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...

Michael Wixted and Michael Boze met at Miami International Airport on Saturday, June 10, 1995, for the purpose of thwarting a federal crime. Word was out that their bosses, high-level supervisors at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), were preparing to hoodwink a visiting congressional delegation.

The seven representatives from the Task Force on Immigration Reform were due at 1:00 p.m. Wixted and Boze reached the INS inspections area in Concourse E about noon. The two men, president and treasurer of the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, represented INS workers in their negotiations with and grievances against management. That Saturday, indignation was running high.

Employees were complaining that normal procedures had been abandoned in order to give the false appearance that INS operations at the airport were functioning smoothly. Extra workers had been brought in so that immigration inspection booths would seem fully staffed. (In reality, delays had recently stretched two hours or more.) And despite the risk of encountering unruly travelers, inspectors were told not to wear their leather gun belts so as to leave a kinder, gentler impression on the visiting congressmen.

As the level of griping in the employee lounge reached a crescendo, Wixted and Boze spontaneously scrawled out placards: "Don't Lie to Congress," "Tell the Congress the Truth!" and "Whitewash for Congress." They posted the signs in the lounge and then headed out to speak with inspectors working the floor.

Alfonso Galafa was at one of the inspection booths scrutinizing visas and stamping passports when a disturbance in a nearby booth caught his eye. A tall man in cowboy boots was struggling to drag Michael Wixted out of the booth. The tall man was George Waldroup, a senior official in the INS's Miami district. "It started when I heard the comment from George, 'You guys are not supposed to be here. You guys have to leave right now,'" Galafa recalled in a recent interview. "Then Michael says, 'Take it easy, I don't want any problems.'"

Galafa watched as Waldroup grabbed Wixted and forced the smaller man to the ground. "I heard Michael say, 'Take your hands off me or I'll call Metro-Dade and have you arrested for disorderly conduct.' It got to the point where it was basically assault and battery, and I left my booth to help Michael."

The scuffle ended not a moment too soon, for the delegation had already arrived and the congressmen had been escorted to a glass-walled room with a view of the inspection floor.

The seven-member traveling delegation -- drawn from the larger Task Force on Immigration Reform -- consisted of two Democrats and five Republicans, who had come to Miami on a fact-finding mission to familiarize themselves with INS operations. The brainchild of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the task force was charged with finding solutions to illegal immigration. Prior to visiting Miami, the lawmakers had inspected INS operations in New York and San Diego.

"It's common knowledge that the INS and the Border Patrol are overutilized and undermanned," says Rep. Elton Gallegly, the California Republican who headed the task force. "The only purpose of our trip was to go down and help these people."

The congressmen expected that the INS supervisors in Miami would be frank about the difficulties created by inadequate resources. Instead, Gallegly says, they were shown the Disney version of immigration enforcement. "I kind of walked away scratching my head," he recalls. "It was obvious to me they wanted us to see a finely oiled machine, that they were doing their jobs and there were no problems."

Gallegly didn't witness George Waldroup wrestle Michael Wixted out of the booth. Nor did he or any of the other congressmen see the placards posted in the employee lounge or notice a second confrontation later that afternoon, between the director of the Miami district and the two union men.

As the congressmen were whisked into a conference room, Walter "Dan" Cadman, the district director, accosted Wixted and Boze, who had been tagging along with the group in hopes of speaking directly to the lawmakers. (Boze successfully buttonholed INS Commissioner Doris Meissner briefly, but she reportedly did not react when he complained that the tour was a sham.)

Several people who observed the face-off between Cadman and the two men say that it followed Boze's brief chat with Meissner. Trembling with anger and red in the face, Cadman ordered Wixted and Boze to leave or face arrest. Wixted cheekily observed that the airport was not an INS facility and Cadman was not in charge. "This is not private property," he protested. "I am not breaking any laws by being here." The three men stood there, bristling. Then Cadman called for the police. Wixted and Boze hesitated, but backed down and left the airport.

