Federal drug enforcement agents got bonuses worth thousands of dollars while they were investigated and disciplined for allegedly attending sex parties with prostitutes in Colombia, according to a new probe into the scandal.
In a report issued Thursday, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the bonus issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration violated an agency policy prohibiting employees from receiving promotions, awards or other favorable personnel actions for three years after discipline for significant misconduct, or while misconduct is investigated.
The awards ranged from $1,500 to $32,000, with the high end going to senior executives disciplined for their role in the scandal.
None of the 14 agents under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct or harassment was promoted within the three-year window. But eight received bonuses, some of them supervisors and managers, even though these employees had been “disciplined for significant misconduct” within three years of the awards.
If a bonus or other favorable personnel action is proposed for an agent, DEA is supposed to do an “integrity check” to determine whether the employee was subject to discipline or pending discipline within the previous three years.
But the inspector general wrote: “In many instances, we could not determine the reason why exceptions were made and we were unable to determine when, or if, an integrity check was performed, the results of the integrity check, or the reason for the approval of the proposed personnel action, because the DEA was unable to provide [investigators] with complete documentation.”
The allegations were originally investigated in 2010, when DEA’s internal investigators began probing 10 agents who allegedly solicited prostitutes or had what were described as sex parties at government-leased property in Colombia. But the issue went public this year, and Congress held hearings. DEA administrator Michele Leonhart eventually resigned amid wide criticism when she said she had limited control over the agency’s disciplinary process.
Seven agents eventually received suspensions ranging from one to 10 days, one was given a letter of caution, and another was cleared of wrongdoing. The 10th retired before the investigation ended, the inspector general said.
In a written response to the inspector general’s report, Michael Dixon, DEA’s acting deputy chief of inspections, said the agency has put new procedures in place to beef up its review of bonuses and other awards in an effort to flag cases that would disqualify potential bonuses because of ongoing misconduct investigations.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called it “astounding that employees who should have been prosecuted, fired, or at a minimum, severely disciplined for their misconduct, were instead given undeserved promotions and bonuses.”