CAN U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION BE TRUSTED?

My succinct answer is a resounding “no.” When returning from a wilderness whitewater expedition on the Bonaventure River in Quebec, Canada, on June 11, 2011, my paddling companion and I were subjected to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) search and seizure at the Port of Van Buren, Maine, border crossing that was inappropriate and excessive in the extreme.

I enthusiastically support a strong presence on our borders. After a 33 year career enforcing tax laws with the IRS, I understand the need to ensure that our laws are obeyed. We need to protect ourselves from the illegal drug trade and the threat of terrorism. However, obviously honest, law abiding citizens should not be subjected to unnecessary, disproportionate, extreme and illegal searches and seizures. People should not be intimidated and their property destroyed without compensation. Honest citizens should not be falsely accused and agents should not be allowed to destroy their property and cause dangerous situations.

There needs to be some level of accountability when CBP agents can conduct searches while their victims are prohibited from viewing the search. Where property can be damaged or destroyed, hazardous conditions created and there is no means of proving it. Where there is a reimbursement process for damaged or destroyed property that is purposely skewed to prevent reimbursement. Where people can be falsely accused and no one can protect themselves from those spurious assertions. Where one of our most important agencies stoops to covering up its wrongdoings and honest citizens are the victims of their behavior.

The following is a recent letter sent to a CBP regional director asserting that all of the above has occurred:

August 31, 2012

Christopher Sullivan, Port Director
Customs & Border Protection
27 Customs Loop
Houlton, ME 04750

Dear Mr. Sullivan:

Reference the enclosed letter from Patricia Scull, Port Director, Van Buren, Maine, dated June 23, 2012, identifying you as her supervisor.

On June 11, 2011, I was subjected to a search by Ms. Scull’s employees that I assert was inappropriate and unprofessional for several reasons. On June 24, 2011, Fines, Penalties and Forfeiture Offer Clydia Turner stated that I should submit any complaints regarding unprofessional conduct on the part of the searching agents to Ms. Scull. I sent a letter to Ms. Scull on August 2, 2011, detailing the events of June 11 alleging unprofessional, potentially illegal behavior on the part of her employees and requesting she take action and address my complaints. She didn’t respond for over 8 months. On April 8, 2012, I sent Ms. Scull a second letter again requesting a response, this time stating that I wanted the name, address and phone number of her supervisor. Only then did she respond on April 27th.

During the referenced June 11 search, the following occurred:

1. The agents involved exhibited a total lack of common sense and good judgment throughout the process. Seizing a 5 year old antibiotics prescription from my wilderness first aid kit and an expired pain medication prescription from my traveling companion, a former heart attack victim, and threatening to charge him with illegal narcotics trafficking are just the best/worst examples. For a more detailed, comprehensive discussion of what transpired that day, reference my August 2, 2011 letter to Ms. Scull.
2. After the antibiotics and the pain medications had been seized, the rogue agents presented us with standard CBP forms to sign acknowledging the seizures. They had lined out a section pertaining to our rights to file claims regarding the seized property and directed us to initial them. This was nothing short of intimidation and frankly I call it extortion. By then, we had been subjected to a nearly 2 hour search according to Ms. Scull (I contend that it was much longer), threatened with criminal charges and thoroughly intimidated. They knew we were behind schedule and used our vulnerability to intimidate us.
3. While conducting the search, which we were prohibited from observing, the agents loosened the straps that secured a large expedition kayak on the roof of my vehicle. They didn’t re-secure the boat and never informed us that it was lose. This created a serious safety hazard for me, my companion and others. Frustrated and offended by this ridiculous charade Ms. Scull calls a “proper and professional” search, I nearly drove away with the kayak still unfastened. Had I not noticed at the last possible moment, the kayak would have been jettisoned from the roof the first time I hit the brakes. One can only speculate on the possible consequences.
4. Sometime during the search, your rogue agents busted my camping headlight. I know this because the light was in good working order that morning and carefully packed in my personal kit. When I found the headlight, it was outside side the kit, loose in my canoe pack, opened and damaged beyond repair. I was instructed by Officer Turner to file a claim for reimbursement, which I did. My claim was denied because “there was insufficient proof of any wrongful or negligent act by a CBP employee” and further “28 USC 2680© of the FTCA specifically bars recovery for property damaged by CBP employees while the property is under detention in CBP custody.” To summarize; your rogue agents didn’t allow me to view the search, they damaged my property beyond repair and failed to disclose the infraction, and Officer Turner told me I should file a claim for reimbursement fully knowing that it would be denied and I wouldn’t be compensated.
5. In Officer Turner’s June 24, 2011 letter, he stated that I had “…indicated you were carrying medications which were all in the proper prescription containers.” I never made that statement, it is patently false. When we were initially interviewed while still in the car, one of the rogue agents asked me if I had any prescriptions and if they were in the original prescription containers. I specifically, clearly and categorically said that I had blood pressure medication but didn’t remember what container it was in. Someone, either Officer Turner or one of the rogue agents, has made a false statement with the obvious intent of covering up an excessive, disproportionate and unnecessary search and seizure. In fact, I answered all questions, both verbally and in writing, honestly and forthrightly because I knew I had nothing to hide and because that’s how I do business in this world. No one ever asked me if I had antibiotics, which are an essential part of a wilderness first aid kit.

