Former Anti-Drug Agents: Pardoned Arizona Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio Harassed Black and Hispanic Law Enforcers at the DEA
Posted by Bill Conroy - September 10, 2017 at 8:59 pm
Interviewed by Narco News, Arpaio threatened to sue the agents — and the online newspaper
President Donald Trump’s recent pardon of controversial ex-Sheriff Joseph Arpaio has prompted a group of former DEA agents to come forward with allegations that Arpaio engaged in a pattern of racist and discriminatory behavior during his 25-year career at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Arpaio, who served in DEA and its predecessor agency from 1957 to 1982, was convicted in federal court this past July on contempt charges related to his refusal, while sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, to cease profiling and violating the civil rights of Latinos as part of what the court deemed an unconstitutional immigration-enforcement effort. Arpaio served as an Arizona county sheriff from 1992 to 2016, when he lost his re-election battle to a Democratic challenger.
Despite the federal conviction and subsequent presidential pardon, Arpaio, in a recent interview with Narco News, was not at all apologetic about the court’s judgment that he had violated the civil rights of Latinos as sheriff and, in fact, insists that he is not guilty of doing anything wrong. He also said the allegations advanced by the former DEA agents are “30 years old” and “ridiculous,” adding that if “your Narco magazine” publishes this story recounting the agents’ memories of working with him at the DEA in Mexico and Arizona, he will be filing a lawsuit against Narco News and the agents.
“You’re talking about 30 years ago,” Arpaio said. “I tell you what. I got a great lawyer, and if this continues, be ready for a lawsuit. That’s going to be my answer to those agents. I got a great lawyer, and if they want to slander me after 30 years, be ready for a lawsuit.”
The former DEA agents include both field investigators and supervisors and all are agents of color — Latino and African American. At least one, Hector Berrellez, a DEA supervisor who oversaw the investigation into the 1985 torture and murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena in Mexico at the hands of narco-traffickers, is a supporter of Trump and says he voted for him.
Former DEA agent Hector Berrellez
“I don’t lie. Joe Arpaio, my personal experience with him, I’ll testify under oath,” Berrellez said. “I am big supporter of Donald Trump, but on this one he should have done more due diligence, or vetted it more, before he supported a racist, because Arpaio is a racist. I know him. What I’m trying to tell you is the honest to God’s truth.”
‘Stay away from him’
Phil Jordan is a 31-year veteran federal agent who oversaw DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas prior to retiring in 1996. He also served as the special agent in charge of DEA’s Phoenix field office just prior to Arpaio taking on that job in 1978, where he served until retiring from DEA in 1982. Jordan echoed Berrellez assessment, and said, “Arpaio’s reputation in DEA, he was considered a racist by most minority agents.”
“I had friends who had worked with him [Arpaio], and I remember working a case in Arizona once, and I was told by another Latino agent to stay away from him, because he’s a racist,” added former DEA agent Cele Castillo, who worked numerous dangerous assignments in Latin America in the 1980s.
Berrellez recounted his experience with Arpaio’s attitude toward minority agents firsthand in Mexico City in the mid-1970s. Berrellez said Arpaio wasn’t based in Mexico City at the time of his encounter with him, but rather had flown into Mexico’s capital for some reason he was not privy to at the time. Arpaio told Narco News that he was stationed in Mexico City from 1970-1973.
Berrellez added that he, and another agent, who was Puerto Rican, were at the U.S. embassy and were ordered to pick up Arpaio from the airport.
I had never met the man in my life. So myself and this other agent went to receive him at the airport. When he [Arpaio] deplaned, we walked with him down to the baggage area, and he made a comment to the other agent.
He said, “Are you one of those Mexican tortilla eaters?” And the other agent said, “No, Mr. Arpaio, I’m a New York Puerto Rican.” And he [Arpaio] made the comment in front of me, “Oh, so you’re one of them cockroach eaters from the ghetto.”
And that really stuck with me. After that, I didn’t even want to look at him. He then said, “OK boys, go get my bags for me over there and carry them.” So we did. And that was my experience with that man, and I never wanted to be in same room with him again.
Berrellez said after the Arpaio incident, he went back to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was stationed at the time, “and I was working under Tom Zepeda, who was a supervisor at the time with DEA, and I mentioned to him that I had the very unfortunate experience of meeting Joe Arpaio.”
