Not Exactly Mister Popularity

I was surprised to learn last week that Ed Guevara, head of the newly formed Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport, announced his resignation after one year on the job. He and I had a date.

Guevara was scheduled to provide me with proof that his previous employer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, did not force him to quit amid a probe into his travel expenditures, as several former colleagues believed. I needed a waiver from him to obtain his personnel file. Guevara, a little equivocal about whether he'd provide the waiver, nonetheless indicated through a spokeswoman that he would have in my hands by last week incontrovertible proof that he'd been cleared.

I'm not saying my request had anything to do with his departure from the TSA, but there's no denying he's been dogged by problems for years. A lot of people had it in for Guevara. Public life was getting too hot for him. He seems to have a knack for making enemies wherever he goes.

As an FBI agent Guevara held supervisory positions in the agency's Miami, Mexico City, and El Paso offices. He retired in 2001, and after a year in the private sector landed the TSA job. In nearly all these places, Guevara left behind people who, to put it mildly, hated his guts. I was trying to figure out if he deserved such a nasty reputation. Clearly he was an odd choice to head up a fledgling federal agency that had to finesse its way into an existing infrastructure. Finesse wasn't his game. He wanted people to know who was in charge: Ed Guevara.

The controversy surrounding him began in the Miami FBI field office, one of the nation's busiest with roughly 400 agents in several counties. About a half-dozen former agents from the office, all of whom spoke to me on condition of anonymity, described Guevara as a man who nitpicked them on inconsequential things while they were out working cases. "He was an empty suit," recalled one agent.

"He was an obstructionist," seethed another. "If he was a little bit bigger I would have poked him."

But to his peers in management, Guevara appeared to be a diligent supervisor who held his agents accountable.

Still he acquired some committed foes. When Guevara was promoted to become the agency's legal attaché in Mexico City in 1999, these enemies saw a chance for revenge. After moving to Mexico, Guevara left his family in Miami, but he would see them in between business trips to New York and Washington, D.C. During these visits, agents in the Miami office would be ordered to leave a bureau car at the airport for him. Several agents took umbrage at this, complaining that it meant a car was not available for legitimate purposes. One told me that when he was asked to leave the car at the airport for Guevara, he flat-out refused. "No way," the former agent said. These agents claimed a car was left at the airport several times each month.

Guevara was also criticized by these agents for his friendship with Camilo Padreda, a politically active Miami developer with a felony conviction for defrauding the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite the conviction, Padreda forged close ties with several high-level law-enforcement officials, including Guevara, who acknowledged Padreda is an acquaintance.

At one point someone from Miami contacted the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), the FBI's internal-affairs unit, and reported they believed Guevara was concocting reasons to travel to Miami, and that he was submitting false reimbursement vouchers for taxis and other expenses. In the fall of 2000, OPR agents came to Miami and interviewed several agents.

Guevara, who talked to me long before he announced his resignation, said that cars were provided to him but denied any wrongdoing. "As a result of another inquiry, that [travel] issue came up, and it was determined there was no foundation for that," he recounted. "Every trip I took was operational in nature."

He explained that as the legal attaché he was summoned to Washington, D.C., nearly every month. Often he would schedule stopovers in Miami to see his family, and he would pay any additional costs to his ticket.

Thomas Pickard, deputy director of the FBI at the time, backed up Guevara's account. "Anonymous complaints were sent up," Pickard said. "They were investigated by OPR and it was found that to get from Mexico City to D.C. he was able to route it most times through Miami. The allegations were proven to be unfounded."

Okay, fine. I still wanted to see the report on the findings. That's when I asked Guevara for a waiver to inspect his personnel file. "No such investigation exists," he insisted. But that obviously wasn't the case. There was an investigation and supposedly he was exonerated. Surely some document must exist stating the accusations were unfounded. That's when he promised to show me proof the case had been dismissed.

Whatever it was about Guevara that engendered such enmity, it wasn't exclusive to Miami. After only a year in Mexico City, he was moved to El Paso, Texas, in May 2000 to be special agent in charge of that field office, which has fewer than 100 agents.

"He caused a mutiny in the office here," recalled one retired agent who worked in El Paso. "I can tell you factually that he was not liked here. He divided the office into camps."

Guevara admitted he was controversial in El Paso. He said he took over an office that was underperforming, so he reassigned a lot of agents and their supervisors. "The changes did not bode well for the supervisors, but the rank-and-file were delighted," he asserted. He also arrived in the middle of an OPR investigation into an agent (he wouldn't go into specifics) and when the investigation was completed and he reviewed it, he recommended termination. But the agent was not fired and remained on staff. He believed that agent was responsible for other anonymous complaints to OPR.

Evidence of his contentious tenure in Texas is on file in the Western District of Texas federal courthouse. Two female FBI employees sued Guevara and the agency for libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Guevara was originally dropped from the case because he was acting as an agent of his employer, the U.S. government. But an appeals court reversed that decision and reinstated Guevara as a defendant three months ago.

In the suit, the two plaintiffs, Mary J. Counts and Jill A. Marangoni, claimed Guevara "continuously and systematically harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against them because they had complained to FBI headquarters about him. Counts and Marangoni asserted that Guevara's conduct culminated in the derogatory remarks that he made about the plaintiffs at his retirement party. Party attendees reported that Guevara stated in regard to Counts that 'evil comes in big packages' and in regard to Marangoni and her husband, 'dumb and dumber equals dumbest.' He apparently also disparaged them professionally, and accused them of misconduct."

"I'm direct and I expect people to get work done," Guevara told me. "I will not turn away from my responsibilities." He described his time dealing with the lawsuit and its fallout as "two and a half years of misery."

He retired from the FBI at the first available opportunity, in May 2001, after he reached age 50, and took a job in corporate security at a pharmaceutical company. In 2002 he applied for and got the top TSA job at Miami International Airport. Guevara didn't win any popularity contests in that position either. He clashed with airport director Angela Gittens over various policies, including placement of luggage-wrap vendors. He butted heads with Miami-Dade Police Maj. Mike Hammerschmidt on information-sharing.

And at the TSA itself he was viewed as out of touch. "There's no doubt this guy is not up to the job," one TSA employee told me. "He doesn't have a good knowledge of the industry, and when he's asked a question he rarely knows the answer."

Guevara is taking a job at Terremark, the Internet infrastructure company owned by real estate developer Manuel Medina, who is also politically active. "It's for the best," sighed the TSA worker.


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