<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español November 24, 2017 | Issue #32


Making Cable News
Obsolete Since 2010


Set Color: blackwhiteabout colors

Print This Page
Comments

Search Narco News:

Narco News Issue #31
Complete Archives

Narco News is supported by The Fund for Authentic Journalism


Follow Narco_News on Twitter

Sign up for free email alerts list: English

Lista de alertas gratis:
Español


Contact:

Publisher:
Al Giordano


Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
Bem Vindos em Português!

Editorial Policy and Disclosures

Narco News is supported by:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism

Site Design: Dan Feder

All contents, unless otherwise noted, © 2000-2011 Al Giordano

The trademarks "Narco News," "The Narco News Bulletin," "School of Authentic Journalism," "Narco News TV" and NNTV © 2000-2011 Al Giordano

XML RSS 1.0

Reckless Driving

A Widow's Grief and Five-Year Search for Answers from U.S. Customs


By Bill Conroy
Chapter 8 of a Book Published by Narco News

March 16, 2004

The desert sky was clear, the temperature a mild 66 degrees at half past high noon on Tuesday, March 3, 1998. A slight breeze was blowing out of the southwest as Customs agent Allan Sperling piloted a green 1996 Jeep over the washboard surface of the packed-dirt road. Sperling’s partner, Gary Friedli, was in the passenger’s seat, belted in snugly.

Ahead of them was a cloud of dust and the tail end of an 18-wheeler, a grey Kenworth hauling a belly-dump trailer eastbound on Geronimo Trail Road. The two federal agents were en route to a ranch just outside Douglas, Ariz. – a desert border town of about 15,000 people located some 120 miles south of Tucson and just north of Agua Prieta in Mexico. The agents were responding to a report of drug-smuggling activity in the area.

“(Sperling) stated as they got through the ‘S’ curves, he told Gary (Friedli) to look up at the crest of this hill and look up ahead of them real well, and make sure nobody is coming so they could pass (the truck),” states a 1998 report prepared by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department. “They both looked and saw nothing was coming….”


Photos: Cochise County, Ariz. Records Department
Sperling pulled the Jeep into the left lane to pass. The tractor-trailer veered to the right slightly, opening up a wider passing lane for the Jeep. Sperling punched the gas pedal. Suddenly, the truck swung back to the left, heading for a private drive on the other side of the road.

Sperling had run out of road.

The Jeep smashed into the turning truck’s gas tank. The SUV’s right side crashed into the trailer. Friedli’s head slammed against the window frame, creasing the metal. The truck dragged the contorted Jeep some 70 feet before coming to rest.

“The 1996 Jeep Cherokee received extensive front-end damage, particularly at the right side,” the Sheriff’s Department accident report states. “The windshield was completely cracked. (The Jeep’s) roof received induced damage as it impacted the tractor. (The Jeep) also received damage to its rear passenger door as the tractor trailer (dragged) it in a northerly direction. The outer portion of this door was torn off partially by the trailer pushing northbound.”

Later in the accident report:

“(Sperling) recalled impacting the vehicle and the next recollection he had was being stopped and him looking over at Gary (Friedli). ... He recalled being in the vehicle; Gary is lying down in the seat in a position where his head was between the driver and passenger’s seat. (Sperling) was able to hear him breathing and his chest was rising and falling. ...”


Friedli was carried on a gurney to an ambulance and later airlifted to University Medical Center in Tucson, where he died the next day due to his massive head injuries. He never regained consciousness.

Sperling was saved by the vehicle’s lone airbag, suffering a dislocated shoulder and some cuts and bruises. There were no witnesses to the accident.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Department accident report determined that the Jeep was traveling at about 63 mph when it collided with the semi-truck, which was traveling at an estimated 10 mph. That’s quite a stretch from what Sperling told the Sheriff’s Department deputy investigating the accident.

When the investigating deputy asked for an estimate of speed at the time he started passing the truck, “Sperling advised that he was doing approximately 40 to 45 miles per hour when he was coming up through the ‘S’ curves,” the Sheriff’s Department report states. “Allan (Sperling) applied his brakes to pace behind (the truck) until he was sure it was clear to pass him and estimated (his speed at) approximately 25 to 30 miles per hour.”

