Senate Committee Memo Details US Marshals Service's Long History Of Misconduct

from the outed-on-the-way-out dept

Senator Chuck Grassley is leaving his post as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, firing some parting shots at the US Marshals Service on his way out the door. His 20-page memo [PDF] detailing years of USMS misconduct comes with over 400 pages of exhibits — source documents, email chains, and other evidence backing up the disturbing narrative.

The USMS wasted taxpayer dollars, misused asset forfeiture funds, engaged in routine retaliation against whistleblowers, and — for an entire decade — forged a judge’s signature on more than 800 subpoenas.

A 2007 OIG investigation prompted by reports from a whistleblower uncovered evidence that a USMS task force there had been routinely customizing an electronic subpoena template and pasting in a digital image of a local judge’s signature obtained from legitimate court documents in order to give the appearance of official judicial approval. The OIG found that between the years 1995 and 2005, approximately 800 fraudulent subpoenas had been served by the task force.

A decade of fraudulent behavior was followed by a single written reprimand of a deputy marshal who was later promoted to Supervisory Criminal Investigator. Given this culture of unaccountability, it’s little surprise two high-profile incidents involving US Marshals and solicitation of prostitutes was greeted with minimal punishments for everyone involved.

There has been no improvement over the last decade.

Just last year, in what the DOJ OIG called an instance of “gross mismanagement,” a Chief Deputy United States Marshal who engaged in sexual harassment, misused his government phone and vehicle, obstructed an OIG investigation by threatening and retaliating against subordinates, and lied to the DOJ OIG, was allowed to retire with full benefits and without receiving any punishment whatsoever.

And, while the USMS was willing to blow funds on expensive, rarely-used ‘training centers’ featuring “high-end granite countertops” and “custom artwork,” it wasn’t so willing to spend money to keep its employees safe. After USMA testing determined body armor needed to be replaced every five years, Service management chose to address the impending purchase of 4,000 body armor panels by doing nothing. It finally secured a replacement contract in 2016, but the contract only provided for phased replacement, which would mean some vests would have been nearly a decade past their “expiration date” before being replaced.

When employees complained about using expired body armor, USMS was telling Congress (and USMS staff) that the 5-year lifetime estimate wasn’t accurate and that the vests were still safe to use. It made these statements while simultaneously asking Congress for additional funding in 2017, citing specifically the 13% failure rate in testing of older equipment.

In short, the USMS was representing to Congress that this study showed that expired body armor was dangerous and needed to be replaced while telling its own employees that the old armor was safe to use.

Acting Director Harlow’s email also raises serious concerns about the operational awareness of senior officials. Acting Director Harlow wrote, “if armor is in good condition and has been properly cared for…it retains its full ballistic capabilities.” This statement neglects to take into account that Deputy Marshals across the country perform their duties in the heat, cold, rain, and snow. Exposure to sunlight, humidity, or even excessive flexing or bending of armor can lead to degradation over time. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which a Deputy Marshal would not expose their body armor to any of those factors on a daily basis.

Multiple whistleblower complaints — followed by multiple acts of reprisal by the USMS — paint a picture of an agency that is accountable to no one, not even the Judiciary Committee that is supposed to be overseeing it.

Throughout this investigation, the Committee has uncovered countless instances of mismanagement, favoritism, and a lack of accountability. The OIG has confirmed many of the allegations the Committee has received, and identified multiple additional instances of misconduct and mismanagement—including by the most senior leaders in the agency. Those leaders set the tone for the entire organization, and their actions affect employees throughout their many districts and divisions.

Grassley’s memo is an extremely disturbing read. Given its contents, it’s hard to believe Grassley actually thinks installing a new director will root out the deep-seated problems detailed in his report. But I guess those are the things you say to the New Guy, especially when you’re no longer directly involved in keeping an eye on him.

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Comments on “Senate Committee Memo Details US Marshals Service's Long History Of Misconduct”

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12 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Fox finds new coop designs and rules to be perfectly acceptable

Investigation and enforcement of rules/punishment for violations should never be an internal matter for just this sort of reason. ‘Conflict of interest’ means that it should always be an outside party investigating things like this, one with the power to force compliance and hand out punishments, as if you just leave it to the very party under investigation to look into it you get results like this, brushing things under the rug if not flat out ignoring them.

Anonymous Coward says:

More important question is why the hell this sub human piece of shit (grassley) waited until now to say something and worse still do nothing during his tenure? Fuck him and all the old bastards that know shitty corruption runs rampant but let it. They are as guilty of it if not more because it was their job to do something.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Now that it's no longer MY job...'

