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U.S. Border Agents Called Vulnerable to Corruption


WASHINGTON — Wealthy Mexican crime syndicates that control much of the cocaine and heroin trafficking in the United States pose a major threat of corrupting U.S. agents on the border, high-ranking federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Referring to Mexican drug barons, Thomas A. Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, also told a Senate panel that "for the first time in our history, organized crime in the United States is controlled by individuals who reside outside our borders."

Constantine's views, and statements from other Justice Department and Treasury officials, were presented to senators looking into cross-border narcotics trafficking.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, said that Mexican crime lords "have resorted to large-sale violence and bribery . . . to incapacitate Mexican law enforcement." On the U.S. side as well, "the possibility of large-scale corruption is present," he said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), another caucus member, said that the threat is "rapidly growing."

Raymond W. Kelly, the Treasury's enforcement chief, agreed that corruption is a major challenge for the customs service, over which his office has jurisdiction. "The enormous sums of money being generated by drug trafficking have added a new dimension to the threat," he said.

But Kelly insisted that specific cases of corrupt U.S. agents have been "isolated."

Providing a firsthand account of the problem, a convicted federal law enforcement officer wearing a black hood to conceal his identity told senators how he was drawn into a drug conspiracy in exchange for $50,000.

Using the pseudonym "Joe Daedalus," the former officer said that Mexican nationals began to cultivate him socially, provided him with gifts and asked him for information. He said that he learned later that they were drug traffickers but by then "they had their hooks into me."

Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said that the unprecedented growth over the last three years of the U.S. Border Patrol--approved by Congress as a means to combat illegal immigration--has increased the potential for corrupt agents.

"Most often, corruption represents the culmination of a history of progressively serious misconduct," Meissner said.

"Therefore, we are always striving aggressively to identify and deal immediately with all conduct problems."

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