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Why Did DEA Pay an Amtrak Employee for Passenger Records?

Report shows DEA paid almost $1 million for Amtrak passenger records. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Report shows DEA paid almost $1 million for Amtrak passenger records. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A bizarre revelation contained in a routine Amtrak inspector general report has caught the attention of the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, is pressing the Drug Enforcement Administration about why the agency paid $854, 460 over the course of almost two decades to an Amtrak employee to get passenger name record (PNR) information. As a member of the joint drug enforcement task force, the Amtrak Police Department should have been able to give information about passengers to DEA upon request.  

“The drug task force members can obtain Amtrak PNR information from APD task force members at no cost,” the IG report said, noting that the amount paid to the secretary could have gone to the APD as asset forfeiture funds.  

“The actions of the secretary prevented APD from jointly working with DEA in narcotics trafficking on Amtrak property, thus depriving APD from receiving $854,460 in asset forfeiture funds. The secretary was removed from service, and company charges were filed. The secretary chose to retire,” the IG report said. “We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering.”  

In the Aug. 7 letter circulated by his office Tuesday, Grassley asked the DEA administrator to provide an accounting for why the agency was found to have paid an Amtrak secretary hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the information, apparently working around Amtrak police in the process.  

“In addition to the unnecessary expenditure of $850,000, DEA’s actions reflect an unwillingness to cooperate jointly with the APD on investigations of narcotics trafficking on Amtrak property,” Grassley wrote. “This undercuts the purpose of the joint drug enforcement task force and prevented the APD from coordinating and sharing information with the DEA.”  

Grassley wants to know if the DEA has done anything similar to obtain other information that should have been available.  

“Has the DEA identified any other cases where improper or unnecessary payments were made for information? If so, please identify the cases and amount of taxpayer dollars that were improperly or unnecessarily used,” Grassley wrote.

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