Corruption Rises as Customs, Border Agency Expands Rapidly, Study Finds

Monday, 17 Oct 2011 04:23 PM

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Rapid expansion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and lack of funds for background checks are being blamed for increasing cases of corruption in the service, according to a joint examination by the Los Angeles Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The inquiry found that 132 Customs and Border Protection employees were indicted or convicted on corruption-related charges during the past seven years. As the agency rapidly increased staffing, the result was hurried background checks and loosened hiring standards, said former and current Customs officials, background investigators, and Border Patrol union officials.

Customs Commissioner Alan Bersin acknowledged screening problems during a congressional hearing in June, and other officials have said that insufficient funding created a backlog of background investigations.

Dozens of Border agents and Customs officials in recent years have turned their government jobs into illicit riches, funding desert estates and Las Vegas gambling binges, luxury cars, and buying sprees at Tiffany's, according to the LAT-Center for Investigative Reporting study.

"It's such a perfect storm, if you will, down there along the Southwest border, with the vast supply of money and the aggressive tactics of the cartels," said Terry Reed, an FBI supervisory agent.

The number of investigations has more than tripled since 2006, from 244 to about 870 last year, according to the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General.


W. Ralph Basham, Customs commissioner from 2006 until 2009, said he told high-ranking officials at Homeland Security that he was not comfortable with the agency's rapid expansion. Those concerns were dismissed, he told the Times.


"We cautioned against this strategy, but we were under tremendous pressure along the Southwest border to do something," Basham said.



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