There are weak spots in the Texas-Mexico border big enough to smuggle large quantities of drugs through. But the U.S. Customs Service doesn't want to hear about the holes, especially from whistle-blowers who say those holes are kept open by corrupt Customs officials.

Customs has been hearing those complaints privately from its own employees and from other law enforcement agencies for months. But the frustrated whistle-blowers say they are harassed and the alleged culprits are tipped off.

"No one trusts anyone down here," one former Customs agent told our associate Dean Boyd. "The other agencies don't even trust us."

One Customs employee wrote to the Treasury Department inspector general in September. The employee described how the Customs internal affairs people reacted when they were informed of alleged close relationships between Customs workers and known drug smugglers: "I had the evidence on the table right under their noses. They apparently knew already and I assume that either they didn't care or just were not intending to do anything about it."

The employee continued: "Is this really a situation where no one cares or are there too many people who have worked their way up {in Customs management and internal affairs positions} and are in collusion to sabotage any investigation?"

Even an assistant U.S. attorney in Texas has complained. In a March memo, he described his meeting with one Customs internal affairs investigator who knew about the allegations of corruption: " . . . He looked tired and upset. It was my personal opinion that he was getting no support from Internal Affairs, and was being coerced into forgoing the investigation."

Former Customs special agent Louis Smit says he faced retaliation when he reported possible corruption to higher-ups. In a federal personnel grievance hearing, Smit protested the harassment and won his case. At that hearing, he described how he and another agent were treated when they blew the whistle. "We're getting commendations and the next thing you know we're criminals. . . . I do believe that there are those in management who are trying to protect their friends."

A regional Customs spokeswoman, Donna Dela Torre, told us that the agency encourages its employees to report allegations of internal corruption to the Office of Internal Affairs. But, when told about retaliation suffered by those who do, she offered no alternatives.

Customs has shifted some management people in Texas since the allegations have begun to mount.

Oran Neck, the chief of Customs investigations in Brownsville, Tex., was reassigned last March. Originally he was to be demoted to a smaller office in Oklahoma City, but Customs said the action was routine, not disciplinary. Then Neck called Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.) who pulled strings for Neck in the name of constituent services. Neck was reassigned to be the Texas chief of operation Alliance, a multi-agency drug interdiction task force .

One Texas agent told us, "When the allegations involve management, internal affairs only pays lip service to investigations. It's an ol' boy network gone cockeyed."