Feds paid thousands for free Amtrak lists

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) paid $854,000 for information on Amtrak passengers that could have been obtained for free, according to a federal watchdog who oversees the national rail company. 

Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard said in a report that the payments were made beginning in 1995 to a now-retired informant who was identified in an investigation as a "secretary to a train and engine crew.” 

The employee was found to be selling passenger information without Amtrak’s permission, even though the lists could have been obtained through an agreement that has long existed between the DEA and Amtrak. 

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Howard said in his report, “The actions of the secretary prevented APD [Amtrak Police Department] 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,” he said. “The secretary chose to retire. We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering.” 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed concern about the inspector general’s report, saying in a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart that was obtained by The Hill that the incident "raises some serious questions about the DEA's practices and damages its credibility to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies.

“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," the Iowa senator wrote. "This undercuts the purpose of the joint drug enforcement task force and prevented the APD from coordinating and sharing information with the DEA."

The Hill is checking with Amtrak and the DEA for a response to the inspector general’s report.