Cadman rejoined the delegation, accompanying the congressmen on the remainder of their tour, which included a stop at the Krome Detention Center, in Southwest Dade on the fringe of the Everglades.

A few days after the task force's departure, Wixted and Boze called a meeting of their union. As one member after another described what they knew about the visit, it became clear that the ruse had been far more elaborate than the two union officials had imagined.

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."

In contrast, Miami District Director Dan Cadman is answering a phone at the Border Patrol station in Pembroke Pines after being stripped of all supervisory duties in June. Asked to describe his current responsibilities, Cadman says bitterly: "I'm still the incumbent district director." Three other INS supervisors were also temporarily reassigned to less responsible positions as a result of the OIG report.

Sources familiar with INS internal politics speculate that culpability reaches directly into INS headquarters. But they predict that Cadman and a handful of other supervisors will ultimately bear the brunt of the blame for the deception.

Congressmen who participated in the visit point out that INS Commissioner Doris Meissner herself headed up their Miami tour. "I'm very disappointed that Doris Meissner could go through Krome with us, escort us through the Miami International Airport, and as the INS commissioner not recognize inconsistencies and not hear answers that everyone but us knew weren't true. If she didn't know [about the deception], that's worse than if she knew," Congressman Gallegly contends. "There's no question that Dan Cadman violated the law and obstructed justice. But he's a field commander. Someone above him was giving him orders."

In order to reconstruct events leading up to the congressional visit, OIG investigators conducted more than 450 interviews and reviewed more than 4000 e-mail messages. They uncovered an extraordinary sequence of decisions -- none of which was questioned by INS supervisors -- that eventually led to the last-minute transfer and release of scores of aliens, as well as to the destruction of electronic records detailing those arrangements.

According to the report, Commissioner Meissner was personally involved in preparing for the delegation's arrival. Three weeks before the visit, Cadman was called to Washington for a one-day briefing. "One of the things I found out is that the [visit] is considered EXTREMELY important by Commissioner Meissner," Cadman wrote in a May 22 e-mail he sent to his deputies upon his return. Meissner herself was likely to attend, he noted, and she was even considering coming down a few days early "to make sure that things are well planned out.... The Commissioner is concerned that it would take very little to put the kiss of death on their views toward INS, with significant adverse consequences for some time thereafter. She wants ALL parties ready for this visit.... She wants a sharp-looking, heads-up group of employees doing their jobs visible to this influential group. This doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't see the very real constraints we face (such as limited bed space at [Krome]), but they would come away with the clear impression of competent, dedicated people doing the best they can with what they are given, and the ability to do significantly more if provided the resources by Congress to do so."

Cadman's reasonable-sounding message masked the alarm that was sweeping the district at the prospect of a visit by a group of inquisitive and skeptical lawmakers. And there was no denying that the district was in crisis. The Krome Detention Center was overwhelmed with detainees and the airport was severely understaffed. Even if they tried to hide the extent of the problems, supervisors worried, disaffected employees might well look for an opportunity to enlighten the visitors. "Apparently [the task force] did the San Diego border tour previously, and it went well, but not without a few of the [congressmen] pulling some employees to the side to get the 'real story,'" Cadman recounted in his e-mail. "This, of course, carries with it some real risks."

Cadman's concerns were echoed by his supervisor, Carol Chasse, director of the eastern regional office in Burlington, Vermont. (The INS's eastern region comprises 25 states, including Florida.) Chasse sent an e-mail to Cadman the next day: "Employees who are doing the best job under adverse conditions send the message we want to send. Employees complaining they can't do their job due to lack of resources communicate only one message, 'INS can't do its job.'"

Chasse offered suggestions on damage control, advising Cadman to inform the Dade County Aviation Department, which operates the airport, about the recommended posture during the congressional visit. Chasse wrote: "They might think they are doing us a favor by mentioning that we cannot do our job with the resources given when in fact the opposite is true."

