Customs agent charged with stealing $95,290
News Staff Reporter

A former U.S. Customs Service supervisor who was responsible for making sure criminal investigations were conducted with honesty and integrity was charged Tuesday with stealing $95,290 from an evidence vault.

Robert E. DelVicario Jr., who supervised sensitive inquiries into terrorism and other crimes, and once had a fellow agent arrested for assault, is charged with 16 criminal counts.

DelVicario, 42, was Customs' assistant special agent in charge of criminal investigations in Buffalo until he recently resigned after learning he was about to be indicted.

He is accused of sneaking into a customs office on a Sunday, entering the evidence vault to steal cash that had been seized in a criminal case, and hiding the stolen money in the attic of his Williamsville home.

"Somehow I guess he thought he was going to get away with it," said one law enforcement official. "But there were electronic security systems in place that he apparently didn't know about."

DelVicario is expected to be arraigned later this week.

The former agent told The Buffalo News late Tuesday that he would like to tell his side of the story, but is not yet ready.

"I cannot comment at this time, on the advice of my attorney," DelVicario said.

His attorney, Charles J. Marchese, said DelVicario has been aware he was under scrutiny in the theft for some time. He declined to say how DelVicario plans to plead in the case.

In addition to stealing the money, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory L. Brown said DelVicario is charged with repeatedly lying about the theft when he was initially confronted.

"The funds were recovered at the defendant's home," Brown said. "The indictment also charges (DelVicario) with making 14 false statements to Customs Internal Affairs agents who were investigating the disappearance of the funds."

At one point, after realizing authorities considered him the prime suspect, DelVicario reportedly told investigators he took the cash only to "teach Customs a lesson" about how lax their security procedures were.

Friends described DelVicario as a hard-working agent. Critics called him an untrustworthy man with expensive tastes, who raised eyebrows by wearing a Rolex watch and driving a Mercedes-Benz.

When he was first confronted about the missing cash after it disappeared May 5, DelVicario vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

"At first, he denied everything," said one police official who worked with DelVicario. "He knew other agents in his office were being questioned about it, and he was willing to let them take the fall for it."

The money allegedly stolen by DelVicario was part of a cache of $207,270 that had been seized May 1 at the Peace Bridge. Customs inspectors seized the money after a truck driver tried to speed past a customs checkpoint without declaring the cash.

Investigators doubt DelVicario's claim that he took the money in an effort to spotlight weaknesses in customs procedures.

"He disposed of the evidence bag that the money was in and the paperwork that was with it," one law enforcement official said. "If he was trying to teach Customs a lesson, he would have kept it in the evidence bag and turned it back in."

In the indictment, DelVicario is accused of lying to Internal Affairs agents that he did not know the code for the alarm system in the evidence room; officials said he did know the code. He is also accused of falsely claiming he did not possess a key to the locks on the evidence room door.

DelVicario also lied, according to the indictment, by denying that he visited the customs office on May 5, the date of the theft. He is charged with 15 felonies and one misdemeanor count.

DelVicario was embroiled in another controversy earlier this year.

James LeGasse, a highly decorated criminal agent, was suspended and arrested by Amherst police after he allegedly assaulted DelVicario during an on-duty scuffle in the Amherst office Jan. 2. LeGasse denies the allegations and claims DelVicario was the aggressor.

There are no allegations of wrongdoing by DelVicario in any other cases, said Marc S. Gromis, chief prosecutor in Western New York.


Unit10: FBI Busts Suspected Drug Smugglers

Two men suspected of carrying on a San Diego-based drug-running operation for the Arellano-Felix organization have been caught in an FBI trap, a Unit 10 Investigation showed.

Ronnie Walters and his partner Sergio Sandoval were snared as part of a major undercover operation, detailed in undercover video given to Unit 10.

Walters ran a helicopter company in El Cajon. His bright yellow Huey helicopter, with a smiley face front, was used to smuggle cocaine and marijuana across the border, prosecutors said.

