January 26, 2005
Five agents with the Phoenix office of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are under investigation and have been on paid leave for more than a year.
Officials with the office said they would not reveal the names of the agents or the reason for the investigation because of federal employee privacy laws.
But one congressman said he wants answers. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said he contacted ICE officials Tuesday in Washington, D.C., who confirmed an internal investigation was taking place.
"We’re going to schedule a briefing and I want it done ASAP," Hayworth said. "We have to honor the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ But at the same time, it would seem to me that one year is a very long time for this situation to go on without some conclusion."
The agents’ leave comes at a time when ICE offices nationwide are having severe budget problems that have frozen new hiring since October and restricted training and resources.
The Phoenix office, which is responsible for enforcing immigration laws in the Valley, has about 70 full-time agents. Fifteen temporary agents were transferred to the office this month to help with smuggling crimes that typically peak during the first three months of the year, said local ICE spokesman Russell Ahr.
"Part of managing an agency is dealing, from time to time, with personnel situations that are not the best, or ideal," Ahr said. "As that number fluctuates, you make corresponding adjustments to accommodate those positions."
Kent Johansson, interim special agent in charge of the Phoenix office, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Mike Turner, the office’s former chief agent who quit this month after seven months on the job, said he could not reveal information about the five agents.
ICE, the largest investigative arm of the federal Department of Homeland Security, was formed in 2003 by combining the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs Service, Federal Protective Service and Federal Air Marshals Service.