Pubdate: Thu, 28 Feb 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Lenny Savino


WASHINGTON - Administrator Asa Hutchinson of the Drug Enforcement
Administration confirmed yesterday that agents in the DEA's San Juan office
had claimed credit for hundreds of arrests in which they had played no role,
and he called their actions "wrong and irresponsible."

He also confirmed that several DEA agents had been disciplined in the

"There is absolutely no excuse for that kind of reporting," he said of the
inflated statistics. Citing privacy concerns, Hutchinson declined to spell
out disciplinary action against the agents, except to say that it ranged
from a 14-day suspension to a letter of reprimand.

The DEA's top official was responding to a new report from the General
Accounting Office, auditors for Congress. It confirmed a February 2001
Inquirer Washington Bureau report that the DEA's Caribbean division, based
in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had inflated drug seizure and arrest figures to
attest to its success.

An official informed about the DEA's disciplinary proceedings said that
Michael Vigil, head of the DEA's international division, was among those
reprimanded. At the time of the miscounts, he headed San Juan's DEA office.
Former agents who worked under Vigil, speaking on condition of anonymity,
said he had for several years encouraged them to count arrests made solely
by Puerto Rican police.

The San Juan DEA office's figures also included hundreds of routine street
busts for marijuana made by Jamaican police without DEA participation,
Jamaican authorities told the Inquirer Washington Bureau. They occurred
during a monthlong, DEA-led regional drug interdiction dragnet called
"Operation Libertador."

Vigil declined to be interviewed for this article. He has previously said
that he relied on foreign authorities for the statistics and that their
accuracy was not as important as the "spirit of cooperation forged between
the countries who participated in the operations."

The Inquirer Washington Bureau's investigation focused on "Operation
Libertador," whose inflated statistics DEA agents offered at news
conferences and on the agency's Web site.

DEA's Puerto Rico office, where staffing grew in the era of exaggerated
performance reports, oversees the 36-nation Caribbean region.

According to GAO auditors, it was DEA policy until October to claim credit
for drug arrests made by foreign police within the Caribbean region.

The GAO, after reviewing a DEA audit of the San Juan office for 1999, found
that of 2,058 claimed arrests, 331 involved either "immigration violations
with no connection to drug offenses," or drug arrests that DEA agents did
not make.

Overall, DEA figures counted more than 2,400 foreign arrests from 1996 to

Until August, DEA performance statistics were inspected only at random, the
GAO reported. By order of then-DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall, all
arrests are now subject to full inspection.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee,
requested the GAO investigation last year.
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