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Rationale: Drug-related corruption has plagued federal, state and local law enforcement in many ways. While the United States draws attention to corruption outside our borders,148 we do not focus enough attention on corruption at home. Across the United States, our local communities have felt the burden of law enforcement officials involved in drug corruption scandals. Consider these examples culled from recent news articles:

  • In Illinois, three Austin District police officers were caught on camera pocketing $25,000 in cash during a drug raid. Their 1998 trial showed a video with police stuffing cash into their pockets.149 

  • In Cleveland the FBI arrested 44 police officers in 1998 who were involved in drug-related corruption including taking payoffs to protect dealers involved in drug trafficking. Each of the officers took part in at least one of 16 staged deals by the FBI.150 

  • In Philadelphia, more than 100 drug convictions were dismissed, up to 2,000 cases tainted and the city was forced to pay millions of dollars to settle civil law suits as a result of a police corruption scandal. Six officers pled guilty to fabricating evidence and stealing from drug suspects.151 One of the convicted officers testified in a civil deposition that as many as 600 Philadelphia police lied under oath and justified their actions because “there was a War on Drugs” and “drug dealers do not have any rights.”152 

  • In May of 1998, four former and suspended Chicago police officers were convicted of shaking down undercover agents posing as drug pushers. One of the officers convicted of racketeering, conspiracy and extortion was accused of being a high-ranking leader of the Conservative Vice Lords street gang; he is facing about 120 years behind bars. The other officers face sentences ranging from 11 years to 106 years for similar crimes.153 

  • In Zapata County, Texas most of the county's leaders, including the county sheriff, judge and clerk pled guilty to drug charges.154 

  • Along the U.S.-Mexican border 46 local, state and federal law enforcement officials have been indicted or convicted of drug charges in the last three years.155 

  • In May of 1998, an investigator for the Shawnee, Oklahoma District Attorney's office pled guilty to submitting false receipts for drug informant funds and keeping the funds for himself. Two other investigators were charged, one pled guilty and the other is facing a retrial after a hung jury.156 

This is just a sampling of cases reported in cities and small towns across the United States. The Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice reports federal convictions of public officials have gone from 44 in 1970157 to 1,067 by 1988.158 Drug offenses are the driving force behind this increase. Corruption is not limited to state and local officials. It has also involved federal officials from many agencies.159 In some cases, such as the CIA-Contra-Crack controversy, government complicity in drug trafficking became de facto official policy. In 1982, during the early days of the Contra war, William Casey (irector of the CIA) and William French Smith (Ronald Reagan's Attorney General) drafted a “Memorandum of Understanding” whereby the CIA would not have to report allegations of drug trafficking involving its “agents, assets and non-staff employees” but would have to report allegations of assault, homicide, kidnapping, bribery, wiretapping, visa violations, perjury, etc.160 By its own admission, the CIA simply ignored or overlooked reports of drug trafficking by the Contras and their supporters.161 As the Washington Post reported, “Nearly a decade after the end of the Nicaraguan war – and after years of suspicions and scattered evidence of contra involvement in drug trafficking – the CIA report discloses for the first time that the agency did little or nothing to respond to hundreds of drug allegations about contra officials, their contractors and individual supporters contained in nearly 1,000 cables sent from the field to the agency's Langley headquarters.”162 According to The New York Times, internal government reports indicate that corruption is a prevalent and incessant problem. A memorandum from the El Paso Intelligence Center “to top drug officials in Washington, warns of 'increased and constant receipt' of reports from informants, government employees and ordinary citizens about 'the use of corrupt and compromised U.S. customs and immigration inspectors' to insure that drug shipments cross the border.”163 Other documents indicate that “scores of these reports have been passed on to drug agency administrators or federal prosecutors over the last few years.”164 

Recommendation: Recognizing the inherent corruption in drug enforcement, it is critical to establish checks and balances to oversee drug enforcement activities and to establish strict hiring standards for drug enforcement officials.

When a substance is prohibited it creates tremendous, untraceable profits, and when these large sums of money are involved, corruption of officials should be expected. In 1926, in the midst of alcohol prohibition, one out of every 12 prohibition agents had been dismissed for such offenses as bribery, extortion, conspiracy and submission of false reports. Between 1920 and 1928, 1,300 officials were removed for improper activities.165 During the Johnson Administration the Justice Department noted “evidence of significant corruption” in the Bureau of Narcotics including illegal selling and buying of drugs, perjury, tampering with evidence and even murder.166  These scandals were one reason why the federal drug enforcement was reorganized and the DEA created. Within a year of their creation the DEA was under investigation and the number two man in the agency was forced to resign due to his association with gamblers, felons and drug dealers.167 

