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Probe Faults System for Monitoring U.S. Borders

Over the objections of Border Patrol officials, INS official Walter Drabik chose cameras distributed by a firm called ISAP. U.S. officials and contractors said IMC had bought the ISAP firm without disclosing it to U.S. officials. This allowed IMC to buy cameras from its own subsidiary, substantially increasing profits. Undisclosed self-dealing could be illegal.

The GSA report said officials' lax oversight of IMC's purchases of cameras and other gear "created a potential for overpayments of almost $13 million."

A faulty camera is supposed to monitor the border crossing near Blaine, Wash. Many of the cameras had shoddy wiring, GSA found. (Jeff Vinnick For The Washington Post)

_____Faulty System_____
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Acri and Drabik denied the allegations of overcharges, and both said Acri informed Drabik of IMC's purchase of the ISAP firm.

Family Ties

Drabik launched ISIS in 1996, a few months after the arrival in Washington of Rep. Reyes, a strong proponent of placing cameras on the border. Drabik chose the Alaska-based Chugach Development Corp. to install the system, and in 1999 he helped select IMC for a $2 million contract to succeed Chugach.

Drabik said in an interview that he recommended that first Chugach, then IMC, hire Rebecca Reyes, the congressman's daughter, as liaison to the INS. Both did so. Rebecca Reyes, 33, ultimately became IMC's vice president for contracts, and ran the ISIS program.

In 2001, her brother, Silvestre Reyes Jr., a former Border Patrol employee, was hired by IMC as an ISIS technician. He quit a few years later to form his own company.

A spokesman for L-3, where Rebecca Reyes now works, said she declined to comment, and her brother did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment.

Rep. Reyes said that he never interceded with U.S. officials to help IMC win a contract and that he helped IMC retain congressional funding because he believes cameras "are an important part of our ability to defend the borders."

L-3 chief executive Frank C. Lanza said, "We have concluded Ms. Reyes hasn't done anything wrong or criticizable" at L-3. A Chugach spokesman declined to comment because the firm's executives who worked with Rebecca Reyes have left the firm.

Drabik said that he maintained an arms-length relationship with IMC and that he is proud of his achievements on ISIS. "The contracting procedures were all straight," he said.

In 2000, Drabik was removed from his job running ISIS. Drabik said during that period he had been investigated by superiors who expressed discomfort over his close dealings with IMC. But he denied that was the reason for his removal.

About that time, Congress threatened to eliminate the ISIS program, and IMC turned to Rep. Reyes and other allies to help rescue it, IMC's Acri said. Within months, INS and GSA officials granted IMC a contract expansion worth $200 million, with no competitive bidding.

Early last year, a small group of Border Patrol officials drew up plans for a far more ambitious multibillion-dollar project under which a contractor would cover the nation's land borders with an expanded network of cameras, sensors and high-tech devices.

The new project, called America's Shield Initiative, was enthusiastically endorsed in Congress and by the Bush administration.

"We've identified the problems; they're very evident," the Border Patrol's Schneidau said. "We're taking steps to prevent them from happening again."

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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