"(That smiley face) it's telling the DEA in Mexico: 'F*** you.' That's what it means," one of Sandoval's alleged lieutenants said, laughing, on undercover video.

Sandoval is a former commander in the Mexican state police, and a man with connections to the very top of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, FBI agents said.

By day, the Bonita resident distributed Mission tortillas, his night job was smuggling drugs, Unit 10 reported.

The sting operation to catch Walters and Sandoval started years ago at an electronics store in Chula Vista. Privacy Plus Electronics was an FBI front, according to Unit 10.

The pay-off came at the Lowes Coronado Bay Resort, where Sandoval met with FBI agents posing as Columbian cocaine smugglers.

"The Arellanos, they are very refined people. Very, very refined. If you'd like, I'll introduce you," Sandoval bragged on an FBI undercover tape. "When I was a commander, I handed over my police career to them."

FBI officials spoke with Sandoval (pictured, right) for four hours at that meeting. The agents told Unit10 that they were a bit surprised at how forthcoming Sandoval was. For the undercover team, Sandoval was a direct link to the Arellanos -- as close as they had ever come to reaching the top of the organization.

"He discussed in extreme how the Arellanos work," an agent said.

Meanwhile, government agents tailed Walters and found out he was driving a Corvette, owned a big yacht, and was making large bank deposits, despite the fact that his helicopters were down for repairs.

After listening to tapes of meetings in which Sandoval and his cohorts reportedly describe their dope runs, agents decided to set up a sting.

On the appointed day, Walters was in his helicopter, waiting, right next to the San Diego County Sheriff's helipad, in El Cajon. Sandoval was supposed to arrive with the drugs.

The two had planned to lift off with the drugs before 6 a.m., agents said, but at 6:03 a.m. Sandoval still hadn't arrived.

"I'm in it, ready to go and our neighbors are here," Walters (pictured, left) told Sandoval, referring to the arrival of deputies coming to work next door, in a phone conversation taped by FBI agents. "S***. They wouldn't have been here at 6, but it's after 6 ... hurry up."

Ten minutes later, Sandoval still hadn't arrived, so Walters made another call.

WALTERS: "I'm running, and I have a fuel leak!"

SANDOVAL: "I know, I know. I can hear you."

WALTERS "Let's go."

SANDOVAL: "I'm waiting for them, God**** it,"

He was referring to what he would learn, too late, were actually undercover agents.

WALTERS: "Let's go."

SANDOVAL: "I'm waiting for them."

WALTERS: "Then I've got to shut down. I can't continue to run."

Finally, the truck pulled up. In undercover video, the undercover agents loaded a 110-pound box full of powder wrapped up to look like bricks of cocaine onto the Huey.

As soon as it was loaded, Walters pulled up and headed north, staying low as he flew.

"They flew very low just above the tops of the mountains," said federal prosecutor Deborah Rhodes.

Walters and Sandoval carried the box full of white power to a ranch north of the Border Patrol checkpoint on I-15, FBI officials said.

Later that morning, after returning to his hangar, undercover video shows Walters repeatedly turning to look at the helicopter that's been following him. He decided to give Sandoval a call.

WALTERS: "It's Customs.

SANDOVAL: "U.S. Customs?"

WALTERS: "Uh huh."

SANDOVAL: "Is that right? Wow."

FBI agents told Unit 10 that Sandoval then quickly called to make sure that nothing bad had happened to the "cocaine" the two had delivered earlier in the morning. Minutes later, he called Walters back to offer reassurance.

SANDOVAL: "He already got to the freeway and everything.

WALTERS: "Good."

But what the two men didn't know was that the person that took the delivery of the drugs was working with the FBI. For Walters, Sandoval, and a dozen others caught in the sting, it was the end of their operation.

Bush Signs Fed Whistleblower Bill

       Wed May 15, 6:58 PM ET
       By SONYA ROSS, Associated Press Writer

        WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush (news - web sites) signed legislation Wednesday that requires federal agencies to pay for discrimination or "whistleblower" cases from their own budgets.

The bill is called No FEAR, an acronym for Notification and Federal Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act.