Zepeda laughed, Berrellez recalled, and said, “Did he treat you like a boy?” Berrelles then recounted what Zepeda told him at the time.
“Yeah, when he [Arpaio] was the ARD [assistant regional director] in Mexico City, I was a supervisor there and during a supervisor meeting we got into a disagreement, and he called me a fucking beaner, or referred to me as a beaner,” Berrelles said, recounting his supervisor’s version of events. “It really embarrassed me, so I told him to take it back, and I wasn’t’ going to take this kind of thing, and he [Arpaio] said, “Go fuck yourself , you fuckin’ beaner,” or something to that effect, and I went up there and I knocked him out.”
Berrellez said Zepeda then told him that the following day he had orders to vacate Mexico immediately, and he was ordered back to the states and assigned to a different office.
“I was incredulous,” Berrellez recalls. “I said, What, you knocked him out?” And he [Zepeda] said, “Yeah, I knocked him out for being a racist.” … Later I heard that [Arpaio] was cold-cocked by Zepeda [from other agents]. I must have heard it a hundred times after that, every time Joe Zepeda’s name would come up.”
Berrellez added that Zepeda ended by saying, “Stay away for him [Arpaio]. He has a purple hatred for blacks, but he hates Hispanics [too].”
Arpaio denied that the events recounted by Berrellez ever happened, said he doesn’t remember ever meeting Berrellez and described his comments as “seditious and slanderous.” Narco News was unable to locate Zepeda for comment for this story.
“I’ll tell you again,” Arpaio warned.” I’ll have to deal with my lawyer, and I’m going to look into this, and if it’s published and it’s slanderous, I’m going to deal with these people that made these slanderous remarks.
“… Very seldom do I say I’m going to sue, but I get a little angry when you say I punched out a, or an agent punched me and all that. That’s ridiculous. If I ever have an agent punch me out, he’d be in deep trouble, believe me.”
Arpaio then added the following:
Why don’t you talk about the great things I did as one of the top DEA agents in history? I can have a whole lot of agents that work with me say that if you want to do a balanced story. Agents of color? I can give you a lot of agents in color that love what I’ve done. So they better be careful, and you better be careful, slandering me when it’s not true. … Name calling in Mexico City? That’s why all the top Mexican officials and all the other Hispanic agents liked working for me.
Arpaio suggested that Narco News do a positive story about him, offering the publication an exclusive on his DEA career: “If you’d like to do a nice story on Narco, there’s nobody more experienced than me. I’d be glad to sit down with you and do a good story about the intricacies and what happens overseas and the politics and all that.”
Arpaio’s recollection of events doesn’t jive with former DEA agents Berrelles, Jordan and Castillo’s memories. All three are Latino, and they all allege Arpaio had a reputation among minority agents in DEA as being a racist, and all three of them contend they were aware of the story of Zepeda punching Arpaio.
The Italian American Club
According to former DEA agent Oren Gordon, Arpaio’s racial animus was not directed exclusively at Latinos. Gordon is African American and worked for the Phoenix Police Department for some nine years before becoming a DEA agent. Arpaio was Gordon’s boss at DEA in Phoenix from 1978 to 1982, he said.
“He’s a sexist and a racist,” Gordon asserts, referring to Arpaio.
One time at the Italian American Club in Phoenix, and he didn’t know I had free reign to go in and out of there because my band used to play there, Arpaio almost fainted when he saw me there with my girlfriend [who was white], and he wanted to know how I got into the Italian American Club — and I knew head of club. He was flabbergasted.
The following Monday, it was a Saturday when he saw me at the club, in front of everyone in [a DEA] staff meeting, he asked how I got into the club. “Is your girlfriend, is she Italian American?” he asked. I said, “Yeah.” And he [Arpaio] said, “What half?” And I said, “The half that she wipes.” And the whole office laughed, briefly. That pissed him off. From that point on, I was persona non grata. He always did stuff to make me look bad.
Gordon, who said he kept a journal during his time as a DEA agent, recalled that one time he made a drug case against the owner of a Phoenix-area resort, who was white, and he alleges Arpaio, rather than congratulating him for doing a good job, simply said, “Why don’t you ever arrest black guys?”
