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Former CBP Commissioner Bonner praises DEA’s Leonhart for leadership, slams House Oversight Committee for gotcha politics

Robert Bonner

Editor’s Note: On April 21, the first day of the 9th Border Security Expo, held in Phoenix, AZ, Robert C. Bonner, as a member of the Expo’s advisory board, was prepared to present the prestigious 2015 “Excellence in Border Security Initiatives Award” to Honoree Michele M. Leonhart, Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who had been unanimously selected to receive the award by the Border Security Expo board.

Mr. Bonner, former Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Administrator of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as U.S. District Judge for California’s Central District, was clearly deeply upset as he mounted the podium to announce that following a recent hearing of the Congressional House Oversight Committee, “which made it appear that the DEA was out of control, that its agents were engaged in rampant sexual misconduct, recently and for many years,” Ms. Leonhart would not be present at the luncheon to receive her award, which would instead be delivered to her by Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Phoenix division, Doug Coleman.

“Administrator Leonhart should not resign,” said Commissioner Bonner, describing her as a career DEA agent who had risen through the ranks of the DEA like a rocket, whom he considered to be the victim of a political “gotcha” game. In his final remarks, Commissioner Bonner asked of Special Agent Coleman, in delivering the award, to “Please convey to Administrator Leonhart the great respect and high esteem in which she is held by those who understand her leadership, her courage, her forth righteousness and her integrity. And congratulate her for us. No one deserves this recognition more than her.”

Government Security News has printed below, with permission, the full transcript of Commissioner Bonner’s statement regarding the selection of Administrator Leonhard as Winner of the Border Security Expo’s 2015 Excellence in Border Security Initiatives Award:

I was hoping to introduce Michele Leonhart, the Administrator of Drug Enforcement Administration and personally present to her the Border Expo’s Award of Excellence.

But Michele could not be here with us today. She had to remain in Washington – for reasons I will discuss momentarily. We have the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Phoenix office, here to accept the Award on behalf of Administrator Leonhart.

Let me say a few words about Michele Leonhart and why she is so deserving of this award.

Administrator Leonhart was confirmed as the 10th presidentially appointed Administrator of the DEA in 2010 – but as many of you know, she is a career DEA Agent, having joined DEA in 1980, after a brief stint as a police officer in Baltimore.

She rose through the ranks of the DEA like a rocket. I could see from the first time I met Michele, who was then a young DEA Group Supervisor in San Diego, when I was the Administrator, that she was going to be a star. And she was – and she still is!

She became the first female DEA Agent to be made a Special Agent in Charge, and she served as the SAC of DEA’s Los Angeles and San Francisco Field Offices.

Having over 35 years in drug law enforcement, Michele has done everything from (1) conduct undercover investigations, (2) initiate and coordinate complex conspiracy cases, (3) command enforcement groups, (4) to leading DEA as its Administrator.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you – she is a leader.

She leads an agency of nearly 11,000 employees, assigned both to domestic U.S. field offices and to 86 foreign offices around the world. And she oversees a budget of $2 billion. She is a respected law enforcement leader among federal, state and local law enforcement, and the recognized leader of international drug law enforcement worldwide.

Ms. Leonhart has also stood up in face of those who would weaken federal drug control laws, or choose not to enforce them. Administrator Leonhart has had the courage to speak out, notwithstanding those, including those at the highest levels of the Justice Department, who chose to ignore the dangers of marijuana and who chose to ignore federal law that forbids marijuana trafficking.

And I applaud her for that.

It is Administrator Leonhart’s history of accomplishment, her steadfastness and courage, her story of excellence as a law enforcement professional and manager, her understanding of the importance of law enforcement and interdiction at and near our border – that led the Advisory Board of this Conference to unanimously conclude that no one, no one is more deserving of the conference’s Award of Excellence than Michele Leonhart.

Yet Michele could not be with us today, because she and DEA are being unfairly attacked in a manner that makes me shudder about Washington and how it works, or doesn’t work.

Last week, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing. How many of you saw all or part of that hearing? The hearing – and the way it was conducted – made it appear that the DEA was out of control, that its agents were engaged in rampant sexual misconduct, recently and for many years. It certainly sounds bad.  

But much of it is not true. They certainly painted a grossly distorted picture.

Sadly, what we are witnessing is Washington “gotcha” politics in action.

What are the facts?  

Michele Leonhart and DEA are being criticized and taken to task for two internal affairs cases:

         One – the “Bogota Investigation” – involved conduct that took place 12 years ago or more, – well before Ms. Leonhart became the Administrator.

         It was a serious case, for sure, as it involved nine DEA Agents, but the events occurred in the 2001-2003 timeframe, over a decade ago.

         The second case occurred in 2009 and involved one DEA Agent.

         Since the House Oversight Committee presented a jumbled and distorted picture regarding when the misconduct happened and what happened, I will describe both cases.