Sperling told Customs Internal Affairs investigators later that “a flying object inside the (vehicle) struck him on the head during the collision and caused a laceration requiring approximately 14 stitches to close,” according to an Internal Affairs report of investigation. “Special Agent Sperling said this blow to his head might have affected his perception of the events before and after the collision.”

The Sheriff’s Department investigation concluded that Sperling had “exceeded the lawful speed limit as per the state and county mandates.” The report indicated that the Jeep had surpassed the “45 mph” speed limit at the site of the crash by about 18 mph.

The Sheriff’s Department submitted the findings to the Cochise County Attorney for enforcement. No citations were issued. The County Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case.

Friedli’s wife, Dorene Kulpa-Friedli, a senior intelligence analyst with Customs in Douglas at the time, was suspicious of the events surrounding the accident and what she perceived as inconsistencies in the Sheriff’s Department accident report. For example, the Sheriff’s Department report reflected that the speed limit at the accident site was 45 mph. However, Kulpa-Friedli discovered that a road sign posted at the stretch of Geronimo Trail Road where the collision occurred showed the speed limit to be 35 mph.

Kulpa-Friedli also knew there was bad blood between her husband and Sperling.

“I know exactly how my husband (Gary Friedli) felt about Allan Sperling,” Kulpa-Friedli later told a Customs Internal Affairs investigator. “And he did not like the way Allan Sperling treated him. ... Allan would say, you know, kind of treat him like he was the junior, you-don’t-know-nothing agent, you know. ... Gary did not appreciate somebody patronizing him….”

Kulpa-Friedli told the investigator that she didn’t believe the rocky relationship between her husband and Sperling had anything to do with the accident. However, she did raise several concerns with Customs Internal Affairs concerning the accident, among them that Sperling’s reckless driving might have caused her husband’s death.

“Because of this (Sheriff’s Department) report, the way it’s written … it does look like Allan Sperling holds a large amount of responsibility for the accident,” Kulpa-Friedli asserted during an interview with a Customs Internal Affairs agent.

Kulpa-Friedli was interviewed on June 11, 1998, at her request, as part the initial Customs Internal Affairs investigation into the accident that killed her husband. As head of the Customs Office of Internal Affairs in Arizona, James “Breck” Ellis oversaw that investigation, which was concluded in October 1998, about six months after the accident.

But Kulpa-Friedli wasn’t made privy to the findings of that investigation at the time. In fact, she waited another a year for Customs to provide her with some answers, but all she got, in her view, was a runaround. Finally, she took her concerns to Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., writing him a letter to bring the issues surrounding her husband’s death to his attention. Kulpa-Friedli’s letter to Congressman Wolf is dated May 25, 1999.

The letter to Wolf

Dear Congressman Wolf,

On March 3, 1998, my husband, U.S. Customs Service Special Agent Gary P. Friedli, assigned to the resident agent in charge (RAIC), Douglas, Arizona, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by another Customs agent, Allan Sperling. Agent Sperling made several fateful choices that day which resulted in the death of my husband. On a dry, two-lane dirt road east of Douglas, Agent Sperling tried to pass, at a high rate of speed, an 18-wheel gravel tractor-trailer that was making a left hand turn into a driveway. Agent Sperling was arrogant and reckless – he gambled with my husband’s life and lost. Agent Sperling drove right into the cab of the tractor trailer. As I came to know, there was no lights, no siren, no emergency, and no rush.

While I watched my husband of six and a half months die in the hospital on March 4, I received very little information about what happened. Gary’s parents were visiting in Arizona at the time, so they saw their son die. This was a life-destroying and life-altering experience for me, our daughter, and for Gary’s family and friends.

In the weeks and months afterward, as the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office conducted its investigation and the Customs Service conducted its own Internal Affairs investigation, we continued to receive bits and pieces of information about the car crash from the head of the RAIC (Customs’ resident agent in charge) office, Greg Rabeler – in retrospect, the alarm bells started to go off even back then.

