Report: border agent corruption ramped up in San Diego - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Report: border agent corruption ramped up in San Diego

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SAN DIEGO (CBS8) - Everyday lines of cars stream slowly through our southern border. They have their license plates run and the occupants of those cars are questioned, searched by K-9 and even sent for further processing.

However, it's what's getting through and whose responsible that has the Homeland Security Inspector General's office watching San Diego's border.

Over the past several years the Federal Government has spent billions to protect and defend the border between Mexico and the United States. Despite the advanced cameras, scanners, and other technologies it appears nothing can stop human nature.

"We see a lot of employees specifically on the border will take money to allow an alien through his lane," said Dennis McGunagle, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General here in San Diego.

Paying security personnel off with bribes is nothing new in the world of organized crime, however, Customs and Border Protection officials say the increased levels of security now in place are forcing drug cartels and smugglers to try and make deals with C.B.P. officers.

"(They're) looking for potential vulnerabilities in our employees who might turn," said Kelly Ivahnenko, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "The cartels are trying to exploit, infiltrate the agency, to continue their illegal smuggling efforts."

In the past six years 40 C.B.P. officers were arrested as a result of those vulnerabilities.

Ivahnenko says they have active training within U.S. Customs Border Protection to emphasize the importance of their job when it comes to the security of our borders; and how any attempt to minimize the effectiveness of the mission will not be tolerated.

"One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch and our communities are relying on us to keep them secure," she said.

Special Agent in Charge Dennis McGunagle says some of those protecting Southern California help orchestrate the smuggling operation.

"Transactions will be done off the work site," he explains, "and then at a certain time or certain date, they'll make sure to make arrangements to make sure they get into the employees lane and usually they're passed through."

The reasons for their cooperation with smugglers varies.

"Some of these people will have financial problems or other problems that lead them to cross the line," said McGunagle.

Newer technology, however, allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisors and internal affairs investigators to track the history of a car, the lane it chooses and whether the same officer is chosen every time, helping them combat the issue.

As part of the initial hiring process all employees are screened and background checks are performed. But up until a year ago only 15% underwent a polygraph test.

"This is something we are working to improve with the help of the Border Protection Act and Congress," Ivahnenko says, with more funding they are raising the number. "We're currently over 30% with a goal of 100%."

McGunagle adds the majority of U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees are honest hard working American's trying to keep our borders safe. He adds those who've been convicted here in San Diego had no prior criminal history. Many of those caught are actually turned in by fellow employees, according to the Inspector General's office.

Employees background, family contacts, and more are periodically re-investigated every 5 years.

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