One of the most publically maligned and least respected of federal law enforcement agencies during the Trump era — the Customs and Border Patrol — is now under the scrutiny of the president’s least favorite investigative bureau — the FBI — as word of the mysterious disappearance of half a million dollars from the coffers of the union representing some 20,000 Border Patrol agents has surfaced, according to Brandon Judd, the head of the National Border Patrol Council.
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The apparent embezzlement of funds has taken place in the union’s El Paso local, one of the most active sectors for the Border Patrol which has faced severe criticism of ongoing lawlessness in the agency’s ranks as it has been tasked with enforcing the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies, separating families and earning a reputation for the harsh and inhumane treatment of detainees.
The El Paso branch of the National Border Patrol Council is largely staffed and managed by active-duty members of the Border Patrol, and rumors of financial impropriety have circulated for quite some time since a 2018 change on the local’s leadership team.
It was only in the last several months that the scope of the embezzlement has become clear to both union members and to the public at large.
“According to an audio recording obtained by ProPublica, Judd told the agents that forensic auditors hired by the union had discovered ‘$352,389.31 that was misappropriated. They also found that there was another $150,035.65 that was not properly paid to the IRS in tax money. Somebody pocketed it, just up and walked away,’” RawStory has reported.
In addition to the FBI, which is currently investigating the financial scandal, the Labor Department, which has jurisdiction over allegations of union corruption, is also involved in working with the FBI in securing indictments in the case.
“It’s a slap in the face,” one CBP agent and union member who requested anonymity said. “This place is notorious for having people in leadership positions who don’t have any leadership skills — and that’s both in management and the union.”
While Judd, as head of the national union, would only say that the union’s auditors have found “many, many discrepancies” in the local’s accounting over the last 10 years, ProPublica spoke to CPB agents in the area who pointed to Robert Russell, the former head of the local, and his sister, Dawn Munoz, who had handled the local’s finances and prepared its taxes for a decade as the likely targets of the investigation.
According to RawStory:
“Russell served as the local’s president from 2014 to 2017 and was one of a handful of people with access to its funds, according to interviews and documents filed with the Department of Labor. He was first voted onto the local’s executive board in 2004.”
“In the spring of 2018, after Russell had stepped down as president, the local fired Munoz. Union officials said it was only then that they learned that the finances were in disarray and hired a forensic auditor to scour the books.”
Amazingly, Russell is still an active duty Border patrol agent. He denies any claims of financial impropriety, simply saying “I don’t think there’s any money missing.”
Russell instead suggests that the entire investigation was conjured up by Brandon Judd as a political move to distract the union members from the disappointing results of their latest contract negotiations with the federal government.
“It’s purely politically motivated, nothing more,” Russell claimed of the charges.
Judd’s reply to Russell’s version of the events: “The FBI is way too busy to investigate hoaxes.”
Adding to the suspicions against Russell and his sister, Ms. Munoz, is the series of contradictory statements about the scandal that Munoz gave in an interview with ProPublica and the court documents obtained by the investigative publication that demonstrate that prosecutors in Texas and New Mexico have charged her with a string of low-level financial crimes dating back to 1991, including theft, forgery, and writing bad checks.
Moreover, despite being hired to prepare the local’s tax returns, Munoz was not a certified public accountant and it’s unclear what kind of vetting the local did before hiring her.
With corruption in the CPB local mirroring the accusations of misconduct in the daily performance of their expanded duties in the field while apprehending immigrants, it’s no wonder that the public has little trust in this particular federal law enforcement agency.
With the FBI and the Department of Labor refusing comment on an ongoing investigation, it may be a while before anyone inside or outside the Border Patrol agents union knows what really happened to the missing money.
Original reporting by ProPublica and RawStory.