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Reports Cite Poor Leadership in U.S. Marshals Service

by Ed Lyon

For aficionados of “U.S. Marshals” and “The Fugitive,” movies staring Tommy Lee Jones, it may come as a shock that art comes nowhere near to a true imitation of life. That was painfully evident in a 20-page memorandum released by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on December 21, 2018 – just in time to ensure a not-very-merry Christmas for many senior staff in the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and the agency’s former director, Stacia A. Hylton. 

A three-year-long investigation by the Judiciary Committee, guided by whistleblowers within the USMS who were vigorously pursued and subjected to retaliation, revealed a culture of misconduct, waste, sexual harassment, favoritism and total unconcern for the safety of deputies involved in high-risk law enforcement operations, according to a comprehensive 430-page report issued by the Committee in January 2019.

The memo and subsequent report found that Director Hylton had Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Beal hire a friend of Hylton’s in the Asset Forfeiture Division (AFD). When her friend failed to qualify for that position, Beal created one for him. Beal, in turn, was promoted to a full assistant directorship, but only after having a subordinate prepare her Executive Core Qualification application for the promotion – another routine practice found throughout the U.S. Marshals and condemned by the Committee. 

USMS Division Directors William Snelson and David Sligh were found to have engaged in a novel form of wife-swapping. Each hired the other man’s spouse to work in his own division, presumably in an effort to avoid claims of nepotism. Snelson was cited for his “lack of candor” in interviews with the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). 

In September 2018, the OIG issued a report on improper hiring practices within the USMS, finding that former Director Hylton had “violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

Additionally, supervisory and deputy marshals were found to have hired prostitutes while in Mexico and Thailand in 2016 and 2010 on official business. They received warning letters and, in some cases, a few days of suspension. 

An unnamed chief deputy U.S. Marshal was cited for improper use of USMS cell phones and vehicles, not properly supervising employees, sexually harassing female staff and retaliating against whistleblowers. Despite not cooperating with the OIG, he was allowed to cobble together enough unused sick leave, vacation time and accrued unpaid leave to retire with a full government pension, escaping any disciplinary sanctions.

An AFD Academy was maintained in Houston, Texas from 2012 to 2017 at a monthly rental cost of $50,000 and annual operational costs of $75,000 to $175,000. The USMS used the facility, which was equipped with granite countertops and high-end artwork, for just 32 days in 2014 and 52 days in 2017. 

A USMS task force in the Southern District of Indiana used an electronic template to forge a federal judge’s signature on more than 800 warrants between 1995 and 2005. The Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal who oversaw that operation received a letter of reprimand before his promotion to “GS-14 Supervisory Criminal Investigator,” while other USMS task forces blatantly employed illegal Stingray cell phone intercept equipment with impunity. 

The Judiciary Committee’s report further found the USMS neglected to institute a plan or seek adequate funding from Congress to replace body armor after the five-year standard replacement period. At the cyclic rate of replacement proposed by the USMS, it would take 10 years to replace all of the agency’s body armor, which would endanger the lives of deputies engaged in high-risk fugitive apprehension operations. 

One tactic employed by USMS supervisors to identify whistleblowers within the agency’s ranks was Freedom of Information Act requests. Even though U.S. Senator Charles E. Grassley, who chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time, condemned the outing of whistleblowers and retaliation against them, in the December 2018 memo he identified by name a USMS whistleblower whose letter to the Committee was appended as an exhibit.

Much of the misconduct cited in the memo and report occurred during the tenure of USMS Director Hylton, who resigned from the agency in 2015. Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Beal also stepped down that year.

“As our investigation progressed, we found a culture of mismanagement, abuse of authority and lax accountability that started clear at the top and has set a terrible standard for other employees across the agency. Poor leadership and pervasive misconduct cripples morale and corrodes trust of employees tasked with apprehending criminals and keeping communities safe. This culture must change,” Senator Grassley stated.

So where does a disgraced former director of the U.S. Marshals go after being effectively forced to resign? Hylton is now a member of the board of directors for private prison contractor CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. Before she was appointed director of the USMS in 2011, she had been criticized for performing paid consulting work for another private prison firm, GEO Group. [See: PLN, Feb. 2011, p.16]. 

Both GEO and CoreCivic have contracts with the USMS. 

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Sources: techdirt.com, judiciary.senate.gov, thehill.com, CNN, Washington Examiner

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