After approximately six weeks of waiting, we received a copy of the official Sheriff’s Office report of the car crash. As Gary’s parents and I read the report, we could not believe what we were reading! The story that was in the police report was not the story that Mr. Rabeler had told me at the hospital. Mr. Rabeler told me [as he and I were sitting alongside Gary in the Intensive Care Unit] ... Mr. Rabeler told me that Agent Sperling was going 50 miles per hour and that they were not doing an enforcement action. [I understood this to mean they were not involved in a high speed chase.] Mr. Rabeler did not tell me or my in-laws at the time, or later, that Agent Sperling ran into the tractor trailer. Also, Mr. Rabeler later denied telling me that Agent Sperling was driving 50 miles per hour. The truth about the car crash was already being pushed to the side. And a further note, when the Customs Service announced Gary’s death and the surrounding circumstances, the agency indicated that they were responding to possible smuggling activity and that the tractor trailer turned into Agent Sperling’s government vehicle.

As we continued to read the report, specifically, the crash reconstruction information and the interview of Agent Sperling, we were outraged! Even with the multitudes of questions raised in the police report, the responsibility for the car crash was crystal clear. I attempted to contact the Sheriff’s investigator … to ask questions about the information so that we were not misreading the report, but he never returned the telephone messages that I left. I have attached a copy of the report without any of my notations or any further commentary on the report information as I would like you to draw your own conclusions. [Once you have read the report, I am available to discuss the discrepancies and questions raised throughout the report.]

After I went back to work [I am a senior intelligence analyst with the Customs Service] in Arizona, I began receiving information from other Customs employees about Agent Sperling’s past driving history. I was told even by my own husband before he was killed that Agent Sperling was in other car crashes. I contacted the Customs Internal Affairs Office and insisted that I be interviewed because I wanted all of this information on the record and investigated. I was not interviewed until June 1998, after I was transferred back to the Washington, D.C., area.

On May 16, 1998, my in-laws and I had a meeting with the Customs special agent in charge (SAIC), Tucson, Awilda Villafane, just prior to leaving Arizona. Mr. Greg Rabeler was also in attendance at the meeting. [He had recently received a promotion to associate SAIC, second in command to Ms. Villafane, and now worked in Tucson.] We wanted to discuss the Internal Affairs process and to voice our concerns about the contents of the official police report. Ms. Villafane admitted that she had not read the report, only a synopsis. When discussing the circumstances of the car crash, Ms. Villafane indicated that Gary had a choice of getting into the car or not; that he should have said that he had a report to get finished or that he had a meeting to go to. In other words, Ms. Villafane told us that Gary was responsible for his own death; he should have lied to get out of going with Agent Sperling. Ms. Villafane also had the audacity to say that this was “God’s will.” It was obvious that Ms. Villafane, as the head of the Arizona district, wanted no responsibility for the death of my husband.

Towards the end of the meeting, I asked Ms. Villafane to disseminate a memorandum to the Arizona district offices to remind the agents, and others, that they are to follow the Customs’ driving policy and to make safety a top priority. Ms. Villafane declined to do so. I then asked her to help us contact the state of Arizona about putting “Do Not Pass” signs at the designated “Truck Cross” areas. She declined and said that we were on our own. Lastly, I asked her if she could look into driver retraining courses for the agents. [This is due to the high-speed chases that the agents become involved in from time to time.] Ms. Villafane was noncommittal on this subject.

After I was transferred back to Virginia on May 20, 1998 [where Gary and I both lived for several years], I periodically checked throughout the summer on the status of the Customs investigation with the Internal Affairs investigator in Tucson. When Raymond Kelly became commissioner of Customs on Aug. 5, I spoke with the commissioner about making sure that the best possible investigation was conducted by the Customs Service. The commissioner indicated that he would look into the matter and would get back to me.

In October 1998, Gary’s parents received a telephone call from Mr. William Keefer, the assistant commissioner of the Office of Internal Affairs. According to my in-laws, Mr. Keefer said that he was given the responsibility of looking into the Customs investigation of the car crash. Mr. Keefer agreed with my father-in-law’s, indeed all of ours, assessment that the reconstruction facts and Agent Sperling’s official interview did not match.

In December 1998, I contacted Mr. Keefer, introduced myself as Gary’s wife and that I wanted to know the status of the investigation. Mr. Keefer also indicated that he received no derogatory information regarding Agent Sperling’s past driving record. I indicated that I was told differently and that there was supposed to be documentation to that effect. Mr. Keefer said that he would look into it and if there was no documentation for prior incidents, that would be a different “can of worms.” Mr. Keefer asked me to give him time to check into this matter.