The legislation "could not have been passed without the pain and the sheer agony of so many employees who came forward to mention that their lives were made almost in the form of a nightmare because they chose to stand up," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas.

Bush signed the bill in an Oval Office ceremony attended by a few civil rights activists and members of Congress. Some of them heralded it as the first major civil rights law of the new millennium.

"By holding accountable those who insist upon discriminating against others, the federal government will become a role model for civil rights - and not civil rights violations," said House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a sponsor of the bill.

Under the law, federal agencies must pay for settlements or judgments against them in whistleblower and discrimination cases.

Currently, such payments are made from a general, government-wide fund.

"It means now the federal government will have to obey its own laws, ... not hide behind a slush fund in the Treasury to pay for their indiscretions," said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a federal employee who won a $600,000 judgment against the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) for racial and gender bias. Her case was the impetus for the law.

The legislation also requires that employees be notified of their rights under anti-discrimination laws, and forces agencies to report annually to Congress on how many discrimination cases were brought against them, what happened in those cases and whether any employees were disciplined.

Last year, some EPA scientists said they were targeted for reprisals after they questioned agency policies. An investigation found that the number of discrimination complaints against federal agencies filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more than doubled during the 1990s.

NAACP board member Leroy Warren said, "This legislation should stop some of the managers whose actions are like some international outlaw, where they can do what they want to, when they want to and how bad they want to, without anyone taking control of it."

Hit-or-miss security leaves border exposed
The U.S. Customs Service says it has seized more drugs, cash and weapons at Buffalo Niagara bridges since Sept. 11.
JAMES P. McCOY/Buffalo News
"The northern border is still as porous as Swiss cheese." William Dietzel, retired supervisor of customs inspections in Buffalo
Customs has greatly increased its use of the electronic Vehicle & Cargo Inspection System to electronically scan truck cargoes.
News Staff Reporter

U.S. Customs Service agents, despite fears about terrorism in America since the Sept. 11 attacks, let nearly 99 percent of all traffic across Buffalo Niagara bridges enter the country without an inspection.

But agents from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, who alternate border inspections with the Customs Service, look through the trunks of one in every three vehicles.

It's a random approach - the green uniforms of the INS or the blue outfits of the Customs Service - depending on which line motorists get in at the bridges.

Is the Customs Service up to the job?

Local and national critics say no.

"The northern border is still as porous as Swiss cheese," said William Dietzel, a retired supervisor of customs inspections in Buffalo. "If people knew the actual number of cars, trucks and train cars that are opened up and searched thoroughly for weapons and terrorists, it would scare them."

Similar criticism comes from Ezan Bagdasarian, a former customs supervisor in Buffalo who received awards and commendations before he retired in late 2000 and filed an age discrimination lawsuit. Several officials who still work for the Customs Service also share this opinion.

Critics say the local customs work force suffers from morale problems and understaffing. They say federal officials have ignored security concerns about the nation's northern border for decades.

"Even after 9/11, the pressure on us to keep traffic moving is much stronger than the pressure to look for terrorists," added one veteran customs official. "At first, we were checking the trunk of every car. Then we backed off. We still aren't doing inspections the way they should be done."

Every day, an average of 23,400 cars, trucks, buses and trains roll into the United States over bridges in Buffalo and Niagara County - more than 8.5 million last year, each a potential carrier of bombs, weapons or terrorists.

U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, since Sept. 11, has called the northern border a "soft spot" for terrorism.

The INS shares inspection duties with the Customs Service at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, the Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges in Niagara Falls and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in Lewiston.

It is often an uneasy partnership, according to many people who work in the two agencies. Customs and INS inspectors work in alternate booths, but often use vastly different criteria in deciding which automobiles should be closely inspected as they enter the United States.

In recent months, INS inspectors have done much closer inspections of cars entering at the local bridges. This was verified by sources in both agencies.

INS inspectors are currently under strict orders to ask for identification from every car passenger at least 14 years old and to search the trunk of at least every third car.

