Pubdate: Tue, 15 May 2001
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Author: Lenny Savino, Knight Ridder News Service


WASHINGTON -- The Drug Enforcement Administration's Caribbean office 
routinely falsified its claims of drug arrests and seizures for at least 
three years, according to five present and former agents who worked there.

Agents in the DEA's office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, claimed credit for 
hundreds of arrests that were in fact made by local police, the agents told 
Knight Ridder. A former supervisor estimated that 70 percent of the arrests 
the DEA claimed from 1998 through 2000 were phony.

"It got so bad," said the former supervisor, "that agents were checking the 
newspapers every day to see who was arrested so they could go get the 
information and transfer it onto DEA arrest cards."

The office investigates substantial drug cases in Puerto Rico and 
supervises DEA agents who provide information about drug activity in other 
Caribbean nations.

Top DEA officials use arrest figures to measure the performance of an 
office and its leadership, and higher numbers can lead to more resources 
for that office. In the San Juan office, for example, arrest numbers 
tripled in the late 1990s and the staff size doubled.

The agents said many of the arrests DEA agents claimed in San Juan involved 
only a few grams of cocaine or an ounce or two of marijuana. At the time, 
the San Juan office was supposed to pursue only cases involving more than 
five kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine or more than 50 pounds of marijuana.

The five agents, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, said 
they were reprimanded, demoted or transferred after they complained about 
inflated reports to their superiors at the San Juan office.

In a brief interview May 3 in a congressional hallway, DEA Administrator 
Donnie Marshall said an internal investigation of "all the issues" 
involving questionable arrests in San Juan was under way. He said it would 
be "inappropriate" to comment until the review was completed.

President Bush has since nominated former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., to 
succeed Marshall, a Clinton administration appointee.

Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has 
asked the General Accounting Office to investigate whether DEA, Customs, 
Navy and Coast Guard personnel involved in the drug war have been routinely 
overcounting arrests and seizures.

Sessions, a former prosecutor, said overcounting drug arrests "gives a 
false sense of accomplishment" to the nation's anti-drug campaign.

The agents said veteran DEA agent Michael Vigil, who headed the San Juan 
office at the time they charge the statistics were being inflated, demanded 
more impressive arrest statistics. Vigil then argued that his office needed 
more resources to cope with a growing threat.

DEA spokesman Michael Chapman demanded to be told in advance what questions 
a reporter intended to ask as a condition for interviews with Vigil or 
Marshall. After receiving the questions, Chapman said neither Vigil nor 
Marshall would comment.
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