Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jan 2006
Source: Nashville Scene (TN)
Copyright: 2006 Nashville Scene.
Author: John Spargens
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Colombia)


Local Assistant U.S. Attorney's Explosive Justice Department Allegations
Make National Waves

The seven-page document reads like the screenplay for Scarface, had it
been written by a Justice Department attorney instead of Oliver Stone.
U.S. Drug Enforcement agents in Bogota, Colombia, help local drug
lords traffic narcotics.

When a confidential informant tips off DEA agents in Florida about the
illegal actions of their Bogota counterparts, a Florida agent alerts
DEA higher-ups and is put on administrative leave. Meanwhile, DEA
agents in Bogota summon an informant to a meeting; as he leaves, he is

It's not Scarface. It's a December 2004 memo written by Thomas M.
Kent, a lawyer then working in the Justice Department's Narcotic and
Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS) who is now an assistant U.S. attorney in
the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the middle
district of Tennessee. It was first reported this week by The Narco
News Bulletin, an online newsletter that publishes Latin American and
U.S. news about the war on drugs.

Kent, whom present and former colleagues praise as smart and honest,
sent the whistleblower memo to NDDS Chief Jodi Avergun and deputy
chief Michael Walther with the subject line, "Operation
Snowplow-Dissemination of information on corruption within the DEA and
the mishandling of related investigations by OPR to the Public
Integrity Section."

The memo, which is stamped "Confidential," contains explosive
allegations. Corrupt DEA agents stationed in Bogota allow
U.S.-friendly informants to be locked up, kidnapped and killed because
they're disrupting the narco-trade that lines the agents' pockets.

These same rogue federal law enforcers leak damaging details about
informants to people who want them dead. A Bogota informant makes
jailhouse contact-in one case, videotaped-with a member of an armed
Colombian insurgent group who wants to obtain illegal communication

Eventually, the informant tells Miami DEA agents that there is
weapons-grade nuclear material for sale in Spain. Time and time again,
Bogota-based DEA agents shut down the investigation against
colleagues' wishes.

Eventually, they claim that the informant is a pedophile, although a
Bogota agent "could not provide any evidence to support it," Kent wrote.

Just as important as Kent's allegations of corruption in Colombia,
though, is his contention that the Justice Department covered it up.
"The first allegation was brought to OPR," he wrote, referring to the
Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. "By all
accounts OPR did nothing about it. When confronted with the
allegations, the investigators at OPR treated the reporting agents as
if they had a disease and did not want anything to do with them or the
evidence they amassed." Kent wrote that one agent was fired and
another was retaliated against after blowing the whistle on
corruption; he also claimed that OPR failed to transmit damning
documents to the Inspector General's office. Furthermore, he wrote, an
informant with incriminating information against Bogota DEA agents
passed a polygraph test, but the examiner was "instructed by OPR not
to report on the test. He was instructed that the test never took place."

Sounds pretty Orwellian. But is it true?

In response to media requests, a branch of the Justice Department is
looking into it. "DEA takes very seriously any allegations of
misconduct, abuse of position or criminal action," says agency
spokesman Garrison K. Courtney, in a statement provided to the Scene.
"The allegations that are reported in the Narco News Bulletin are
extremely serious. DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility is
reviewing the allegations that have been made." Courtney says the
Justice Department's Inspector General is in charge of any
investigation that may or may not be conducted in response to the
memo's disclosure.

One insider says that an investigation was done by the Inspector
General's office in 2002, and Kent's charges all proved false. "It's
absolute B.S.," says a Justice Department official, speaking on
condition of anonymity. "It's been completely investigated, and it's
totally baseless.

Tom is a smart young lawyer, and he was, I believe, taken in by a
couple of disgruntled DEA agents who had an axe to grind at the
agency, and were part of a rivalry between DEA Florida and DEA
Bogota." According to this official, confidential informants are the
lifeblood of DEA investigations, and Kent stepped right into a turf
war without knowing it. His four-alarm memo was well intended, then,
but false, the source says.

Kent, who now works on wiretapping for Nashville-related federal drug
investigations, didn't return calls for this story.

His current boss, U.S. Attorney Jim Vines, says he's an outstanding
attorney and a great asset to the department. "He does a great job,
he's a very experienced prosecutor, very knowledge about T3s," says
Vines, referring to the complex federal statutory scheme for
wiretaps-the kind for which you still need court approval. "It's a
very tricky area, and you can get in trouble when you don't do it
correctly.... To have him assigned here has been a godsend to us."

Before he moved to the Justice Department, Kent worked for the New
York attorney general in a special narcotics office in Manhattan. He
eventually moved to the federal Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section,
where he wrote the memo, before taking the job in the local U.S.
Attorney's office.

Vines tells the Scene that he didn't know about Kent's memo until
recently, although one source says the Nashville U.S. Attorney's
Office knew about it before Kent was hired approximately one year ago.
Regardless, his supervisors and colleagues say he has their full
confidence-and more importantly, he's very good at what he does.

But he's either one of the biggest whistleblowers in DEA history or a
super-sized sucker who put his career on the line for a few washed-up
law enforcement jerks.

According to the Justice Department source, the investigation prompted
by Kent's 2004 memo didn't lead to any disciplinary measures against
agents in Bogota or Miami, nor did it hurt Kent's career.

"[T]he cracks in the lid DEA and OPR has [sic] attempted to place on
this problem are getting bigger.

It is only a matter of time before this thing explodes," Kent wrote 13
months ago. "If we are unable to arrange for a sit down between the
reporting agents and those attorneys within the Department of Justice
who are tasked with ensuring that corrupted agents and officials are
held accountable, then I firmly believe that we will watch from the
sidelines as the allegations play out in a courtroom, on the news,
and/or on Capital [sic] Hill."

Did Kent get taken advantage of by disgruntled DEA agents, or was he
silenced by his Justice Department superiors?

Only a handful of people can answer that question, and so far, Kent's
not talking.
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