By comparison, customs inspectors seldom look into car trunks, rarely ask for ID and usually conduct a quick, cursory interview of passengers before waving cars through.

"It does cause hard feelings," said one INS official. "We're supposed to be on the same team, doing the same job. I'm sometimes wondering, while our people are closely inspecting the cars, is the customs guy at the next booth waving through a terrorist?"


Terrorists and smugglers

Officials of the Customs Service deny the criticism. They say they have arrested or detained "well over 100 people" in the Buffalo Niagara region with possible ties to terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Closer examinations of vehicles crossing the international bridges in Buffalo and Niagara County have also resulted in high numbers of drug, cash and weapons seizures over the past seven months, according to Joseph J. Wilson, Buffalo port director for the Customs Service.

"Since Sept. 11, our top priority has been the prevention of terrorism," Wilson said in an interview last week. "We have very good training programs and very good employees who take this responsibility very seriously. . . . The threat of al-Qaida is not over, believe me."

None of the 100-plus people who were arrested or detained has been shown to have any connection to the Sept. 11 attacks or the terrorist network al-Qaida. But Wilson cited the figure as evidence that his agency is pulling out all stops in its local search for terrorists.

But such a wide disparity in inspection practices can open security loopholes for terrorists, drug smugglers and other criminals, said John Carman, a former customs inspector from San Diego. Carman runs a Web site dedicated to exposing what he considers widespread corruption in the Customs Service. (  )

"There are smugglers who know what uniforms the customs and INS guys wear, and they'll head for the inspection booths where they know they will get less scrutiny," Carman said. "It's a dangerous situation."

Wilson and other customs supervisors in Buffalo dismiss this kind of criticism as sour grapes from disgruntled ex-employees. They do not deny that their inspectors use different criteria than the INS, but they deny that the INS does a better job.

"You can talk about percentages, you can talk about what criteria are used by different agencies, but there's no one "cookie cutter' approach that works on bridge inspections," Wilson said. "Our inspectors are trained to look for certain nuances, certain anomalies. Every single vehicle that comes through is an individual case."

As an example, Wilson cited the December 1999 arrest of Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who had numerous bomb-making materials in his car when arrested by customs agents in Port Angeles, Wash. Ressam was convicted of terrorism charges last year. "That was a case where customs inspectors popped his trunk and searched it because they noticed his body language and the way he reacted when they asked him questions. These people know what to look for," Wilson said.

Locally, and on a much smaller scale, he said customs inspectors recently found a load of high-potency hydroponic marijuana on a flatbed truck entering the United States over the Peace Bridge.

"It was simply a case of an inspector noticing that some wood didn't look like it was stacked properly," Wilson said. "The marijuana was under there."

Chief Inspectors Steven Loffredo and Mark MacVittie said seizures of unreported cash - more than $1.6 million - have been much higher than usual in this region since Sept. 11. Drug and weapons seizures also have increased.

Customs has greatly increased its use of a device called the Vehicle & Cargo Inspection System to electronically scan truck cargoes. The device uses gamma rays and works somewhat like a CAT scan machine is used in medical examinations.

Wilson said he has been impressed with the cooperation shown by motorists at bridge crossings that have sometimes been unusually long.

"In the past, people would call my office to complain, "Hey, your guys searched my trunk,' " Wilson said. "Now the complaint I hear is, "Hey, I just came over the Peace Bridge and nobody searched my trunk.' "

INS District Director M. Frances Holmes said her inspectors and customs have a good relationship, but she confirmed that they do their bridge inspections differently.

"Obviously we're different agencies. I can't comment on what their agency does," Holmes said. "I think we're both doing a good job. There's more scrutiny than ever at this border since Sept. 11."


Morale problems denied

Customs has more than 285 inspectors, criminal investigators and other personnel working in the Buffalo Niagara region. The agency's employees in this region make more than $25.4 million a year in salaries, overtime and benefits.

Customs' critics say many of the people who do inspections, investigations and other work in Western New York are upset over nepotism, age discrimination and a mean-spirited management style that has caused some of customs' better people to retire or leave the area.