She also called Cadman on the phone, a conversation recounted in the OIG report: "There might be some people at the journeyman level, perhaps some union members, who would be a little unbalanced in their presentation if they had the opportunity to do so."

Two days later Pamela Barry, the director of congressional relations, flew down from INS headquarters for an advance trip to the district. According to local supervisors, among Barry's concerns was the fear that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen might interfere with the delegation's visit.

In an interview with OIG investigators, one of Cadman's deputies explained that she had shared Barry's concern. "We were already well aware of [Diaz-Balart's and Ros-Lehtinen's] views on Prop 187, and that was diametrically opposed to that of the [task force] or the California members of the [delegation]," said Valerie Blake. "We didn't want them to have a fistfight and a demonstration that would hit the press."

Investigator: "Between the Congress people?"
Blake: "Yes. You don't know these people -- we do."
The INS's relationship with South Florida's Cuban exiles -- Diaz-Balart's and Ros-Lehtinen's bedrock constituents -- had worn raw during the preceding ten months. The rafter crisis in August and September of 1994 had prompted the White House to dramatically alter its traditional policy toward Cuban refugees, to the dismay of the Cuban exile community. Instead of being released into the community, as they had been for years, all Cubans picked up at sea were to be detained indefinitely while their asylum appeals wended through the system.

In May 1995, the policy changed again as the U.S. agreed to return Cuban rafters to the island and resolved to detain all other Cuban refugees, in particular those who attempted to enter the country illegally via the airport. As a result of the new policy, in May and June 1995, the population at Krome ballooned by almost 50 percent. Cots were set up in the recreation room, in the hallways, in every nook and cranny until administrators exhausted all available space.

For weeks INS officials at Krome had urged Cadman to release more detainees, to avail himself of his authority to parole aliens pending resolution of their cases in immigration court. The district director declined, though his frustration was evident in e-mail messages that described Krome as "bursting at the seams" and referred to detainees as "teeming hordes."

Carol Chasse told OIG investigators that "Dan knew very clearly, as did I, that there was going to be an enormous amount of second-guessing of any [release] decision and that we felt it was much better if everybody reached the consensus of what that discretion was going to entail."

Nevertheless, by June 2, with the congressmen's visit just eight days away, Cadman's supervisors in Vermont were becoming jittery. Chasse admitted to OIG investigators that she had ordered her deputy, Michael Devine, to "do whatever it takes to get the population down at Krome." (Chasse would later deny that her concern had anything to do with the upcoming visit.)

Neither Chasse nor Devine provided the Miami district with any concrete suggestions for reducing the population, however, and as the week passed more detainees arrived. There was simply no place to hold the additional people. Originally constructed for the army as a guided-missile site, Krome was commandeered by the INS in 1979 as hundreds of Cuban and Haitian refugees fled their homelands. After a 1992 fire destroyed the male dormitories, the center's capacity shrank from 450 to 226 people, with the men bedding down in the women's dorms, and the women sleeping in the hospital dorm.

On the eve of the congressional visit, the detainee head count was 429. Because of the overcrowding, minors were being housed with convicted criminals, contrary to INS policy, and more than 50 females were sleeping in the lobby of the medical clinic. In an irate e-mail to Cadman, the chief medical officer pointed out that conditions were ripe for an epidemic. Skin and respiratory infections were already on the rise, she warned. Until the overcrowding was solved, she stated, her staff would provide only emergency care.

The same day the medical clinic was virtually shut down, Cadman and his deputy director, Valerie Blake, were prepping supervisors at Miami International Airport for the delegation's imminent arrival. Short, solidly built, and humorless, Blake took control of the meeting.

According to the OIG report, "Blake told Miami airport's managers and supervisors that if the delegation spoke to them, they should avoid discussing substantive issues like staffing and overtime. Blake stated that line inspectors should summon a supervisor in the event a question by the delegation required an extensive answer."

