report suggests agents at the nation’s most notorious anti-marijuana agency are getting away with dirty deeds themselves.
USA Today reported in September that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is letting agents stay on the job even after they’re caught lying, distributing illegal drugs, or committing other severe misconduct. The report was based on newly released documents from the federal government.
Some of the information was already known. The former head of the DEA, Michelle Leonhart, resigned in disgrace earlier this year after news that agents had engaged in drug-fueled sex parties supplied by international traffickers – who guarded the agents’ guns while they had sex with Colombian prostitutes.
Hypocritical internal discipline
None of those agents received any serious discipline, the new report concluded, and the same is true of other rampant misconduct in the hypocritical agency. Some of the new information came from a Justice Department investigation launched in the wake of the prostitution scandal.
USA Today examined the DEA’s disciplinary files and found it’s common for agents to receive little or no punishment for serious infractions. The agency’s Board of Professional Conduct recommended that 50 employees be fired for misconduct since 2010, yet only 13 actually lost their jobs. Some of them were rehired under orders from a federal appeals panel.
In one especially egregious case, the board recommended termination of an employee for “distribution of drugs,” but a human resources official handed down just a 14-day suspension. You read that right: An anti-drug agent sold drugs and lost two weeks of work for it. Lying in official records, “improper association with a criminal element,” misuse of government cars and drunk driving – all are grounds for firing yet almost never end that way.
DEA employees very rarely got terminated
“If we conducted an investigation, and an employee actually got terminated, I was surprised,” said Carl Pike, a former internal affairs investigator for the DEA. “I was truly, truly surprised. Like, wow, the system actually got this guy.”
It is said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Since roughly the late 1930s, the DEA and its predecessor agency, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, have had near-absolute control over drug law in the United States. This has allowed them to bloat their budgets, commit crimes, and act with impunity.
“There is a culture of protection internally that has to change,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “If there’s a bad apple, they need to be fired, if not prosecuted, and that’s just not happening. Federal law enforcement should be held to the highest standard.”
The report is more trouble for a troubled agency. The federal government recently agreed to pay $4 million to a former California college student who nearly died in DEA custody after agents forgot they had locked him, handcuffed, in a holding cell. He drank his own urine and tried to kill himself using shards from the lens of his broken glasses.
The six agents responsible for the student’s ordeal received nothing more than slaps on the wrist: Two were suspended briefly while the other four merely received letters of reprimand. Officials at the Justice Department said earlier this year that the department has “serious concerns” about the way that case was handled.