In recent years, disputes have erupted between some supervisors and agents in the Customs Service's criminal division. One Buffalo agent, James LeGasse, faces criminal charges that he assaulted his boss while both were on duty in January. LeGasse denies the assault charge and claims he was goaded into a confrontation by a superior, an attorney for LeGasse says.

Another agent, Robert Lamoureux, has filed a discrimination complaint, claiming his career was ruined when a supervisor who disliked him falsely reported him to Amherst police as a suspect in a series of brutal bike path rapes. Police sources confirmed that Lamoureux was checked out in those cases and could not possibly be the rapist.

Another agent, Jeremiah Sullivan, who supervised customs investigations into terrorism and other crimes for six years, recently was removed from his job, demoted and moved from Buffalo to St. Louis. No public explanation was given. Sullivan declined to comment, but sources said he has hired an attorney and filed a complaint against the Customs Service.

"It's a very difficult work environment, and people don't do their best work when they're disillusioned," said Bagdasarian, the retired customs agent. "If you don't kiss the boss' ring, they'll ruin you. They'll suddenly tell a 30-year inspector from Buffalo that he's needed in Newark, N.J. At a time when we need them more than ever, because of the threat of terrorism, many customs people are totally disgusted," said Bagdasarian.

Wilson and James Mitchie, a customs spokesman from Washington, said they could not comment on individual personnel matters. But both denied that nepotism, age discrimination or mistreatment of workers is a problem in Western New York.

"In every organization, you're going to have people who complain," Wilson said. "Most inspectors and employees have taken up the cause of what we're trying to do."

Carman, the former inspector who runs the "Corruption at the Border" Web site, disagreed. He said there have been numerous examples in recent years of inspectors becoming so disgruntled that they begin taking bribes and committing other crimes.

"Americans should feel very uncomfortable, knowing that customs is on the front lines of protecting them against terrorism," Carman said. "This is an agency filled with disgruntled and disillusioned workers. When you don't believe in the agency you work for, that leads to all kinds of problems."


Working too hard?

Worker fatigue is one problem that customs officials acknowledge. Some customs inspectors have complained about working unusually long hours since September, often working several 16-hour shifts in one week.

"It's difficult for an inspector to do his or her best job looking for terrorists when they're half-asleep," one bridge official said. "You're not at your best, your sharpest or your most aggressive when you're doing a 16-hour shift."

Wilson said he agrees, and is thankful that the federal government is sending another 45 customs inspectors to work in this region. Holmes said she expects to hire about 25 additional INS inspectors in the next few months.

The U.S. Border Patrol, a division of INS whose local agents patrol more than 400 miles of the border with Canada, from Watertown to Erie, Pa., expects to roughly double its local contingent, with 40 new agents. The Border Patrol recently got a helicopter for local use.

New York National Guard members also have been assisting at the bridges, which helps to free up customs inspectors to do other work, including visual inspections of cars leaving the United States for Canada, Wilson said.

"The one and only good outcome of 9/11 is that our government is finally taking a close look at the U.S.-Canada border," one customs official said.

Though the government says there is no proof that any of the Sept. 11 terrorists entered the United States through Canada, there is a growing recognition that security needs to be upgraded at the northern border. Federal officials admit that the 4,000-mile border between the United States and Canada has traditionally received much less attention than the southern border with Mexico.

Americans could become the victims of lax enforcement of immigration laws in Canada, said Richard Dickins, a retired assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Authorities believe there are terrorist cells in Toronto and other Canadian cities, Dickins said.

"It's much easier for a terrorist to get into Canada than into the United States, because our basic immigration policy is to welcome people. We want to increase our population," said Dickins. "Then you have to worry about these people going into the U.S."

Former U.S. Attorney Denise E. O'Donnell, who spent 17 years as a fe

deral prosecutor in Buffalo, believes there needs to be much better coordination and more sharing of information among the Customs Service, the INS and Canadian border authorities.