On May 7, 1999, my in-laws and I met with Mr. Keefer at Customs Headquarters to discuss the death of my husband. Due to the Privacy Act, Mr. Keefer indicated that the only thing he could tell us was that “administrative action has been taken.” To explain the process, Mr. Keefer said that once Headquarters reviewed the completed field investigation, the report would go to a three-member Discipline Review board for a recommendation, and then a “senior official” would make the final disciplinary decision. He also said that we could write a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter to request a copy of the (Internal Affairs) investigation, including requesting Agent Sperling’s … disciplinary records. However, Mr. Keefer warned us that we may or may not be able to receive any or all of the report. He said to send the FOIA letter directly to him and that he would send it to the Office of Chief Counsel for processing. Furthermore, I asked if I was able to get a copy of the investigative report and I found something wrong or missing, do I have the right to appeal. He said yes. If we found any new information, Customs could reopen its investigation into the matter.

My in-laws and myself gave the U.S. Customs Service ample time to conduct a thorough investigation and to mete out the appropriate disciplinary action – terminate Agent Sperling as a Customs Service employee. Based on our opinion of the original police report, Agent Sperling is responsible for my husband’s death [based on recklessness and negligence], he seemingly violated Customs’ driving policy and misused a government vehicle, and he violated Arizona traffic laws. According to my sources, Agent Sperling is still on the job.

With regards to the state of Arizona, I am appalled that Agent Sperling was not charged with violating ANY Arizona criminal and/or traffic laws: reckless and/or negligence (in driving), causing the death of another person, speeding, disobeying traffic signs, and operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner. A law enforcement officer is not above the law and is accountable just like the rest of us are if we break the law.

... Congressman Wolf, as a constituent in your district, I am requesting you and your staff to please inquire and investigate into the circumstances surrounding the death of my husband, Gary P. Friedli. I am greatly concerned that the Customs Service has not or will not hold Agent Sperling accountable or responsible for Gary’s death, and will not give Agent Sperling the corresponding punishment – the loss of his job. It is the ONLY punishment that is acceptable to us. As they were on duty, I cannot even hold Agent Sperling civilly liable because of workers’ compensation laws.

... My husband, as a federal law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty [and one of the officers honored at the 1999 National Police Week], deserves justice. The truth needs to be told and it is not there. Gary died unnecessarily and for absolutely no reason other than Agent Sperling’s arrogant, reckless and negligent driving.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Dorene A. Kulpa-Friedli

Congressman Wolf took Kulpa-Friedli’s plea seriously. He wrote a letter on July 19, 1999, to David Williams, the Inspector General for the Department of Treasury. It is the job of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate cases of alleged mismanagement and corruption within the Department of Treasury’s ranks.

“I am writing on behalf of one of my constituents, Mrs. Dorene Kulpa-Friedli, regarding the death of her husband, Special Agent Gary P. Friedli,” Wolf writes in the letter. “Mr. Friedli was killed in an automobile accident (that occured on March 3, 1998) in Arizona. The nature and ramifications surrounding his death are extremely troubling….

“I have contacted many agencies in regard to this matter, and feel that your office may be helpful in bringing forth some form of resolution and closure.”

Internal affairs

By the end of July 1999, about two months after Kulpa-Friedli had sent her letter to Congressman Wolf, Treasury OIG had launched an investigation. That probe was concluded in January 2000.

After the OIG report was completed, Customs launched a second investigation into the accident, conducted by its Internal Affairs Special Investigative Unit. That second Customs probe was completed in July 2000. Customs provided a copy of that report to Kulpa-Friedli. She obtained the initial Customs Internal Affairs report on the accident, as well as the Treasury OIG report, through Freedom of Information Act requests.

As a result, by December 2000, nearly three years after her husband’s death, Kulpa-Friedli, with the help of a U.S. congressman, had the truth unfolded before her. What she discovered was like a plot line for a Shakespearean tragedy.

The initial Customs Internal Affairs investigation into Friedli’s death, the one completed in October 1998 and overseen by James “Breck” Ellis, found that Sperling had done nothing wrong. The report also indicated that Sperling’s blood was not tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs after the accident because it “was not warranted.”

