An agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was busted for giving his mistress access to an evidence room and investigatory wiretaps, but the agency’s highest rungs of leadership intervened on his behalf and allowed him to temporarily keep his job and security clearance.
The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated the wrongdoing to determine if then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart inappropriately mediated to protect the agent, and if she then lied to Congress about her role in security clearance reviews.
The watchdog didn’t find evidence supporting either charge, but its report details yet another story of sexual misconduct at an agency already beset by charges of unpunished harassment, misbehavior, and security lapses.
According to the inspector general’s findings, Special Agent Grant Stentsen disclosed his behavior in 2013 to the DEA Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
Stentsen admitted that he: “carried on an extramarital affair with a woman who was a convicted criminal; allowed her after-hours access to a DEA office, including a drug evidence room; allowed her to listen to recorded telephone calls of subjects of DEA investigations; and had sex with her on numerous occasions in the DEA office and his DEA vehicle.”
A year later, OPR opened a second investigation into Stentsen’s conduct stemming from allegations that he assaulted the same former girlfriend.
But it wasn’t until late 2014 when the DEA’s Office of Security Programs learned of Stentsen’s transgressions during a routine periodic review of the agent’s security clearance. In response, in March 2015, the office suspected Stentsen’s clearance.
But that decision was promptly overturned three days later by then-acting Chief Inspector at the DEA, Harman “Chuck” Whaley.
During that time, Whaley had conversations with DEA Administrator Leonhart about his approach to Stentsen’s suspension, and according to the IG, she assented to its reversal. Whaley told OIG investigators that he believed Stentsen should be punished, but not lose his security clearance.
“We found that Leonhart acquiesced, either before or after the fact, to the flawed decision of the Acting Chief Inspector to direct the reinstatement of the Special Agent’s security decision, and that Leonhart thus shares in the responsibility for that improper intervention in the process,” the report stated.
Most egregious to the DOJ watchdog was the fact that this episode occurred while it was already knocking the DEA for mishandling internal sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.
A March 2015 inspector general report found that OPR “had failed to refer allegations involving sexual misconduct that raised security concerns to Security Programs for adjudication, potentially exposing DEA employees to coercion, extortion, and blackmail, all of which create security risks.”
The DEA was, at the same time, also confronting allegations that its agents engaged in overseas sex parties on the dime of US taxpayers and foreign drug cartels.
The House Judiciary Committee convened an April 2015 hearing in response to those issues. It featured testimony from Inspector Whaley who remarkably told lawmakers that he was “disgusted by the behavior described in these cases” and “disappointed” by the luck of punishment for agents involved—claims made one month after he overturned Agent Stentsen’s suspension.
This week, the department inspector general said the agency “should determine whether allegations or findings of employee misconduct should be referred to Security Programs for adjudication.” The office told the DEA that it should strip senior officials of the power to decide whether to conduct security reviews in the wake of misconduct.
Stentsen would remain on the job until March 2016 before he was finally terminated for the underlying misconduct.
DEA Administrator Leonhart left the agency in September 2015. Her appointee, Chief Inspector Whaley retired from the agency in September 2016.