"I don't really see the rationale for keeping customs, Border Patrol and INS as separate agencies. Over the years, I saw duplication of efforts and sometimes a lack of coordination," O'Donnell said.

"There has always been tension between law enforcement and commerce - keeping the traffic moving. I still don't think our government recognizes the threats we face on the northern border."


Drug Allegations Strike Mexico's High And Mighty

12:32 a.m. Jun 03, 1999 Eastern

By Dan Trotta

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Two powerful Mexicans Wednesday became the latest
high-profile politicians to have their names linked to drug
investigations, joining a growing list of notables to suffer the
politically damaging charge.

Political analysts say it is no coincidence that recent allegations have
surfaced at the outset of Mexico's 2000 presidential campaign, noting that
such reports are readily believed by a public grown jaded by a series of
drug-corruption scandals.

``It is so easy to paint everything as narco-politics,'' said Marcela
Bobadilla of the Mexican Institute for Political Studies.  ``It is
worrisome for us as political analysts and as Mexicans that we're at the
level where anything is believable.''

All three of the leading candidates for the ruling party's presidential
nomination have fended off some kind of drug allegation.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Jose Liebano Saenz, the private
secretary to Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, is the subject of a drug
investigation in the United States even though an earlier Mexican probe
cleared his name.

The president's office reacted immediately, issuing a forceful statement
saying Saenz had been found innocent by an ''exhaustive'' Mexican
investigation and called the Times report an attempt to ``besmirch the
honorability'' of Saenz.

Saenz himself sent the New York Times a letter, saying Mexican prosecutors
had investigated all the allegations. ``The falseness of all of them was
proved,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that U.S. authorities had
identified the prominent Hank family as a ''significant criminal threat to
the United States'' because of drug-trafficking and money-laundering by
the patriarch and two of his sons.

Carlos Hank Gonzalez is a former Mexico City mayor, two-time cabinet
minister and fabulously wealthy businessman who symbolizes the aging
Mexican system of power and privilege within the ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has governed Mexico for 70 straight

Two of his sons, Carlos Hank Rhon and Jorge Hank Rhon, also were
identified as having direct links to Mexican drug operations, according to
the Post's U.S.  sources.

The elder Hank, believed to be 71 or 72 years old, was in a hospital and
unable to respond Wednesday, hospital officials said. The Post story said
the family denied any drug role.

The Post story also said the shipping company TMM played a role in the
family drug business, and that TMM was owned by the Hanks. But a TMM
spokesman denied that Hank family had a role in the company, saying they
were not even shareholders.

``I'm absolutely livid about this information. These allegations clearly
have no basis,'' TMM spokesman Luis Calvillo told Reuters. ``If U.S.
intelligence can make mistakes like bombing the Chinese embassy in
Belgrade because they had the wrong information, they could have gotten
the wrong information here, too.''

Mexicans long have accepted as true reports of corruption among public
officials and the well-connected, if only because so many citizens have
been shaken down by police officers.

The public got a taste of the scope of corruption following the 1995
arrest of Raul Salinas, the brother of former President Carlos Salinas.
Raul Salinas was arrested for murder but soon became the subject of a
money-laundering probe.

Swiss investigators who hope to confiscate $114 million that Raul Salinas
stashed in Geneva and London say he took more than $500 million in bribes
from drug traffickers.

Salinas Case Update

Times staff writer

The seven-woman, two-man federal jury in the Romeo Salinas job
discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Customs Service will
return Monday morning to begin deliberation. The panel was given the
case at approximately 3:40 p.m. Friday after both sides
finished their final arguments.

However, some five minutes later, the jury sent a message to Judge Keith
Ellison saying that they did not want to work for two
hours and return on Monday. The panel asked if they could just begin
their deliberation Monday morning. Ellison agreed.

The jury will be deciding if the Customs Service discriminated and
retaliated against Salinas denying him a promotion from a
GS-12 to a GS-13 in 1996 and 1997. Salinas' attorney, Ronald Tonkin, in
his final argument asked the jury to reward his client
with back pay and $1 million in damages. The only issue the jury will
not be considering is age discrimination.

