Border Patrol, officer reach confidential settlement in 'black hole' case [Corrected]
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — Border Patrol Officer Christian Sanchez, whose accusations in June 2011 against Port Angeles' Border Patrol station trained a national spotlight on the North Olympic Peninsula, has reached a confidential settlement with the federal government.
The action clears the dispute over his whistleblower claim of retaliation for criticizing the agency, the U.S. government announced Wednesday.
The claim was related to Sanchez's assertion before the Congressional Transparency Caucus that the Port Angeles station was akin to a “black hole” in which agents had nothing to do.
The terms of the settlement are confidential, according to a statement from the federal Office of Special Counsel, which adjudicated his retaliation claim.
As part of the settlement, the Border Patrol did not admit any wrongdoing.
“Mr. Sanchez showed courage by speaking out,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in the Office of Special Counsel's statement.
The complaint, filed Jan. 4, was settled Sept. 11 and announced Wednesday morning.
Sanchez filed it in order to get transferred and left Port Angeles “recently” to a Border Patrol station in the southwestern region, said his lawyer, Tom Devine of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan whistleblower group in Washington, D.C.
Over three years, Sanchez, who Devine said is in his 30s, has come full circle.
Sanchez transferred from the southern border to the Port Angeles station in September 2009, then objected to being assigned “assignments to do nothing” that involved overtime, Devine said Wednesday.
After he refused to accept overtime pay, Sanchez was retaliated against and was refused a transfer, Devine said Wednesday.
“That was the nature of the alleged retaliation, not getting a fresh start in a new post,” Devine said.
The harassment took the form of being tailed by his supervisor and other federal personnel, being the victim of “bully tactics,” slow and suspicious drive-bys that were conducted in front of his home, and by his home and family being surveilled, he said.
Government officials would not comment Wednesday on Sanchez's allegation that there is little for agents to do in the Border Patrol station in Port Angeles.
Staffing had increased more than tenfold to 42 between 2006 and mid-September, when a sprawling $11.9 million Border Patrol station opened at 110 S. Penn St.
“The worst fraud on taxpayers is that we are getting paid overtime not to work,” Sanchez said in his July 29, 2011, statement.
“During our work shifts, other agents and I always talked about how coming to work was like the black hole, swallowing us up slowly with no purpose, no mission,” he said.
At that time, he said, more than 40 agents were stationed in the cramped quarters of the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building in downtown Port Angeles.
The Office of Special Counsel confined its investigation solely to Sanchez's accusation of retaliation.
“We're not getting into actual disclosures of what happened with the government, but with the retaliation over his disclosures,” Office of Special Counsel spokeswoman Ann O'Hanlon said Wednesday in an interview.
Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's parent agency, would not comment on if the federal government has or is investigating Sanchez's allegations over the Port Angeles station's work procedures.
“That stuff that he talked about is part of the settlement,” Milne said.
“Those results are confidential.”
Divine said Sanchez would have no comment on the settlement.
“Mr. Sanchez earned a fresh start, and he has been thanking the Lord,” Divine said.
“He wasn't trying to start a crusade on behalf of taxpayers.
“His goal was to do his duty by bearing witness and exposing indefensible spending to Congress,” Divine added.
“I'm not aware of any significant corrective action so that taxpayers are getting their money's worth at Port Angeles.”
In three pages of his statement, under the heading “Betraying the Taxpayers,” Sanchez detailed how “there was rarely any casework to be done, if at all, so I just roved from X to X, wasting gasoline.”
Other agents advised him that the Port Angeles station was an “Other Agency Station” whose main purpose was to support other law enforcement agencies.
“There wasn't ever any cross-border activity for us to handle,” Sanchez said.
During musters, Sanchez and other agents were told by supervisors that “we have tons of work here, the law is the law, there are drug smugglers here, there are gangs here, there is lots of cross-border activity here, we have much intelligence here . . . go get them,” Sanchez said.
“Management has told me to just drive during my 10 hours on shift,” he said.
One supervisor “encourages us agents to drive around the Olympic Peninsula during our 10-hour shift,” Sanchez said.
“We agents call this drive 'the Baja 500,' though it's a 300-mile drive,” he said.
“For all practical purposes, we have no mission anymore.”
Sanchez's statement prompted national TV coverage, a visit to Port Angeles by a CNN crew and demonstrations both pro and con toward the Border Patrol's expanded presence on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Where Sanchez is now stationed, “there's no controversy about having enough work to do,” Divine said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 25. 2012 11:54AM