Gordon also alleges Arpaio tried to set him up at least twice. He recounted one incident:
He [Arpaio] had group supervisor come over and tell me I had to go undercover … just before the deal [was going down]. I knew nothing about it. Well, they staged the deal in front of my fucking house [at a nearby ice cream shop]. I was an avid bicyclist, so everyone in the neighborhood knew me … and they knew my real name.
Gordon said that presented a real risk that his cover could have been blown and his life, and those of the agents working the case, put at risk. And to add insult to injury, Gordon also claims Arpaio then “chewed my ass out for not running the case correctly, and it wasn’t my case, and it was in front of my house.”
In a second incident, Arpaio put Gordon under surveillance because he believed Gordon was allowing his girlfriend to drive his government vehicle, Gordon alleges.
“Arpaio was really pissed at me, and one day he saw me drive my personal car downtown and thought it was my government car. He noticed it sitting in front of bar, and then saw my girlfriend drive up, and I got in, and she drove off,” Gordon recalls. “So, in his brain, I was breaking the law and letting my girlfriend drive a government car.”
Gordon said on another occasion, when his girlfriend was driving him in his personal car to rugby practice after work, “I looked over my shoulder, and I could see him [Arpaio] inside our office building hiding behind a palm plant.”
“That’s when his surveillance of me started,” Gordon added. He said the surveillance was in place from the end of September 1981 through January of 1982, when he was interrogated by a team of Internal Affairs agents. The DEA Internal Affairs team told him that they had been tailing him and had evidence of his misuse of his government vehicle. Gordon said he then provided them proof that the car in question was his personal vehicle.
In yet another incident that Gordon believes was prompted by Arpaio’s racial animus toward him, he said Arpaio “exploded at my desk.” Gordon said Arpaio was upset because the Phoenix police chief was hesitant to work with Arpaio and DEA as part of a task force because of trust issues, but he was willing to have a trial run at it if Gordon was made the “group supervisor of the police detectives in that particular unit.”
The following week, that’s when Arpaio came over and exploded at my desk. People like that think that you’re afraid of them if they are firm, dismissive and denigrating when they speak to you in their tone of voice.... He [Arpaio] said it’s not going to happen, where I work with the task force as the group supervisor, so I could get that out of my head. Everyone in office was quiet as a church mouse. It didn’t bother me. My badge said Department of Justice. It didn’t say Joe Arpaio’s security agency. And from then on, he’d always eyeball my desk when walking by, with my [white] girlfriend’s picture on it. He was always dismissive.
… I also was the EEO [equal employment opportunity] officer for the Phoenix DEA office. And in August of 1981, a woman in the office came to me and said Arpaio was a sexist and she made a formal complaint against him. … And other woman in office came to me as well, the same pattern. He [Arpaio] was so embarrassed because someone from headquarters came down [to Phoenix] and made him apologize to the women in the office at a Monday morning meeting.
Arpaio dismissed Gordon’s allegations, adding “he had some personnel issues … and I’m not going to get into his personnel file.” He then again threatened to sue Narco News and the agents.
“They better be careful, and you better be careful, slandering me when it’s not true. … I’m sure back in those days, even if I made any racial remarks, and they’re so concerned, they’d be filing grievances against me, if they really worked for me. So if they were that concerned, why not file grievances against [me]?
Berrellez addressed that question as follows:
Back then, in the 1970s, if you were a minority agent, and you knew someone was racist, you just did your best to avoid being around them, because no one wants to be embarrassed or bullied. Arpaio wasn’t the only one [in the agency]. We had several people like that. We as minority agents would talk among ourselves, and say, “Stay away from that guy, because he has a problem with the color of our skin,” … or whatever. There were others like that, and we stayed away, or if we had to go to a meeting, we’d put our heads down and blend into the wall, because the way they tried to impress their other racist buddies was to go after you.
We were younger agents and afraid to talk back or say anything, because our careers were at stake. These guys had the power to destroy us. You can talk to other agents about my era. There was tremendous discrimination in the [federal law enforcement] agencies then, and it wasn’t uncommon to be called a boy, or called a beaner or a Mexican cutthroat. They’d say all kinds of things to us.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
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