The John Carman Report

U.S. Customs Internal Affairs,
Integrity or Damage Control?

I can remember about 25 years ago when I was working for another Treasury Department Agency in Washington, D.C. and I was stationed at the White House... it was of the highest status law enforcement jobs I'll ever remember. Only one in 1,500 passed the extensive background checks before even being hired. I still have the highest regards for those courageous men and women that I worked with and those of you who are willing to "take a bullet for the Man".

Even with a highly visible job, such as the White House Secret Service, there was a need to have a "checks and balance" system or internal affairs to make sure that no one violated an National Security Directives or that you did your job 150% in the face of danger no matter what. Even if you were offered all kinds of "temptations" from the most treacherous of foreign governments, you had to protect the The President. It was not just a job but a special solemn duty and privilege to make a special sacrifice if necessary. It takes a special kind of "loyalty" to understand these ideals. We also dealt with the threats of Terrorists like The Red Army and "Carlos The Jackal" just to name a few. You can never really understand what is it is really like unless you are one of us.

Apparently, there is a different "breed" at the U.S. Customs Service these days and you wouldn't believe who they are hiring to protect your Country's borders.

I remember it as if it were yesterday, the Internal Affairs "Special Agent" came to make his presentation at the Customs Basic Academy in Glynco, Georgia, 1983-84. I remember listening to him with an open mind and enthusiasm. There was one thing that bothered me about this guy though. He had an "attitude". He was arrogant and acted as if he was better than the other "trainees" in the class room. I wonder if he really knew what some of our "backgrounds" were before he made a few condescending remarks.

I also remember him saying, "you all get paid good money for what you do." Since I already had over 4 and a 1/2 years law enforcement experience I thought he was making my job very insignificant since most of the smugglers and narcotics are caught by Customs Inspectors and not Customs Agents. We are the front line of defense and I know of many cases where we handed over smuggling cases with lots of narcotics to be followed up by less competent agents. If you check the statistics alone, I know I can prove a case.

I thought about what this I.A.Agent said and I realized that if you compare the salary's of the Customs Inspectors, 1890 series, and the Special Agents, 1811 series, you get an entirely different picture of what your really getting paid to do. You also realize that the "Special Agents" also get a promoted on a higher scale faster than a normal Customs Inspector with college background or not.

I had previous law enforcement experience and three years college, before I went into Customs as a GS-7 for about three to six months. I was later bumped up to journeyman GS-9. Then I was finally promoted to a GS-11 about 5 years later. Even if you figure all of the "blood money" that you have to work to get a decent salary, your still working an average of six days a week or 48 hours or more of "O.T." as soon as you get out of the academy. I still did that until I eventually got sick or transferred to a desk job.

For most of the Agents with my same background or with a 4 year degree, they start out as a GS-7/9 and quickly go up the ladder to a GS-12 within a few years. That's without working all that hard overtime sucking up fumes at San Ysidro or some other Port of Entry or "Border Inspection Station".

I have heard of former Customs Inspectors who got out of Inspection & Control to become a Special Agent with the Office of Investigations and some even made GS-13 for just the asking. (They were real close with the SAIC. Some are even "drinking" buddies)

Throughout my 15 year career with U.S. Customs, I remember reporting everything that I was required to report under the Policies and Procedures of the Treasury Department and the Customs Service. 18 USC 201 became engraved into my memory and I was always on the lookout for any "offers" or situations of bribery. I guess I took my job seriously where others didn't.

As I began to "measure" what was a serious violation, versus small or insignificant stuff that I had to report to I.A. I became more prolific in my arrests or seizure activity. I was very active and I began to expand out into different areas of enforcement as I looked for any type of violators. after all. smugglers are smugglers anyway you cut it. I didn't mind which kind. Eventually it is all connected to the same cartels and smuggling organizations.

As I began to report what I saw as "illegal" or corrupt activity by others, or specifically Customs Supervisory personnel, I noticed a different attitude towards these different grade levels. It appeared that the Internal Affairs unit was "sworn to bust the Inspectors on the line", rather than go after "any" Customs employees GS-12's or above. (By the way, the previous quote was from a Customs Internal Affairs agent testifying in Federal Court, on the record, against a former Customs Inspector who is doing time for "conspiracy to smuggle".) Internal Affairs still hasn't recovered any narcotics for that case too. It's a very Interesting case.

As I started to report some very serious violations against Customs supervisors back in 1985 and more intensely in 1993, I began to see the "Politics" of reporting certain classes of Customs employees. It was common knowledge amongst some Customs employees that "nothing would happen to you if your a GS-12 or above". I know, because I have reported these same GS-12's many times for corrupt and outrageous activity. If you or I were to do the same things, we would both get "hammered" one way or another. Unfortunately, I got retaliated against.

It's just like in the real life story about Frank Serpico. All the agency wanted to know was "what outside agency did you go to?" or "What newsmedia did you make a disclosure to?" That way, the Office of Internal Affairs can do the most important job:" Damage Control".

Believe me when I tell you, Customs Internal Affairs can not be trusted to do the "right thing". They only want to make you look bad and attack your credibility if you have evidence of corrupt or criminal behavior on behalf of GS-12 Customs Supervisors and above. Otherwise, I would have been testifying in several Grand Jury's in the last five years.

The I.A. Agents would rather "give you up" to get that promotion or QSI they need for that new house they just bought.

I have been told by "former Internal Affairs Agents" that they were ordered" to violate many laws and civil rights of otherwise loyal Customs employees. Some of these I.A. Agents were to follow and even commit burglaries on the homes of some of these loyal Customs Employees because of a "personal vendetta" against some of our really good Customs employees for "personal" reasons";

There are people in jail right now that have done no more than some of our Customs high ranking Supervisors. Some have even "retired" early to escape a grand Jury or criminal prosecution because the Agency and the U.S. Attorney allowed it to happen.

Customs Internal Affairs will lie to your face and tell you "we just want to know the truth". They will make you believe they are "doing the right thing" when they are sharing valuable and sensitive information with the same criminals that are wearing a Customs badge. This type of activity merely destroys the "trust" between the Customs employee that observes illegal activity and needs to report it.

Have you ever seen a Customs Internal Affairs Agent that was "nervous" or their carotid artery was pumping out of their neck? I have, and it's not reassuring to say the least. I wonder if they thought I was working for someone higher than they were? You never know.

Don't trust anyone, unless you verify things first. "Trust, but verify anyway". I'm glad I did.

P.S. Go see or rent "Serpico" and "Prince of the City" and you will understand why you are treated like a "lower class" law enforcement agent. They expect you to do certain questionable things, but never the right thing. Surprise them!

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