Internal affairs investigators for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are questioning employees in San Diego about allegations that a supervisor has been using government time to recruit workers for “private sexual ‘swinger’ parties” at his home.
The accusation of “gross sexual misconduct” was made in a complaint submitted to the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year.
The allegation comes amid a rising number of complaints from workers and the union about management at the office.
It says that employees at the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations office in downtown San Diego have been approached during work hours to participate in the parties held at the home of a supervisor in the office along with his wife, who is also an agent.
The complaint says the recruitment has been going on for more than a year, and alleges the practice is coercive of subordinate employees and an abuse of authority.
Though the complaint was made to the inspector general for Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., it was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of employee misconduct.
Late last week, agents from that office scheduled interviews with several agents in San Diego. Four of the interview subjects were identified by name in the anonymous complaint, either as people who were approached for the sex parties or people who were allegedly organizing them.
The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained a copy of the complaint and is not identifying the accused ICE supervisor in case the investigation finds no merit to the claims.
“The parties take place while their kids are watching a movie in their rooms,” the complaint says. “Kids are told that mom and dad are working on a project with the other couples and not to disturb them nor knock on the bedroom door for at least an hour.”
Some of those mentioned in the complaint could not be located for comment. When reached on his cellphone last month, the accused supervisor referred inquiries to the agency’s public affairs unit.
The agency spokeswoman declined to comment because the matter had been referred to the professional responsibility unit and the investigation was ongoing.
The complaint said that employees were contacted about the parties and asked whether they wanted to participate either verbally or via text messages from the supervisor’s personal phones.
Those who attend the parties aren’t allowed to bring phones inside the home and are checked to make sure they are not carrying any when they arrive, the complaint said.
Some employees are described as “rookie employees” who go along because they are “intimidated, afraid or foolishly ‘wow’d’ thinking participation will land them a promotion,” it said.
“Employees are being affected, traumatized, coerced and violated,” the complaint says. “It is an abuse of authority and needs to stop.”
The sexual misconduct charge is the latest complaint involving the San Diego ICE office in the last year, including allegations that employees have been subjected to racial slurs, discrimination and retaliation by management.
The Enforcement and Removal Operations office is an arm of the federal immigration apparatus that holds unauthorized immigrants in custody and deports them, among other functions.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were 13 Equal Employment Opportunity complaints from the San Diego office, according to a letter from an ICE official to Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego).
In some of the complaints, which date to 2014, employees say they were subjected to harassment or verbal abuse. Others say they were targets of gender, race or age discrimination. Most complaints are in different stages of the EEO process, and most have not been resolved.
One complaint filed in February by an African American worker said that last September his boss referred to him using an offensive term for African Americans.
Felix Luciano, the head of the union local that represents ICE workers in San Diego, said that complaints about the work environment have not gained much traction with the agency.
“They are not interested in getting to the root of the problem,” Luciano said.
In April, employees protested the situation outside the federal building in downtown San Diego. In the last year Luciano has traveled to Washington to meet with Sarah Saldana, the director of the agency, about the complaints. He was told the agency would institute management training in San Diego, but he said little more has been done.
“There isn’t an urge to fix the climate here,” he said.
Lorie Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency has taken other steps, such as meetings with workers and supervisors, to address the discontent.
“So far there have been no findings of discriminatory actions or significant deficiencies in local management practices,” she said.
It’s unclear how long the sexual misconduct inquiry will go on. ICE is not the first federal law enforcement agency to come under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct.
Last month, investigators launched a probe into whether federal air marshals had hired prostitutes and recorded sex acts with them on government smartphones. In March, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog released a report that found that Drug Enforcement Administration agents had sex parties while on duty overseas with prostitutes hired by drug cartels.
Greg Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune