BREAKING: D.E.A. Chief To Resign Amid Agency Misconduct

April 20th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.) chief Michele Leonhart is expected to resign amid widespread allegations of misconduct within the agency, CBS reported Tuesday

It's the latest in a bizarre series of scandals involving taxpayer dollars, "sex parties" with Colombian prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels, and a lack of agency oversight and accountability––all detailed in a scathing report of the D.E.A. issued last month by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. In addition to the scandals involving her agents, Leonhart has been something of a sticking point when it comes to marijuana legalization, butting heads with the Obama administration as it attempts to step aside and let the states experiment with the reform drug laws, something observers say has the administration frustrated with her performance.

A spokesperson for the D.E.A. declined to comment when asked about the impending resignation by ATTN:. 

The announcement Tuesday comes after Leonhart allegedly met with Justice Department officials Monday to discuss her resignation and how to handle high-level succession. But the announcement also comes following a rocky Congressional hearing earlier this month, at which lawmakers pressed Leonhart for explanations as to why her agents had not been given harsher penalties for the misconduct alleged in last month's report. Seven agents admitted that they participated in the so-called sex parties, subsequently receiving suspensions lasting only two to ten days.

Leonhart told the bipartisan panel that her powers and influence fell short of firing agents or revoking security clearances, saying that the D.E.A. director and other federal directors "are not allowed to invoke ourselves in the disciplinary process." It was a stance that prompted exasperated responses from many of the members of Congress at the hearing. "Honestly, what power do you have?" Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked at the hearing. "You have to work with agents over whom you can't discipline and have no control. What the hell do you get to do?" 

Last Friday, according to CNN, Leonhart sent out an email to employees drawing a line between the abuses detailed in the report and the agency's otherwise strong reputation. "This has been a very difficult week for D.E.A., with members of Congress and the media asking tough questions and sharing our outrage about the disgraceful conduct of a few individuals several years ago. This employee misconduct has upset me for many reasons, but especially because it calls into question the incredible reputation D.E.A. has built over more than 40 years." 

According to the report, D.E.A. agents at the sex parties, which took place in government-leased buildings, left their laptops and other electronic devices lying around and gave their weapons and other property to a foreign officer for safe-keeping. But at the hearing this month, new information resulting from an investigation into the report showed that D.E.A. agents had been engaging in similar misconduct for more than a decade. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, characterized the evidence as "a truly breathtaking recklessness by D.E.A. agents who are sworn to protect our country," and an agency portrayed "completely out of control." In one instance from July of 2009, an agent stationed in Bogota, Colombia was accused of assaulting a prostitute over a payment dispute when a security guard witnessed the agent hitting the woman and throwing a glass at her. The agent claimed the woman's injuries were self-inflicted following a seizure. 

Before heading up the D.E.A. in Washington, Leonhart spent years coming up through the ranks in Field Division offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Before the allegations detailed in the report, Leonhart has appeared to resist relaxing federal rules on enforcing marijuana, even as states legalize both medical and recreational uses for the drug. She has been leading the agency in an acting capacity since 2007 and was nominated to serve as administrator in 2010. 

As CBS notes, the agency has an operating budget of over $2 billion, and is responsible for over 10,000 employees across the U.S. and 63 foreign countries.

Editor's Note: This initially said the budget was $2 million. It's been corrected.