Life in the Secret Service

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

In Cruise's history with the Secret Service, a pattern of harassment emerges that is consistent with the theory that, for whatever reason, Cruise's bosses believed he didn't belong. "The question is whether [the perception of drug use] is the reason," attorney Campbell notes. "If you get classified as being a druggie, do organizations like the Secret Service pay attention to the evidence or the innuendoes?" Documentation from the various cases indicates that his bosses did not expect Cruise to fight back as hard or as effectively as he has. What they really didn't count on was this agent's secret weapon: his father.

Patrick's father, retired Secret Service agent Tom Cruise, believes there is a simple answer to the question of the agency's motives. The Secret Service is a close, hierarchical brotherhood that has unparalleled access to the most powerful people in the world. And the service conducts its own internal investigations, unlike such agencies as the FBI and DEA, which lost some of that prerogative to the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General. Power, prestige, and lack of oversight have created a culture that allows too few individuals to hold enormous influence over roughly 2500 agents. Sometimes it means good agents are punished unjustly and not-so-good agents are shielded and promoted. "The Secret Service wants to portray itself as this elite agency, protectors of presidents and kings -- and elite investigators as well," the career agent ruminates. "The service is so arrogant they [think they] can't make mistakes, and even if they do, they can't admit it."

The fighting Irish: Patrick keeps pace with his dad, a former agent, in Cape Cod a year before joining the service
Courtesy Patrick Cruise
The fighting Irish: Patrick keeps pace with his dad, a former agent, in Cape Cod a year before joining the service
From the duty desk in the Miami field office, the Secret Service keeps tabs on presidents and counterfeiters alike
From the duty desk in the Miami field office, the Secret Service keeps tabs on presidents and counterfeiters alike

Patrick Cruise always intended to follow his father as a protector of presidents and a hard-boiled buster of counterfeiters and Social Security-check scammers. In 1997 the Boston-area native was hired by the Secret Service and transferred to the field office in Miami. The Miami office, located down the street from the Doral Country Club, is one of the five largest Secret Service outposts in the nation.

Miami's special agent in charge, Frank Estrada, oversees roughly 90 to 100 people, arranged in squads that specialize in counterfeit money, bank fraud, check fraud, and protective intelligence. They commonly team with other agencies such as the FBI, local police, and the U.S. Postal Service on cases with overlapping jurisdictions. Agents also can be called at any time to shadow a foreign head of state passing through South Florida, or to be part of a larger detail protecting the president, vice-president, or their families. Most agents also spend time each year traveling with protectees, as the service calls them, wherever in the world they may need to go.

Estrada says his field office is one of the most active because Miami is a popular destination for both counterfeit money and foreign dignitaries from Central and South America. He claims that in the first six months of 2001, local agents seized well over a million dollars in fake bills. "We have a lot of counterfeit coming through from Colombia," he notes. "It's the biggest source of counterfeit coming into the United States."

Patrick Cruise came into this exciting environment planning to distinguish himself by becoming the kind of statistic-earning investigator his father had been in 21 years as an agent. At first his plans seemed to be working out. After just three months in the check fraud squad, Cruise was promoted to the more prestigious counterfeit team. He enjoyed being part of an elite, mysterious agency respected by the public and other law-enforcement agencies. He made friends with fellow agents, several of whom later testified to his personal and professional integrity at a hearing and in affidavits.

The case against him didn't develop overnight. It started with a kernel of suspicion that grew in the insidious way of office rumors, and was fed, he believes, by personality clashes with a couple of supervisors, including Estrada. It didn't help the relationship when Cruise, feeling threatened by Estrada, took pictures of the man's boat, which he kept illegally stored in an agency warehouse. It also likely angered service officials when Tom Cruise began his own intense lobbying on his son's behalf.

Suspicions about Cruise's drug use began, he believes, sometime in 1998, soon after he began dating a twenty-year-old clerk at the Miami office. Simi Grace was a looker -- a tall, model-thin blonde who owned a pair of the prettiest green eyes Cruise had ever seen. Cruise is convinced that some people at the office thought the high-strung girl was on drugs, and eventually extended that opinion to him. It's the only thing that makes sense to him. He recalls a cryptic comment made to him by a supervisor, John Gill. "He came up to me and said, I hope you don't think you're fooling anyone. We know you're dating Simi.'"

It was a strange comment, but Cruise didn't connect it to a theory until more than a year later. In September 1998 Grace became the first and only office clerk Cruise can recall to be randomly drug-tested by the Secret Service. She passed. "I know she wasn't using drugs, because I wouldn't hang around someone like that," Cruise declares. "I worked too damned hard to get here."

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