She also instructed managers not to "whine" about staffing shortages, and above all, not to make comparisons with New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, where the same number of foreigners were processed by twice the number of immigration officers working in Miami. Blake suggested to airport supervisors that two particular inspectors, who were "troublemakers" (i.e., closely associated with the union), should be rescheduled in order to prevent contact with the congressmen, and that assignments should be shuffled to reflect ethnic diversity on the inspection floor. In addition, Blake exhorted supervisors "to take whatever liberties they needed to avoid any problems" during the visit, and authorized "whatever overtime would be needed."

Her comments riled Roger Miller, the man in charge of INS operations at the airport, who protested that Blake's instructions "make things look good, when things were not good." According to statements gathered by OIG investigators, Miller told Blake that "members of the Miami airport staff were victims, had nothing to hide, and that he was tired of not having enough people to do the job properly." He refused to order his staff to misrepresent the situation at the airport.

Before Miller could finish speaking, Blake interrupted him. Miller had created his own problems through mismanagement, she said angrily. Carol Chasse would later be dismissive of Miller in interviews with OIG investigators. Miller wasn't even truly in charge of the airport, Chasse insisted. "Well, you know, we weren't just letting Roger and Jerry [his deputy] fumble-futz around on their own," she said. "We were micro-managing the Miami International Airport from the regional level."

Miller ultimately complied with Blake's instructions. Several months later he was transferred to the much smaller airport in Tampa, a clear demotion.

Next Blake turned her attention to Krome. Should they transfer some of the detainees in order to relieve the overcrowding? According to the report, she sounded out Cadman, worrying that "if we moved [aliens detained at Krome], we would be construed as having done something wrong, [rather] than if we left them there and we were accused of not being able to handle our workload; that it was a [sic] 50-50 and we were going to lose either way."

Cadman ducked the decision. Better to clear it with the eastern regional office, he advised. (Cadman later denied to OIG investigators that the conversation took place.) According to Blake's testimony, she sought and received permission from the eastern regional office to carry out the transfers.

Blake passed the good news on to Kathy Weiss, administrator of the detention center. By one o'clock that afternoon, Weiss had come up with a plan. It was Friday, June 9. The lawmakers were expected in exactly 24 hours.

In an e-mail, Weiss outlined her proposal to release some 30 to 40 detainees and transfer others to county jails: "We intend to move 40-50 aliens to non-[INS] facilities upstate. The group will include a subgroup destined for New Orleans and another group to be stashed out of sight for cosmetic purposes.... Please advise whether Cubans can be included in the group for temporary non-service detention, bearing in mind the fact that moving them will probably cause the remainder to complain, both to relatives and the congressional delegation."

Forty minutes later Blake wrote back: "Great work so far.... Yes [Cubans could be included in the transfer].... Thanks for your prompt response. Should I stop by Krome at midnight for a drink or will you guys still be working?"

Those two notes would form the crux of the OIG's case against the thirteen supervisors. A senior supervisor who received a copy of the exchange told OIG investigators the messages should have set off "blinking red lights." At the time, however, the notes didn't seem to disturb Blake and Weiss's superiors, much less sound any alarms.

Just hours before the delegation's plane made contact with the Miami tarmac, 58 detainees were released into the community, including 41 Cubans. Among those who were released, 9 had criminal records (4 had done time for charges such as cocaine trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine), 14 had been denied parole on earlier occasions, and 35 had not been cleared by the Public Health Service. In addition, 45 detainees were sent by bus to the Jackson County jail and 36 were sent to Monroe County jail.

Similar last-minute adjustments had been made at the airport. A dozen additional inspection booths were opened in order to preclude the remotest possibility of a backup. The tiny holding cells behind the inspection area were emptied of all but two aliens with criminal records. (Usually the cells also hold passengers suspected of having fraudulent documents, but employees were instructed to tell the congressmen that only criminal aliens were kept in the cells -- an outright lie.)