Tonkin told the jury that Customs has a history and culture of
discrimination and retaliation that exits even today.
witnesses have "no dogs in this fight," and provided truthful testimony,
Tonkin said. In contrast, the attorney told the jury,
Customs' witnesses were contrived and manipulative and presented
massaged testimony.

Tonkin said the government's principal witness, Special Agent-in-Charge
Leonard Lindheim, in San Antonio, had a history of
carrying a grudge against Salinas for filing numerous Equal Employment
Opportunity complaints since 1991. Tonkin told the jury
that Lindheim's testimony had been condescending, in that he has an
attitude of talking down to people.

In addressing the race issue, Tonkin said it was a factor and described
Lindheim as a born-again Christian who claimed he had
not used the "N" word for years. Lindheim, however, was the subject of
an investigation in San Antonio where he was
suspended for five days on that very issue, Tonkin said. In closing,
Tonkin told the jury to send a message to U.S. Customs that
such things as retaliation and discrimination would not be accepted in
this community.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hector Ramirez, however, stressed to the jury
that the case was not about discrimination or retaliation
but rather of performance, specifically Salinas' performance with the
agency. Ramirez said that Salinas, while claiming he has
medical expenses totaling $16,000, had not provided any bills to back up
his claim.

Ramirez said that if Salinas had undergone depression, it was most
likely because of the "Wagon Train Fatalities" when he
witnesses the burning death of a child. The case involved a controlled
delivery where Salinas and other agents were following a
suspect, his wife and child to California where they were supposed to
turn over a load of cocaine.

The couple and their child were killed when the driver slammed his van
into a bridge column in Arizona. Ramirez told the jury
Salinas was depressed over the accident and of not being able to save
the child. He told the jury that the agency's top agents
were GS-13s, the cream of the crop, and that someday Salinas will be
promoted and find in favor of the U. S. Customs

The last witness to testify in the trial was the plaintiff's rebuttal
witness, Customs Agent Alfredo Vidaurri, who testified that
during an El Paso Conference, Salinas had delivered an address on the
activities and accomplishments of Laredo's Intelligence
Collection Analysis Team, or ICAT, an intelligence gathering unit.

Vidaurri said Salinas gave a 20-minute presentation before a group of
Customs agents from throughout the country. Asked if
Lindheim had spoken to Salinas during the conference or presentation,
Vidaurri said the only thing Lindheim said to Salinas from
in back of the room was to speak up because he couldn't hear him.

Vidaurri's testimony contradicted Lindheim's Thursday testimony, when he
told the jury that Salinas had missed a huge
opportunity to "shine" at the conference but instead had not spoken a
word. When Tonkin passed the witness, Ramirez did not
ask Vidaurri a single question.

(Staff writer Robert Garcia can be reached at 728-2565 or by email at

Smart Borders

This is all well and good, but it is like putting "band aids" on a "severed artery" that will not stop bleeding. An average of less than 2% of all the conveyances entering our country ever gets examined. This comes straight form Customs headquarters personnel. On the northern border, it is literally wide open and there aren't enough Customs or INS personnel to maintain ALL the border inspection stations. The turn over rate is too high and the moral problem is very significant.  

  So far, no one at the Bush administration has addressed the serious corruption issues that I and others have talked about publicly. We are the ones that have actually worked the U.S. Border in the U.S. Customs Service.  Had the previous and current administrations been listening to our complaints of internal corruption, maybe the "WTC 9-11" incident would not have happened?


It is NOT the "two bit terrorist" we have to worry about as much as the corrupt Customs or INS officials that are lining their pockets with bribe money.


John Carman~Editor of


Bush Touts 'Smart' Border for the U.S. and Mexico


EL PASO -- President Bush vowed Thursday to create a "smart border" with Mexico, saying he wants to speed the flow of people and goods across the frontier but target would-be terrorists and those who smuggle drugs and immigrants into the United States.

The joint initiative with Mexico seeks to develop a "biometric" ID system--using such identifying characteristics as fingerprints or retina scans--for frequent travelers from both countries that would let them use commuter lanes at high-volume border crossings.

