Grassley Investigates Customs’ Disciplinary Practices
WASHINGTON – Prompted by the death of a Customs’ Service agent in Arizona, Sen.Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, is seeking to verify whether the agency’sdisciplinary practices are adequate.
“I’m looking into the Arizona incident and into the broader questions it raises,” Grassley said.“These questions are whether the Customs Service adequately investigates its agents for allegationsof wrongdoing in the course of duty and whether agents are adequately disciplined when wrongdoingis substantiated.”
Grassley has written to Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and acting Customs CommissionerCharles Winwood asking for details of the internal investigation into the death of Customs SpecialAgent Gary Friedli, as well as information about agency disciplinary procedures in general.
Friedli died in 1998 when the car in which he was riding crashed into a tractor trailer truckon a non-emergency assignment. An internal investigation first cleared the car’s driver, a fellowCustoms agent, of any wrongdoing. Later, the agent “hurriedly” received a letter of reprimand thatprevented future disciplinary action, according to the Associated Press. Subsequent investigationsreversed the initial findings and found that the driver had “significantly contributed” to Friedli’sdeath with unsafe driving, official documents said.
The Customs Service has been the subject of several government reports and investigationsciting lax scrutiny of agents accused of wrongdoing and inadequate discipline against those foundto have committed wrongdoing. The Friedli case came to light because of an Associated Press reportand action from Friedli’s widow to seek accountability from the Customs Service over his death.Grassley said he looked forward to getting information on the Customs Service’s disciplinaryprocedures.
“It worries me that the Friedli case may be the symptom of a larger problem,” Grassley said.“Allegations of poor discipline aren’t new at the Customs Service. If the agency has a deep toleranceof wrongdoing by its agents, that has to change. Americans have to be able to trust the people whokeep our borders safe.”
The text of Grassley’s letter to O’Neill and Winwood follows.
April 30, 2001
Via Regular Mail and Facsimile: Treasury (202-622-0534), Customs (202-927-2152)
The Honorable Paul H. O'Neill
United States Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220
The Honorable Charles W. Winwood
United States Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229
Dear Secretary O'Neill and Acting Commissioner Winwood:
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, I am committed to overseeing the UnitedStates Customs Service (Customs) to ensure that it performs its responsibilities efficiently andeffectively. These responsibilities include timely and thorough investigations of alleged infractionsby its agents of its rules, regulations, and internal guidelines.
The recent and unfortunate death of Special Agent Gary P. Friedli requires examination todetermine whether Customs’ procedures were followed appropriately, and whether disciplinaryactions were carried out judiciously and consistently. In considering this matter, the Committee hasendeavored to hear several perspectives on the underlying facts of the accident and subsequentinvestigations of those facts. The Committee’s efforts include meetings with representatives fromthe United States Department of the Treasury, Inspector General’s Office (Inspector General), andCustoms’ Office of Internal Affairs (Internal Affairs) as well as reviewing written materials fromvarious sources. What I find particularly troubling is the Inspector General’s determination that theinitial Customs report contained inaccuracies and omitted important information.
Specifically, the Inspector General’s confidential Report of Investigation found that the initialCustoms report of the incident contained limited information concerning Special Agent AllanSperling’s reputation and documented history of reckless and aggressive driving. The InspectorGeneral’s report also determined that the posted speed limit was 35 mph, although it was originally,erroneously reported to be 45 mph. Both the Inspector General and Internal Affairs report thatSpecial Agent Sperling was found to be traveling in excess of 20 mph over the speed limit at the timeof the accident on a dirt road with limited visibility. The Inspector General further reported thatCustoms’ supervisory personnel gave Special Agent Sperling preferential treatment, to includeproviding misleading statements to Internal Affairs during its initial investigation of this matter.
Given the several perspectives by Treasury Offices concerning whether Customs followedits internal disciplinary procedures, I find it necessary to ask Customs to fully explain certaininvestigative discrepancies. Accordingly, I would like Customs to provide the following:1. A copy of the rules, regulations, and internal instructions or guidelines governing disciplinaryinvestigations at Customs.
2. The names, titles, offices, addresses, and telephone numbers of all personnel involved withthe Friedli investigation to include those individuals supervising and reviewing the investigation.State the title of each employee on or around the date of the Friedli accident as well as thatemployee’s current title, indicating whether the new title reflects a promotion.
3. A copy of all reports, correspondence, e-mails, and/or other documents related to the Friedliinvestigation, including copies of complaints or lawsuits filed against Customs relating to theunderlying accident, if any.
4. A copy of any disciplinary letters and/or reports against Special Agent Sperling.
5. A copy of all Customs’ reports regarding the Friedli investigation not limited to any reportsof investigation, commonly known as a "Redbook."
6. A copy of the table of penalties for disciplining Customs agents.
7. A list of all agents disciplined in the last five (5) years and a brief description of the infractionand the penalty imposed.
8. A copy of all reports reviewing disciplinary procedures at Customs issued within the last five(5) years.
9. A detailed explanation of any proposed modifications to Customs’ disciplinary rules,regulations, and/or internal guidelines since the date of the Friedli accident.Your cooperation in responding to these requests by Friday, May 18, 2001, is appreciated.Sincerely,
Charles E. Grassley
cc: The Honorable Frank R. Wolf, Member of Congress
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