Sperling was allowed to return to work.

“The Cochise County Sheriff’s Department found that SA (Sperling), the driver of the government-owned vehicle, exceeded the posted speed limit by approximately 18 miles per hour and that the driver of the truck had moved to the right side of the roadway just prior to making a left turn,” states a synopsis of the initial Internal Affairs report findings. “No citations were issued. The Cochise County Attorney’s Office declined criminal prosecution. No additional evidence was found to substantiate misconduct on behalf of the Customs employees involved.”

However, both of the follow-up investigations, which were prompted by Kulpa-Friedli’s persistence in seeking out the truth, found that Sperling was to blame for the accident that caused Gary Friedli’s death.

“... The preponderance of evidence indicates that Allan Sperling, who has a documented history of reckless and aggressive driving, operated his GOV (government vehicle) in an unsafe manner at the time of the subject accident. Sperling’s actions would have significantly contributed to the death of Special Agent Friedli,” states the Treasury OIG report.

The findings of the second Customs Internal Affairs investigation were equally damning of Sperling’s actions.

The report concluded that “Sperling’s excessive speed was the primary cause of the fatal collision.

“Consequently, the allegation that Special Agent Sperling, as the operator of the GOV, negligently and improperly operated his GOV, by failing to maintain necessary control, is substantiated,” the second Customs report states.

Both investigations also made note of Sperling’s prior bad driving record.

“From 1992 to 1997, while employed by the USCS (U.S. Customs Service), Sperling was involved in five documented vehicle accidents, four of which were on duty,” states a report of investigation prepared by Treasury OIG. “In one accident, which occurred at night on Geronimo Trail Road (also the location of the Friedli accident), Sperling was traveling at approximately 80 mph when he struck a cow.”

The second Customs probe stated that of the 15 agents and law enforcement personnel questioned about Sperling’s driving history, 11 said he was “a very aggressive driver.” Nine of those 11, according to the report, indicated that Sperling “routinely drove extremely fast during work-related situations that did not require an emergency response.”

During the course of the OIG investigation, Greg Rabeler, the resident agent in charge of the Douglas office at the time of the accident, denied knowing that Sperling had a history of reckless driving. Rabeler also denied that he helped to cover up another of Sperling’s alleged blunders.

From the Treasury OIG report:

During the course of the subject investigation, several U.S. Customs Service (USCS) sources advised OIG agents that Sperling had “lost” a government-owned horse while on a “camping trip.” Further, the sources stated that the incident was inaccurately documented by supervisory personnel as a “training exercise” to cover the loss by Sperling.

When questioned regarding the purpose, authorization and circumstances that pertained to the above incident, Sperling provided the following information.

Sperling stated that during May of 1996, he was in charge of the office “horse program.” Sperling explained that the Douglas RA (resident agent office) had four horses which “were not used in some time,” and that he felt the animals needed “conditioning.” Without authorization (emphasis added), utilizing his personally owned truck and trailer, Sperling said he transported two of the horses to Lake Knoll, Payson, AZ, approximately six hours from the Douglas RA. ... Sperling claimed to be accompanied by three friends, and said that there were no USCS personnel on the trip. Sperling said that the horse became “tangled” in its leadline, and that he cut the rope to prevent the animal from injuring itself. At that point, Sperling said the horse “took off running” and that he spent the rest of the day attempting to locate the animal.

Sperling stated that upon his return to Douglas, he notified RAIC (Resident Agent in Charge) Rabeler of the above incident, at which time he (Sperling) received a “good ass-chewing.” Sperling could not recall submitting a memorandum at the time of the incident, but did recall completing a “board of survey” on a later date, claiming the horse as lost. ...When questioned why he did not submit a memorandum reporting the incident, Sperling replied, “I don’t know.” Further, when questioned about the report that a memorandum he submitted regarding the incident had been destroyed and rewritten by RAIC Rabeler, Sperling replied, “I have no knowledge of that.”

Contradiction

Raebeler’s version of the story was a bit different, however. Rabeler told the OIG investigators that he had approved Sperling’s “request to train the subject horse,” and denied rewriting a report to cover for Sperling.