Another goal is to develop methods of inspecting and then sealing trucks at their points of origin in Mexico so they can get clearance before they reach the border, and perhaps use the fast lanes. "I want this border to be modern," Bush said in this Texas border city en route to an international aid conference in Mexico. "I want it to have the very best technology. I don't want it to be a neglected part of our country."

In a spirited speech to an adoring home-state crowd of several thousand civilians and soldiers from nearby Ft. Bliss, Bush said his commitment to modernize the United States' southern border demonstrates that his interest in Mexico hasn't waned despite a post-Sept. 11 preoccupation with the war on terrorism.

"Mexico is an incredibly important part of the futuro de los Estados Unidos. And the border is a very important part of our relationship," Bush said, using a mixture of Spanish and English that delighted the cheering, flag-waving audience jammed into a hangar at the El Paso International Airport.

After his speech, Bush left for Monterrey, Mexico, to attend the United Nations conference and confer with Mexican President Vicente Fox. On his four-day Latin American trip, Bush also plans to visit Lima, the Peruvian capital, and San Salvador, capital of El Salvador.

As he began his trip, Bush told reporters in Washington that he had no intention of altering his itinerary despite a fatal car-bomb attack Wednesday night near the U.S. Embassy in Lima.

"Two-bit terrorists aren't going to prevent me from doing what we need to do," Bush said.

Before leaving El Paso, Bush further highlighted his commitment to border security by touring the customs inspection station for commercial cargo at the Bridge of the Americas, which links this city with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Wearing a blue customs cap, Bush viewed a state-of-the-art detection device that agents now use to randomly check commercial vehicles. He also examined a tour bus that was seized after agents discovered 1,500 pounds of cocaine hidden inside.

A more efficient border-crossing system has become an important goal for the administration in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that more stringent border inspections since September have led to long and often unpredictable delays in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Such delays, which also have been reported along the U.S.-Canadian border, have hurt business and slowed tourism, chamber officials said.

Each year, more than 300 million people, about 90 million cars and 4.3 million trucks cross the Mexican border into the United States. Commerce between the two nations has tripled since 1993, with more than $245 billion of goods flowing between them last year.

Mexico is the United States' second-largest trading partner. Canada remains the top U.S. trading partner, accounting for more than $365 billion in goods annually.

In discussing his goal for the border, Bush said: "On the one hand, we want the legal commerce, the people who travel back and forth on a daily basis. . . . On the other hand, we want to use our technology to make sure that we weed out those who we don't want in our country--the terrorists . . . the smugglers, those who prey on innocent life."

Bush's director of homeland security, Thomas J. Ridge, signed an agreement with Canada in December to bolster the two nations' border security while improving efficiency.

In his fiscal year 2003 budget, the president is proposing to spend about $11 billion for border security, including $380 million for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to construct a modern "entry-exit" system. The $11 billion represents a $2.2-billion increase from a year earlier.

Before leaving Washington on Thursday morning, the president and First Lady Laura Bush met with Milton Green, whose wife, Barbara, and her 17-year-old daughter, Kristen Wormsley, were killed Sunday in a grenade attack while attending church in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

They met at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, where the two victims' bodies were to arrive later in the day.

Also Thursday, the White House sent Congress a request for an additional $27.1 billion for needs related to the war on terrorism. More than half the funds--$14 billion--would go to the Defense Department.

Of the remainder, the administration is seeking $5.3 billion for homeland security, $5.5 billion to help New York recover from the Sept. 11 devastation of the World Trade Center, $1.6 billion in economic aid and to train and equip other countries to fight terrorism, and $750 million to help workers displaced by the recent economic slowdown.

In another development, Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., has sent a memo to all federal agencies directing them to make sure that their Web sites don't contain information that may be useful to terrorists, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

As recently as February, Fleischer said, four government Web sites still posted information on how to make powerful explosives, build a germ factory, poison water supplies and spread contaminants.
By Edwin Chen Times Staff Writer