Even after the Drug Enforcement Administration learned that agents had attended sex parties for years in Colombia, the agency has failed to fire dozens of employees cited for all sorts of serious misconduct.

As USA Today reports, the administration’s Board of Professional Conduct has recommended 50 terminations since 2010, but just 13 employees have actually been fired. Some came back after appealing.

An internal discipline log gives few details on incidents, but it does show how the DEA’s strange discipline system works (or doesn’t). For instance, termination was recommended for an employee accused of distributing drugs. But the actual punishment was a two-week suspension.

Lax punishment has apparently been a recurring problem.

From the story:

“If we conducted an investigation, and an employee actually got terminated, I was surprised,” said Carl Pike, a former DEA internal affairs investigator. “I was truly, truly surprised. Like, wow, the system actually got this guy.”

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General reported in March that DEA agents stationed in Colombia over several years attended sex parties that featured prostitutes supplied by drug cartels, mostly on property leased with government funds.

Seven of 10 accused agents admitted to attending the parties. Three supervisory special agents were found to have accepted money and gifts from cartel members. Punishments ranged from two-day to 10-day suspensions, according to the Inspector General.

So, not only were agents engaging in forbidden activity, but they were also doing so on the dime of local cartels.

Days before resigning, former DEA administrator Michele Leonhart told lawmakers in March that federal law prevented the agency from firing problem employees.

However, according to USA Today, three agents accused of hiring prostitutes in Colombia (unrelated to the sex parties) were indeed fired.

Even so, just because agents are fired doesn’t mean they’re out of the agency.

According to USA Today:

Even when employees are fired, records show the punishment doesn’t always stick because the agents were reinstated by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, the independent body that reviews federal disciplinary matters. In one case, the board blocked the DEA from firing an agent who left a voicemail for his girlfriend threatening “to give the couple’s consensually made sex video” to her 8-year-old daughter as a birthday present.

Other agents were given brief suspensions — or letters of reprimand — after leaving a college student handcuffed in a cell without food or water for five days. As the story notes, that student was awarded a $4.1 million legal settlement.

The Justice Department is conducting a review of how effective DEA punishment actually is.

USA Today obtained records through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Also in the world of law enforcement transparency, PublicSource has just completed a two-part series on the secretive handling of misconduct investigations within the Pennsylvania State Police and that agency’s internal determination that nearly all self-defense shootings are “justified.”

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.

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Jeff has been serving as assistant editor for PublicSource since October 2018, helping to guide coverage across the newsroom and overseeing economic development coverage for Develop PGH. Jeff previously...