         In the Bogota Investigation, 9 DEA Agents that were part of a “Special Investigative Unit” (SIU) with vetted Colombian National Police (CNP) counterparts attended several parties at which prostitutes were present and some of them may have used the services of these prostitutes.  A CNP Commander – a member of the vetted unit – arranged for prostitutes to be present at these parties. He also provided two of the Agents with Rolex watches as gifts and one Agent may have accepted a firearm.

         As a result of a DEA investigation, it was determined that this CNP officer was corrupt, had compromised enforcement actions, and had received bribes from a Colombian drug trafficking organization (DTO). As a result of the DEA investigation, this corrupt Colombian police official was extradited to the U.S. and convicted. In 2010, as part of a deal to reduce his sentence, he described the misconduct of these 9 DEA Special Agents, and this led to a DEA OPR investigation 7 to 8 years after the conduct occurred.

         The DEA Agents improperly accepted gifts and associated with prostitutes. They did not know – and the evidence does not indicate – that any of them knew the corrupt CNP officer was working for a Colombian DTO.

         Still, their conduct – over a decade ago – was appalling, and Administrator Leonhart has made it clear that this conduct is totally unacceptable.

         As part of the DEA discipline process, they received 2 to 10 day suspensions.

         This was woefully light.

         And Administrator Leonhart agrees.

         These DEA Agents should have been terminated.

         But the fact of the matter is that the Administrator of DEA does not have the authority to discipline DEA Agents for misconduct.

         In fact, the Administrator cannot legally interfere with or intervene in a disciplinary matter.

         This should change.

         But Administrator Leonhart is not responsible for the inadequacy of the discipline in this case, and it is grossly unfair to blame her.

         The second case occurred in 2009.

         Again, in Colombia, but it involved just one DEA Agent.

         This Agent took a prostitute out clubbing and brought her back to his apartment. Both had had too much to drink. An argument erupted and the Agent threw a glass at the prostitute, cutting her.

         The matter was reported to building security who reported it to the State Department RSO at the Embassy. The DEA Regional Director tossed the Agent out of the country, but did not report it to the DEA’s OPR in Washington. He should have. In any event, DEA’s OPR conducted an investigation.

         The association with and assault on a prostitute was misconduct. No question about it.

         The Agent was suspended for 14 days.

         Should the discipline have been more severe? Yes.

         And Ms. Leonhart agrees.[1]

         Should the Regional Director have been disciplined for not reporting the incident to DEA OPR? Yes. It should have been more than counselling.

          But let me say, neither the Bogota case nor the 2009 case indicate that DEA Administrator Leonhart failed.[2]

         They do not indicate that there is rampant sexual misconduct within DEA.

         Indeed, the IG Report of last month that precipitated the House Oversight hearing indicates that there are “relatively few” instances of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment within DEA.

         What the facts indicate is that the Administrator of the DEA should be given the same authority the FBI Director has:

         The authority to summarily terminate an Agent in appropriate circumstances. Moreover, like FBI Agents, DEA Agents should be exempted from the Civil Service Act protections.

         But it is manifestly unfair and it is wrong to blame the DEA Administrator for the inadequate discipline in these 2 cases – one involving misconduct over a decade ago, and one isolated situation 6 years ago.

         If Administrator Leonhart is required to fall upon her sword, if she is forced out by the Administration, it will not be because of this. They know better. It will be because she has spoken out as a matter of principle on matters that the Administration does not like. She has challenged the failure to enforce federal laws against marijuana trafficking and its lax attitude toward marijuana enforcement. She has disagreed with some in the Justice Department in other areas, as a matter of principle. 

         The relatively ancient allegations of misconduct over a decade ago will be – in the true Washington “gotcha” fashion – an excuse, but not the real reason, she is being pressured to resign.

         Administrator Leonhart should not resign. But unfortunately if she is forced resign under these circumstances, it will needlessly and unfairly damage the DEA and the reputations of the outstanding men and women of the DEA – far, far more than is warranted by the few instances of misconduct that was very limited and occurred long ago.

         So, I believe you can understand why Michele Leonhart could not be with us today to accept the Award of  Excellence.

         But we do have the DEA Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Phoenix’s Division, Doug Coleman, here to accept the Award on the Administrator’s behalf. SAC Coleman, it is my privilege and pleasure to present to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart the Border Expo’s Award of Excellence.

         Please convey to Administrator Leonhart the great respect and high esteem in which she is held by those who understand her leadership, her courage, her forthrightness and her integrity. And congratulate her for us.  No one deserves this recognition more than her.


[1] There had been earlier complaints about this Agent having loud parties, but there is no evidence that any of these parties involved prostitutes.

[2] There was a third incident in 2012. But there is no criticism regarding how it was investigated or handled. Three DEA Agents in Cartagena were involved with prostitutes. All three were terminated.   


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