Life in the Secret Service

For Patrick Cruise it was a life of hounding, harassment, and humiliation

The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago was just putting onto the green of the tenth hole at the Doral Country Club when the fever Secret Service agent Patrick Cruise had been fighting all day finally overtook him. He felt chills, then the sweats soaked his dark suit as he rode in a golf cart with another agent assigned to protective duty. The leader of his detail told him to go home, but Cruise stayed through another eight holes before driving to Weston and crawling into bed. The next day he felt and looked much worse. A medical student, an old friend from Boston staying at his home, finally convinced Cruise he needed to check into a hospital the following morning, September 28, 1999.

In the emergency room of Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines, Cruise was told he probably had hepatitis. (Forms of hepatitis can be picked up in myriad ways, including from unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.) Cruise called Ovy Burgos, the supervisor who had told him to go home, to let him know the doctor's theory. Later that day, as Cruise was lying in a hospital bed, special agent Tom Poitras called and asked if he needed anything. Cruise said no, but Poitras insisted he would stop by with some ice cream and a magazine. Around 4:30 p.m. Poitras walked into Cruise's hospital room with a pint of Ben & Jerry's and a Maxim magazine. If Cruise had not been looped on medication and completely exhausted, he might have wondered why Poitras, an agent he barely knew, had taken the time to visit him in the hospital.

He soon found out why. The next day Poitras stopped by again and told him he was concerned that Cruise might have somehow infected Prime Minister Basdeo Panday while on the golf course. "You may have given him something, so I was wondering if you would mind signing this release of medical records form," Poitras said, according to Cruise's notes that later became part of a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation and a civil lawsuit. "This way we can ... let the prime minister know that he ... should be examined by his physician immediately, just to be safe." Sounded reasonable to Cruise, so he signed the release form. Later that day his doctor informed him that the tests showed he actually had mononucleosis, not hepatitis, and he would be fine after a few weeks of rest. Cruise called his bosses to tell them the results. He later found out that Poitras hadn't bothered to pick up his medical records until five days later. He doubts the prime minister was ever contacted.

Cruise wasn't told until after he was released from the hospital that a toxicology screening had come back showing "presumed positive for cocaine and amphetamines," according to his medical records. He knew the test had to be wrong. Weeks later, after his bosses suspended him and launched a full-scale investigation aimed at firing him for illegal drug use, Cruise suddenly realized the cause of the pattern of harassment he had been experiencing at work for months. His bosses had suspected he was a drug user, and when they thought he had hepatitis, it looked like a golden opportunity to find out. Even after Cruise proved his innocence with more rigorous tests, Cruise alleges that the Secret Service behaved as if he were a criminal and tried to hound him out of the service.

Two years later the 27-year-old is still battling the agency to clear his name and salvage a career. "I busted my balls for this job," he laments. "It's heartbreaking to be where I am."

Patrick Cruise believes members of the Secret Service have crossed many ethical and legal boundaries in the agency's campaign against him. The details of his claims are contained in the lengthy EEOC complaint, an administrative hearing process in which Cruise is fighting to get his job back, and in a civil lawsuit against Memorial Hospital West and a doctor that is being handled on contingency by the Fort Lauderdale law firm of state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell (D-Tamarac). "I think an injustice has been done to a young man whose career was in front of him," Campbell says. "I believe there is a correlation between what is happening to him on an employment level and what happened to him in the hospital."

Why would the Secret Service spend so much time (about three years) and money (Cruise figures a half a million to a million dollars) to get rid of an employee who did nothing wrong? Who in fact is the son of a loyal, lifelong employee of the service himself? Good question. Unfortunately the Secret Service isn't answering any questions at all about Patrick Cruise or its own conduct, claiming it is an internal personnel matter.

Because of this secrecy, we don't know the full details behind the agency's determination to force Patrick Cruise out. We do know that on November 24, 2000, Cruise was fired, not for drug use but for allegedly leaving his post monitoring phones, for perhaps 25 minutes. At an administrative appeal hearing July 12, 2001, in Miami, a Secret Service attorney sought to bar New Times from the public proceeding. She argued it could represent a threat to national security if a reporter were allowed to observe the hearing. Judge Ronald Weiss didn't buy it. At the hearing, several agents testified that no other agent had ever been disciplined, much less fired, for the same behavior. Cruise's supervisor Burgos admitted under questioning that he didn't think the transgression warranted dismissal.

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