At 12:30 p.m. inspector Leonardo Reyes was assigned to process aliens who had been detained and would have normally been kept in the holding cells. "The area was not normal," Reyes told OIG investigators. "The detention cells were clean and open and there were aliens sitting in the back of the room waiting to be processed. The detention cells are usually filthy, smelly, and packed with aliens waiting for processing."

When the delegation appeared, Reyes's supervisor, Jose Leon, fielded questions. As recounted in the OIG report: "Members of the delegation asked Leon, 'What type or class of aliens get detained in the cell?' In accordance with the instructions he had received ... Leon responded, 'Only criminal aliens.' When asked ... whether there is any other reason that aliens would be detained in cells, Leon answered, 'No.'"

Although Valerie Blake admitted to investigators that she was standing "right next to" Leon, she claimed she didn't hear the question. "I might have corrected that misinformation if that's what I had heard, so I'd have to think that I didn't hear it," Blake testified. (According to the report, it was Blake who issued the original instruction to misrepresent the cells' function.)

"On this point, Blake's testimony struck us as incredible," investigators reported. "It is regrettable that the culture at INS appears to be such that inspectors at Leon's level would feel their jobs would be in jeopardy if they failed to obey an order to lie to Congress.... As a management matter, this episode suggests the need for stronger signals to be sent by upper-level INS managers to their employees about integrity, honesty, and complicity in communicating falsehoods to congressional and other fact-finders."

By the time investigators interviewed Valerie Blake, it was October 1995, and they had already gathered enough evidence to corroborate many of the original allegations set forth in the union's memo. Blake and other senior managers knew this, but they continued to dodge questions raised by investigators.

When the OIG investigation was launched that summer, Miami District Director Cadman pledged full cooperation. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner herself professed to be "deeply concerned" and promised that her agency would work closely with the OIG and "report back to Congress expeditiously."

From the start, the Miami district staff maintained that no deception had occurred and blamed the allegations on hostile union officials. According to the OIG report: "Cadman did not deny that large numbers of aliens had been transferred and released from Krome.... However, Cadman essentially represented that all alien movements were normal in light of Krome's overcrowded condition."

That may have been a risky position to assume, but the only real proof that the transfers were directly linked to the congressional visit lay in the June 9 e-mail exchange between Krome administrator Kathy Weiss and Valerie Blake. Presumably, if the e-mail could be kept from investigators, the allegations could not be proved.

OIG investigators began requesting documents soon after the probe began on July 14. Initially, individual witnesses turned over records they had in their possession. Investigators later submitted a comprehensive request to the INS for all relevant documents, including electronic messages, that were maintained at headquarters or in regional or district offices. But the INS failed to produce the critical Weiss-Blake e-mails, as well as other documents that investigators knew existed. On September 28, the INS reported that the eastern regional office had "no documents responsive to [the OIG] document request."

Investigators knew this was not true. Twenty-four hours earlier they had visited the eastern regional office in Vermont, and while searching through old e-mails, they had come across the Weiss-Blake exchange.

A week and a half later investigators dropped by Blake's Miami office. The OIG report describes the scene: "At Blake's request, she was permitted to sit at her computer and review her e-mails in the presence of the agents with the understanding that she would retrieve and print any e-mails relevant to the delegation's visit." As the investigators watched, Blake quickly scrolled past the June 9 message. They ordered her to go back. "At that point, [an] agent printed the e-mail and took over the review." After that incident, all pretense of cooperating with the OIG investigators was dropped. According to the report: "As the OIG investigation began to establish culpability by senior-level INS managers, cooperation substantially diminished." The day after the scene in Blake's office, "one witness challenged the OIG's authority to investigate and another terminated an interview and refused to cooperate further."

