Agents of Deception

A congressional delegation inspected Miami's INS operations and found everything to be running smoothly. No wonder. Investigators later discovered they'd been dealing with...

Not only had staffing been rigged at the airport, but almost 140 detainees at Krome had been released into the community or transferred just hours before the delegation arrived. Some of those detainees had criminal records; others had not been properly cleared by medical personnel.

The congressmen had been bamboozled, and union members resolved to enlighten them about the hoax. They composed a memo detailing the unusual steps taken in advance of the visit. Forty-seven inspectors -- almost one-third of those assigned to the airport -- signed it despite fears of retaliation.

Upon receiving the memo, the congressmen forwarded it to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, along with a July 12, 1995, letter signed by all seven members of the delegation. "We came to Miami in search of the truth," they wrote. "After reading the attached memo, we are increasingly skeptical that we were able to find it."

Reno, whose department oversees the Immigration and Naturalization Service, turned the matter over to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the watchdog agency that handles allegations of criminal misconduct within the Justice Department.

The OIG completed its investigation this past June, but it refused to release its report to the public owing to "privacy considerations." Investigators maintain that the INS officials accused of wrongdoing are entitled to their privacy until disciplinary matters have been resolved. New Times obtained the entire 197-page report, which chronicles not only the deception described by the union members, but also an elaborate coverup carried out by high-ranking supervisors in an effort to foil federal investigators.

Titled Alleged Deception of Congress: The Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform's Fact-Finding Visit to the Miami District of INS in June 1995, the report recommends discipline for thirteen INS officials. Among them is Miami District Director Dan Cadman, who is recommended for termination or demotion to a position in which he would not have "significant managerial responsibilities." Cadman's deputy, Valerie Blake, is also recommended for termination, as are two of Cadman's superiors.

The recommendations have been reviewed by the Justice Department, which may file criminal charges. According to federal law, any government employee who "knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up ... a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations" can be criminally prosecuted and receive a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Since the report was completed, the Justice Department has opened investigations into at least two other INS districts. Last month union members in San Diego alleged that a deception similar to that documented in the OIG's report on Miami took place when the same congressional task force visited their district in April 1995. (There are a total of 33 INS districts around the country. The Miami district includes Florida and the Bahamas, where the INS prescreens travelers. It is one of the largest and busiest in terms of the number of travel documents reviewed each year.)

This week the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims opens hearings on the OIG's report about the task force's visit to Miami. Rep. Elton Gallegly says he'll be "very disappointed" if no one is criminally prosecuted for the Miami deception. "I think it is a disgrace that those we entrust with enforcing the laws of the land would themselves violate the law," he declares. "I'm not going to prejudge what the final penalties should be, but it's clear to me that some [INS employees] are on the wrong side of the bars."

Employees and managers, most of whom agreed to speak to a reporter only if their names were not revealed, are pessimistic that the INS will respond to the criticism with substantive change. They point out that low-level workers usually quit in frustration rather than persevere in attempts to reform the agency from within. They also say that supervisors who seek accountability sometimes find themselves at odds with upper management.

Those who do speak up risk reprisals. For example, Dan Tarasevich, who has succeeded Michael Wixted as president of the union, points out that soon after the OIG completed its investigation, the Miami district announced it was going to review more than 50 complaints of employee misconduct, some of which dated back several years. Although management portrayed this as an effort to rectify sloppy record keeping, the union fears it is merely management flexing its muscle, an unsubtle reminder of how vulnerable an employee can be when faced with a vindictive supervisor.

"It depends on how you look at it," Tarasevich says. "It could be that they are just responding to all the attention that is focused on Miami [and are cleaning house], or it could be blatant retaliation. We got some of their top management in trouble. The word goes out to [INS districts] in the rest of the country: You cause problems for management, we're going to cause problems for you."

Meanwhile, Valerie Blake, the Miami supervisor who was identified by the OIG as "the single person most responsible" for the deception, was promoted to district director in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition, several months after the congressional visit -- in the midst of the OIG investigation -- she received the INS commissioner's Exceptional Service Award, the agency's highest honor. A second Miami supervisor criticized by federal investigators, Vincent Intenzo, was named one of two supervisors of the year. And a third Miami supervisor, who was described by the OIG as having "concocted rationales intended to mislead, rather than set the record straight," received a prestigious transfer to INS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Pamela Barry, INS's director of congressional relations, helped to orchestrate the subterfuge but remains in her position as liaison between the agency and Capitol Hill. "Her admitted efforts to mislead Congress directly conflict with her present responsibilities," the report states. "At the very least, her conduct in this matter warrants a suspension of from 15 to 30 days."

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