“When informed that Sperling had contradicted his statement about receiving authorization to use the subject horse, Rabeler replied, ‘If that’s all you got, take your best shot,’” the OIG report states.

The OIG report concluded that Sperling did use a government-owned horse without permission, lost the animal, and then failed to document the incident properly. The report also concluded that “USCS (U.S. Customs Service) supervisory personnel gave Sperling preferential treatment, to include providing misleading statements to the USCS Office of Internal Affairs.”

For his part, Ellis explained away the shortcomings of the initial Internal Affairs investigation into Friedli’s death, which he oversaw, by saying that personnel in the Douglas Customs office “were not forthcoming,” according to the Treasury OIG report. “Ellis also said his office began to feel ‘pressure from headquarters’ to complete the investigation.”

OIG did refer its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson. However, the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute “in lieu of administrative action by the USCS.”

And that was the rub for Kulpa-Friedli. Despite all the findings of wrongdoing in three of the four investigations, Sperling kept his job.

On December 5, 2000, Kulpa-Friedli received a letter from Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

“As you are aware, Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an additional investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of your husband, U.S. Customs Special Agent Gary Friedli,” Kelly states in the letter. “Subsequent to the receipt of the Inspector General’s report, I requested a thorough review of that report. These results were provided to the Discipline Review Board (DRB) along with all the previous investigative materials. The DRB was tasked to review and assess the entire case. However, after consultation with the Office of Chief Counsel, it was found that further action in this matter was prohibited because disciplinary action had already been taken.

“... While this may be of little comfort to you and your family, I can assure you that we’ve done everything possible to review all the evidence and the decisions made in the case. In the end, I am constrained by the law to take no further action,” Kelly’s letter concludes.

When contacted, Sperling declined to comment on the case.

Kulpa-Friedli says she was never told what type of “disciplinary action” was meted out to Sperling. “I did get an anonymous call from someone who said Sperling was issued a letter of reprimand,” Kulpa-Friedli adds.

Pressing on

Kulpa-Friedli refused to give up. She decided to go public with her husband’s case.

“Family members deserve to know the truth, no matter what that truth is,” says Kulpa-Friedli. “To have a cover-up or people lie to you just adds to the pain.”

The media picked up the Friedli story in the spring of 2001, which helped prompt a congressional inquiry by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I plan to look into this (Arizona) case and into the broader questions it raises,” said Grassley in a prepared statement at the time. “The broader questions are whether Customs agents are adequately investigated for allegations of wrongdoing in the course of duty and whether they’re adequately disciplined when wrongdoing is substantiated.”

In late April 2001, Grassley’s office fired off a letter to Acting Customs Commissioner Charles Winwood and to Paul O’Neill, the secretary of the Treasury, asking for a full accounting of the investigation into Agent Friedli’s death. However, by June of 2001, Grassley’s office had backed off the case.

“Senator Grassley has pretty much closed his involvement with the Friedli case, unless there are any new developments that warrant his attention,” says Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for the senator.

Grassley sent a letter to Acting Customs Commissioner Winwood on June 26, 2001, reflecting the senator’s intention to put the Friedli case on the back burner.

Grassley’s letter

Dear Acting Commissioner Winwood:

The Senate Committee on Finance [Committee] is committed to overseeing the United States Customs Service [Customs] to ensure that it performs its responsibilities efficiently and effectively. In discharging the Committee’s oversight responsibilities, I have written to you on two occasions [April 30 and May 24, 2001] to request information from Customs regarding its investigation of the recent and unfortunate death of Special Agent Gary P. Friedli.

As you are aware, Special Agent Friedli was on a non-emergency assignment when the government car in which he was the passenger and which was driven by Customs Special Agent Allan Sperling crashed into a tractor trailer it was trying to pass while speeding in excess of 20 mph over the speed limit at the time of the accident on a dirt road with limited visibility. The Committee’s investigation sought to determine whether Customs followed its internal procedures in investigating this fatal car accident and in recommending disciplining for Special Agent Sperling.

In conducting congressional oversight, the Committee has endeavored to hear several perspectives on the underlying facts of the accident and subsequent investigations of those facts. The Committee’s efforts include meetings with representatives from the Department of the Treasury, Inspector General’s Office and Customs’ Office of Internal Affairs. The Committee has also reviewed numerous written materials from various sources, to include documentation that Customs produced in response to the Committee’s requests for information relating to the underlying car accident as well as Customs’ subsequent investigations, disciplinary procedures, and penalty guidelines.