Blake, Devine, and Chasse subsequently insisted that they be granted immunity before they agreed to speak with OIG investigators. Cadman also refused to give further interviews unless he was promised immunity, though he had initially volunteered his cooperation. George Waldroup agreed to provide investigators with a computer disk containing his e-mail records, but it turned out the files were locked by a password, which Waldroup refused to reveal. (The OIG eventually decoded the files.) And Cadman refused to give investigators access to the district's computer files and demanded that they produce a subpoena.

When the OIG was finally able to examine Cadman's personal computer, all e-mail relating to the delegation's visit had been deleted. According to the OIG report: "In his interview, Cadman stated that as a matter of consistent practice he contemporaneously deleted his electronic mail messages shortly after responding to them. In searching his e-mail, however, we did find some of Cadman's messages from June 1995 -- which was inconsistent with Cadman's representation to us."

Investigators eventually recovered 61 messages that had been sent or received by Cadman specifically relating to the allegations about the congressional visit. They also hired the Lotus Development Corporation to reconstruct deleted messages.

OIG's investigators noted that even routine computer-generated logs documenting daily operations could not be trusted: "We learned early in the investigation that we could not rely on the accuracy of INS records. Too many discrepancies and variances existed for us to be satisfied that we could adequately assess whether such issues as the movement of aliens had been accurately recorded." In order to evaluate precisely what had transpired the weekend of June 9, 1995, a team of auditors had to reconstruct and recompute months of INS records.

The OIG also questioned the reliability of the testimony given by high-ranking supervisors. In particular, the investigators' report challenged statements given by deputy regional director Michael Devine and regional director Carol Chasse. "During her approximately six-and-one-half-hour-long testimony, Chasse responded that she did [not] know the answer, could not recall, or could not remember at least 245 times," the report stated. "In this context, Chasse's repeated assertions that she could not recall critical conversations cast doubt on her candor." Devine made similar claims a total of 171 times.

Through a spokeswoman at the regional office, Chasse refused to speak to a reporter. Devine declined to comment on specific allegations in the report. "After working for the government for 27 years, I find myself in a very Kafka-esque scenario," he said. "I'm 1500 miles away from Krome. I have never been to Krome, and I have to defend myself against allegations that I know aren't true."

The OIG report originally recommended discipline for Chasse and Devine ranging from a 30-day suspension to termination. Those recommendations were reviewed by the Justice Department, which sent out disciplinary orders during the last week of August.

Though the department would not release details, sources familiar with the action say the most severe discipline was imposed on Valerie Blake and Dan Cadman, who were reportedly told they will be terminated. Another high-ranking supervisor -- the only one to provide OIG investigators with a copy of the incriminating Weiss-Blake e-mail exchange -- will reportedly be demoted and transferred to California. Kathy Weiss, the Krome administrator, and Vincent Intenzo, her deputy, reportedly will also be demoted and transferred out of the district. Sources say that other supervisors received suspensions ranging from two days to two weeks. All INS employees have a right to appeal the measures. (In addition to the administrative punishments, the U.S. Attorney's Office may decide to pursue criminal charges.)

In June, in response to news accounts about the OIG report, Commissioner Doris Meissner announced that she was sending a management-review team to Miami. She also sent two high-ranking staffers to take control at Miami International Airport and the Krome Detention Center.

Seated in his windowless office at the airport, Michael Hrinyak, the acting supervisor, rattles off a list of recent improvements: the hiring of dozens of new inspectors, cultural-diversity classes for employees, management training for supervisors. And he predicts that immigration problems will be solved by "thinking outside of the box" and declares that "Miami will be the airport that works."

Hrinyak speaks of boosting morale, of pilot programs and sophisticated information systems. He is impressively versed in INS policy and practice. And in case he becomes distracted or his concentration wavers, he keeps a reminder tacked to the wall beside him, a souvenir from the congressional delegation's June 1995 visit, a helpful hint of how to stay on track. It is one of Michael Wixted's signs, and it advises: "Tell the Congress the Truth

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