It is impossible to know the extent of corruption among public officials. Many of the corruption-related crimes merely involve looking the other way at the border or taking a portion of cash seized from alleged drug dealers, but other corruption cases involve working closely with violent drug traffickers. According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), on average, half of all police officers convicted as a result of FBI-led corruption cases between 1993 and 1997 were convicted for drug-related offenses.168 Although uncomfortable, it is crucial to accept the fact that the drug war has created corruption. Once the problem is acknowledged, the next step is to realistically accept the difficulties in solving it. There is vast wealth in the drug market, and corruption will be inherent in drug enforcement as long as we rely on criminalization as our primary method of control. Law enforcement agencies must hire slowly and carefully, because corruption has consistently followed rapid expansions of police forces. Agencies need to put in place a series of checks and balances so that no individual official makes critical decisions or handles investigations without close supervision. Finally, the activities of police officials must be closely supervised by citizen review boards or some other mechanism that includes citizen participation.

While widespread corruption does not necessarily translate into a high percentage of corrupt law enforcement officials, it does suggest that corruption exists at some levels in every agency. Wherever there are drugs, there is an opportunity for corruption; as a result, no law enforcement official should be above suspicion, as corruption has been documented at the lowest and highest levels.

148  While corruption has been reported in many countries, the country that has received most of the attention on this issue recently has been Mexico. In March, 1998 the former anti-drug czar of Mexico, General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison. His arrest came in early 1997 (just after he had been briefed by the DEA on drug control issues and just after U.S. drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, praised his leadership) when he was accused of protecting a Mexican drug lord. Five Mexican generals have been jailed since the beginning of 1997 on drug corruption charges. Michael Christie, "Mexico's Former Anti-Drug Czar Sentenced to Prison," Reuters, March 3, 1998.
149 Cam Simpson, "Jury Sees Video of Austin Cops `Drug Raid,'" Chicago Sun-Times, April 23, 1998.
150  John Affleck, "FBI Arrests 44 Cleveland Cops," Associated Press, January 22, 1998.
151  Enscoe, David. "What Price Corruption," UPI, August 27, 1996,
152  Smith, Jim. "Crooked cop: We were at war, Defend stealing from dealers," Philadelphia Daily News, May 29, 1996.
153 O'Connor, Matt. "Four Austin Officers Convicted, Face Stiff Prison Sentences." Chicago Tribune, May 22, 1998.
154 Johnston , David and Sam Howe Verhovek, "U.S. Finds That Drug Trade is Fueled by Payoffs at Mexican Border," New York Times, March 24, 1997.
155 Johnston , David and Sam Howe Verhovek, "U.S. Finds That Drug Trade is Fueled by Payoffs at Mexican Border," New York Times, March 24, 1997.
156  Godfrey, Ed. "Ex-Officer Guilty of Faking Receipt," The Oklahoman, May 12, 1998.
157  U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Report on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 1981, p. 20, Washington, D.C.
158 U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Report on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section for 1988, p. 29, Washington, D.C.
159 Branigin, William. "Probe of Customs Targets Corruption Along the Border, U.S. Officials Implicated in Drug-Smuggling Schemes," The Washington Post, Feb, 20, 1996; David Johnston and Sam Howe Verhovek, "U.S. Finds That Drug Trade is Fueled by Payoffs at Mexican Border," New York Times, March 24, 1997; "DEA Chemist Filed False Evidence Reports," San Antonio Express-News, July 18, 1996.
160 Central Intelligence Agency. Report of Investigation: Allegations of Connections Between CIA and The Contras in Cocaine Trafficking to the United States (96-0143-IG). Office of Inspector General Investigations Staff, January 29, 1998, Exhibit 1.
161 Central Intelligence Agency. Report of Investigation: Allegations of Connections Between CIA and The Contras in Cocaine Trafficking to the United States (96-0143-IG) Volumes I and II. Office of Inspector General Investigations Staff, 29 January, 1998.
162 Pincus, Walter, "CIA Ignored Tips Alleging Contra Drug Links, Report Says," Washington Post, November 3, 1998, p.A4.
163 Johnston , David and Sam Howe Verhovek, "U.S. Finds That Drug Trade is Fueled by Payoffs at Mexican Border," New York Times, March 24, 1997.
164 Ibid.
165 Kyvig, David E. "Repealing National Prohibition," University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 106.
166 Cartwright, David. (1984). "Dirty Dealing," Atheneum,
167 Ibid.
168 Government Accounting Office, Report to the Honorable Charles B. Rangel, House of Representatives, Law Enforcement: Information on Drug-Related Police Corruption. Washington, DC: USGPO (1998 May), p. 35

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