Magazine article Insight on the News

Growing Drug Corruption Panicking Agency Chiefs

Magazine article Insight on the News

Growing Drug Corruption Panicking Agency Chiefs

Article excerpt

The poet could have had the U.S. Customs Service in mind when he wrote the line, "From ignorance our comfort flows." Last week Insight disclosed that separate federal drug-related bribery probes have been launched into the activities of Rudy M. Camacho, the Pacific regional commissioner of Customs, and two other high-ranking port-of-entry officials in California. Nonetheless, Customs Commissioner George Weise opted to continue his "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" posture toward persistent allegations of widespread border graft, according to sources inside Customs, Washington headquarters.

During an executive staff meeting, held 48 hours after Insight revealed that corruption investigations into Camacho have been started by both the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General, or OIG, and the FBI-led Border Corruption Task Force, Weise indicated that he would remain aloof.

Damage control nonetheless is in full thrust. Press requests for interviews or official statements from Customs about the Camacho probes are being denied as the service ducks and covers. At the same time, some news organizations are being told in off-the-record record briefings that, as far as Customs is aware, there are no investigations into Camacho. But neither the Treasury Department nor the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, which runs the border task force, have issued statements denying that probes indeed are under way into the activities of the Pacific regional commissioner, who has been accused by two witnesses of receiving payoffs from Mexican narco-traffickers based in Tijuana.

Customs sources say that Weise, who has been nicknamed "the invisible man" by the rank and file, believes that border-corruption allegations will blow over after the presidential election. Weise has been criticized before for not discussing publicly the influence of Mexican narco-traffickers on America's southern land ports of entry. Eighteen months ago he kept a low profile when federal lawmakers raised a hue and cry about claims of border graft. Former Customs Commissioner William Von Raab tells Insight he met with Weise and urged him to be open about what Von Raab believes is an epidemic of corruption along the Southwest border.

While the Customs commissioner maintains his studied silence, there is less reticence from federal lawmakers, who were stunned to learn of the Camacho investigations and the internal-affairs probes into San Ysidro, Calif., port director Jerry Martin and his deputy, Art Gilbert. "This is scary," says Rep. Bill Zeliff of New Hampshire, chairman of the House National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice subcommittee. "Since 1992 this administration has done everything possible to thwart any effort on either interdiction or drug source-country programs, and now we find out that we may have corruption at high levels in Customs." Asked if he thought congressional hearings should be held to examine allegations of graft along the border, Zeliff replied. "Absolutely."

Several other influential congressmen men expressed frustration at the inefficiency of federal corruption probes. Customs claimed a clean bill of health in August after a 17-month investigation by the Border Corruption Task Force did not turn up evidence of graft against eight senior Customs officials, including Camacho, Martin and Gilbert. …

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