Yeah, as nice(well…) as it is to have a good pile of evidence of corruption, dishonesty and incompetence available, the fact that he waited until the last minute when he could dump it all on the new guy’s desk to let him deal with it would seem to argue that the only reason he bothered was to screw the new guy/make a few cowardly parting shots.

If it was really that important to him then he could have brought it up when he was in a position to do something about it, even if only raising a stink when the evidence was then ignored, but by only bringing it up at the last minute it’s pretty clear the memo is purely self-serving(which is not to say that it’s not important, merely that he deserves zero credit for releasing it).

idearat (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Now that it's no longer MY job...'

Since I didn’t see anything in the article posted here that he did nothing until on his way out it seemed like complaining about it either relied on other facts I didn’t know or jumping to conclusions. Looks like jumping to conclusions me.
I have no idea what a senator on a committee could do to the USMS. I’m sure he can’t unilaterally fire someone. But I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that it wasn’t that he didn’t do anything.
Per his Wikipedia entry, he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2015-2019
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Grassley
Doing a very quick Google search for “Chuck Grassley USMS” I get several easy to find references that mirror his parting shots while leaving the committee.
It doesn’t look to me like he waited till he was out to say something. On the contrary, if doing it again at this time raises awareness of a topic he’s been visiting over and over again it seems like it was a good thing to do.

From August 2015: On Whistleblower Retaliation At The Marshals Service
https://www.fedagent.com/featured/16-general-news/1662-marshals-service-whistleblower-investigation

From April 2016: US Marshals official sidelined amid misconduct probe, alleges ‘political influence’
https://www.foxnews.com/politics/us-marshals-official-sidelined-amid-misconduct-probe-alleges-political-influence
From July 2017: Grassley: More than 1,400 US Marshals Service employees using expired body armor

https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/341029-grassley-more-than-1400-us-marshals-service-employees-using-expired

From Sept 2017: Misleading and Wasteful: The U.S. Marshals Service and the Assets Forfeiture Fund https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/misleading-and-wasteful-us-marshals-service-and-assets-forfeiture-fund

From May 2018: Grassley Seeks Answers about Accountability after Marshals Solicited Prostitutes https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/grassley-seeks-answers-about-accountability-after-marshals-solicited-prostitutes

idearat (profile) says:

Re: Didn't wait till now

Given the language used in this anonymous comment, I thought I’d be a little redundant and refer to my longer comment below.
I read the original article and had the same reaction to the corruption and abuses reported about the USMS. On the other hand, rather than go on a tirade about the messenger, I thought I’d spend a couple of minutes seeing if the above tirade was justified.
Based on a whole 10 mins of research, I’m not so sure. See my comment below for details.

That One Guy (profile) says:

How's that saying go again?

‘Dumb criminals go to jail, smart criminals go into law enforcement and/or politics.’

The OIG found that between the years 1995 and 2005, approximately 800 fraudulent subpoenas had been served by the task force.

800 fraudulent subpoenas served, involving forging a judge’s signature. If someone without a badge tried something like that they’d be sitting in a cell for a long time, yet what did those responsible face…?

A decade of fraudulent behavior was followed by a single written reprimand of a deputy marshal who was later promoted to Supervisory Criminal Investigator.

A written reprimand followed by a promotion, making it crystal clear that no-one involved saw anything whatsoever wrong with fraudulent legal documents with forged signatures.

With findings like that I’d call them a gang of criminals that just so happen to have badges, but in fact I’d argue that they’re worse, because at least criminals without badges only take your money when they rob you directly, you don’t have to pay their gorram salary while they do it, and non-badge toting criminals at least have the possibility of being held accountable for their actions.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: How's that saying go again?

Unless these were reported to them at the time, no.

Then there’s the matter of who they’re going to report malfeasance to and what will be done afterward. In any organisation there’s a hierarchical structure of some kind. This means that ultimately there’s a person with whom the buck ultimately stops. It seems to me that this was Grassley and the DOJ’s departmental heads. There have been at least two of these, which means that the Obama administration had an opportunity to deal with this assuming it had access to Grassley’s intel.

Assume it did. Why was nothing done?

Assume it didn’t. Why was Grassley holding back this intel?

Widespread institutional corruption should not be the norm in a liberal democracy. It’ll take a lot of work to sort this out and someone is going to have to roll up their sleeves and get on with the job.

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