It took Ms. Scull eight and a half months to respond to my August 2, 2011 letter alleging unprofessional conduct on the part of her agents. And, only then after I had made a second request and promised to contact her supervisor. Further, her April 17, 2012 letter did not address the appropriateness of any of the specific wrongdoing on the part of her agents that I had detailed in my August 2, 2011 letter.

I hereby request that you address the appropriateness of all of the wrongdoing that I allege on the part of your agents during the June 11, 2011 search. I am not interested in generic, boiler-plate, self-serving bureaucratic platitudes that perpetuate the cover-up; Ms. Scull has already performed that service. I want answers to the specific questions I have delineated below. If you can’t or won’t provide them, please provide the name, address and telephone number of your supervisor so that I can ask them of him or her.

When I was a young Revenue Officer with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about 40 years ago, I had a case on a delinquent taxpayer who refused to pay his tax debt of about $1000. His only asset was his unencumbered personal residence, which I proposed to seize and sell to satisfy his liability. The action was completely legal and within the scope of my authority. My very sage supervisor intervened, stating something to the effect that the IRS has enormous authority and it was our responsibility and an essential part of our mission to administer those powers using common sense and good judgment. Seizing one’s residence for a $1000 liability was disproportionate and overly punitive irrespective of the behavior of the debtor or the power invested with the IRS. My supervisor was right. I assert that the actions of your rogue agents in this matter were excessive, disproportionate, illegal and exhibited very poor judgment and an almost total lack of common sense.

Please answer the following questions:

1. Do you believe that your agents exercised good judgment and common sense during this entire process?
2. Do you believe that their behavior was “professional and proper” throughout?
3. Do you believe that seizure of a 5 year old antibiotics prescription in a wilderness first aid kit taken from someone obviously returning from a canoe expedition was proportionate and professional? And that your rogue agents exercised good judgment and common sense? I don’t care about the statute authorizing this action, I want an answers to my specific questions.
4. Do you believe that your agents exercised good judgment and common sense when they seized my traveling companion’s expired pain medication prescription even after they had contacted his pharmacy and verified that it was an otherwise valid prescription and that it was prescribed because he was a former heart attack victim?
5. Do you believe that your agents used good judgment and common sense and that their decision-making rose to Ms. Scull’s stated determination of “proper and professional” behavior when they threatened to charge my companion with criminal narcotics trafficking?
6. Do you believe that your agents used good judgment and common sense and met Ms. Scull’s standard of “proper and professional” behavior when they called officers of the Van Buren Police Department to interview us and determine whether or not they wanted to charge us with criminal narcotics trafficking? I should forewarn you that the two officers were almost choking with embarrassment.
7. Is it standard CBP policy and procedure to hand their victims CBP forms with sections already lined out effectively waiving their rights and then pressuring their victims to sign them?
8. What rule, regulation or statute details the procedures that are to be used when obtaining an acknowledgement of seized property and does it provide for coercing victims into signing lined out sections of the forms waving their rights? Do supervisors and managers have any responsibility to ensure that these rules, regulations or statutes are properly followed?
9. What rule, regulation, statute or policy specifically prohibits CBP victims from viewing a search of their vehicle?
10. What responsibilities do your rogue agents have to ensure that they don’t damage or destroy the property of their search victims? What are their responsibilities to inform their victims when they do damage or destroy their property? What supervisory controls and responsibilities are utilized to ensure that rogue agents don’t damage or destroy their search victim’s property? Or, for that matter, that they don’t steal from their victims or plant contraband? How can their victims protect themselves from these actions when they can’t view the search? Apparently, no one else is watching.
11. What is the point in telling victims of property damage and destruction during searches that they can file a claim for reimbursement when no one views the rogue agents during the search, no one can confirm their actions and the statutes are conveniently worded and construed to deny reimbursement?
12. Was the search of my vehicle videotaped? If so, please provide me with a copy.
13. What responsibilities do your rogue agents have to ensure that they don’t create safety hazards during their searches?
14. Are there rules, regulations or statutes that require them to inform their victims when they unfasten, untie or otherwise materially change the conditions of the vehicle they search? Are there supervisory responsibilities in this regard? Since no one can observe the search, how can their victims protect themselves from irresponsible rogue agents?
15. Are rogue agents and their supervisors responsible and liable for damages, injuries or deaths that result from their actions that are clearly negligent during a search? If they aren’t, who is? How do any of the victims of their wrongdoing prove negligence when no one can view the search?
16. In the instant case, didn’t the rogue agents have a responsibility to secure the loosened kayak or report that it was still loose to me? During a phone conversation with Mr. Gadaway, Port Director of Calais, Maine, he stated that he expects that of his agents.
17. Ms. Scull believes the rogue agents behavior was “professional and proper” throughout. Do you believe that it was proper and professional for them to unfasten the kayak, leave it in that condition and fail to report it to me?
18. Someone has intentionally made a false statement by misquoting me by declaring that I said all of my prescriptions were in the proper containers. I never said that. The purpose is obvious, to cover up a ridiculous, farcical search and seizure conducted by out of control rogue agents of questionable competency. Did Officer Turner make that false statement attributed to me? Or, did one of the rogue agents? Was that conversation recorded? If so, please provide me with a copy. Was the vehicle interview video-taped? If so, please provide me with a copy.
19. Do you condone your employees misquoting search victims? Does that meet your definition of “proper and professional” conduct?

I expect to be reimbursed for the destruction of my headlight immediately. I don’t care about the self-serving interpretation of the statutes that deprive me of basic rights and protections. Send me $35.00 by September 15, 2012, which will cover the cost of the headlight and postage. If that deadline is not met, I anticipate filing a suit in federal court. In that regard, I require the names, grades, years of service of the rogue agents who conducted the search and seizure and a record of all training they have received. Also, the name, grade and years of service of their immediate supervisor and a record of all training he or she has received. In lieu of payment, please provide that information by September 15, 2012.

It took Ms. Scull over 8 months to provide me with a response to my original complaint. I don’t intend to wait that long for your response. If you can’t or won’t respond within 30 days from the date of this letter, answering all of my questions, just send me the name, address and phone number of your immediate supervisor. I will ask him or her the same questions and why you and Ms. Scull couldn’t answer them.

Sincerely,

Ronald D. Chase

CC: U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree

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