The Committee’s review of the information, considered in its entirety, leads me to form two primary conclusions. First, I believe that Customs has undertaken great efforts to ensure the integrity of its internal investigations, beginning in 1999 when it fundamentally restructured Internal Affairs, and I applaud Customs’ efforts in this regard. In addition, I believe that Customs must remain vigilant in conducting its internal investigations to ensure that no agent receives preferential treatment, and in maintaining consistency in its disciplinary recommendations.

Accordingly, I request written annual reports from Customs beginning for the present fiscal year [i.e., the first report will cover that period between Oct. 1, 2000 and Sept. 30, 2001] and for the next fiscal year [i.e., the second report will cover that period between Oct. 1, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2002] regarding the status of closed cases involving allegations of misconduct and criminal activity within Customs and any discipline imposed. I am only interested in those cases that are investigated by Internal Affairs and dealt with by the Disciplinary Review Board. I request that these reports contain the following information: the grade level, work address, and a general description of the primary work responsibilities of the Customs employee at issue; the general nature of the allegation/s; the internal guideline or criminal statute at issue; the recommended discipline, where applicable; and the discipline imposed, where applicable. These reports should also include any modifications to Customs’ disciplinary rules, regulations or internal guidelines and the reason for such modification from this date forward, or since the date of the last periodic update.

In closing, I want to reiterate my appreciation of Customs’ commitment to judicious and timely internal investigations of allegations of misconduct and criminal activity. I look forward to receiving Customs’ initial report by the end of November 2001. Also, I look forward to continuing to work with you and Customs to help fulfill this commitment.

Sincerely,
Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf likewise backed off the Friedli case, pending any new developments, according to Judy McCary, director of constituent services for the congressman.

McCary concedes that she remains puzzled as to why Customs appears to have gone to such great lengths to protect a field agent like Sperling – when other agents around the country have received harsh discipline for far less serious offenses.

“I always thought there was something odd about this case,” she says.

McCary adds that given the current environment, with the war on terror, “to a certain extent, we have to keep people in place” in government.

“We can’t have a Saturday night massacre,” she adds. “But long-term, we have to change the culture and weed out the bad apples.”

Kulpa-Friedli exhibits far less patience with the whole affair.

“All this stuff going on at the time (of my husband’s death), it just sickens me that it’s only starting to come out all these years later,” she says. “I think Gary’s death is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Kulpa-Friedli adds that it troubled her even more to learn that in the fall of 2003, according to the Army News Service, Sperling was among a team of special agents dispatched to Iraq to help U.S. soldiers train Iraqi border guards in investigative techniques and ethics.

“It surely was something to read that he is teaching ethics…,” Kulpa-Friedli adds.

Next in Chapter 9:

A Customs-led task force organized in Arizona uncovers widespread law-enforcement corruption – including suspected murder – linked to drug trafficking.

Read the rest of Bill Conroy’s Borderline Security:

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Investigation Derailed

Chapter 2 – The Belly of the Snake

Chapter 3 – Shooting the Messenger

Chapter 4 – “The Racist Manifesto”

Chapter 5 – The Hydra

Chapter 6 – Green Quest

Chapter 7 – Quid Pro Quo

Chapter 8 – Reckless Driving

Chapter 9 – Firestorm

Chapter 10 – Swept Under the Rug

Chapter 11 – Politically Connected

Chapter 12 – From the DEA to “Homeland Security”

Chapter 13 – Airline Passengers At Risk from DEA Drug Sting Shipments

Chapter 14 – The Dysfunctional Anti-Drug Agencies

Epilogue – At the Threshold of Conscience

Bill Conroy has worked as a reporter or editor for the past eighteen years at newspapers in Wisconsin, Arizona, Minnesota and Texas. His investigative reporting over the past five years has focused on corruption and discrimination within federal law enforcement agencies.

Share |
Discussion of this article from The Narcosphere


Enter the NarcoSphere to comment on this article

Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.  Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site and making a contribution today.


- The Fund for Authentic Journalism

For more Narco News, click here.

The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America