Terence “T.J.” Bonner headed a union that guards our borders from illegal entries from Mexico and Canada. Unfortunately, for years he allegedly engaged in illegal entries of his own – in the union’s coffers and books. On August 16, a San Diego federal grand jury indicted Bonner on 11 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy for his diversion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) for his own use. Until his retirement last year, Bonner had headed the council for more than two decades. Prosecutors say that he and an unindicted co-conspirator, a union official, defrauded members and concealed the thefts by submitting false financial statements. At his August 20 arraignment, Bonner pleaded not guilty to all counts. A conviction would be a sad career ending for someone truly committed to national security.
The National Border Patrol Council, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), represents roughly 14,000 dues-paying law enforcement agents and support staff of the U.S. Border Patrol. The Border Patrol is part of Customs and Border Protection, which in turn is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these employees risk their safety each day to prevent illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and other lawbreakers from crossing our borders. T.J. Bonner, now 59, a resident of the San Diego-area border town of Campo, Calif., gave every appearance of being a dedicated public servant. He was an outspoken advocate for Border Patrol agents and their union, raising the level of public awareness of the need for more effective border control. When Agent Brian Terry, part of a four-man Border Patrol Tactical Unit, was murdered by a group of armed Mexican thugs in December 2010 in an unpopulated area in Arizona, Bonner minced no words. “This is an unspeakable tragedy,” he said. “The gun battle occurred in an area 15-18 miles within the United States, in one of many areas along the border with Mexico that is out of control.” Bonner added that those who claim our Mexican border has become safe “either don’t have a good grasp of the situation or are lying deliberately.” The U.S. Justice Department this past July indicted five suspects in that case. Four of them were at large at the time; Mexican authorities announced on September 8 that they had captured one of those suspects.
What NBPC rank and file didn’t know was that since the early years of his presidency, which began in 1989, their boss, T.J. Bonner, likely had been pilfering funds from the NBPC till. On numerous occasions, Bonner allegedly obtained reimbursements for ostensibly union-related activities that went for personal use. The indictment noted: “These false claims included periods of time when Bonner was actually visiting his mistress in Chicago or family members, as well as trips to attend non-Union activities, such as hockey games and other sporting events.” He also received expense voucher reimbursements for vacations, clothing purchases and up to $800 a year to “purchase one or more gifts and/or meals for their spouse or ‘significant other’ and/or children at any time of their choosing.”
There was more. Bonner also allegedly benefited illegally from a “lost wages” policy that he initiated requiring the union to pay its officials premium rates for working on Sundays, holidays and night shifts, thus putting these employees on par with Border Patrol agents who work these shifts. Bonner submitted claims for lost wages, said the indictment, “for time frames in which he was not working on union activities but instead at home, downloading, viewing and archiving” what the Justice Department says is “inappropriate” material. He also submitted and obtained reimbursement “for dozens of hard drives used to store” such material “not maintained in furtherance of union activity and whose presence on Border patrol computers would have been specifically prohibited by government policy.” Finally, Bonner and an alleged co-conspirator, identified only as a union secretary-treasurer, concealed from union members “the manner in which Bonner was being personally enriched at Union expense.”
Apparently, the fraud added up. The indictment listed $87,863 in false “lost wages” claims during 2007-10 and $48,067 from other false claims during that period. All told, Bonner “obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds to which he was not entitled.” The executive board of the National Border Patrol Council first learned about an ongoing federal investigation in April 2010, shortly before Bonner’s scheduled mandatory retirement. The union allowed him to serve out his final two-year term until it expired in March 2011. It was the allegedly phony expense reports that triggered an investigation. According to Bonner’s successor, George McCubbin, Bonner received special treatment from the secretary-treasurer, whom the indictment did not indicate by name. “When we submitted expense vouchers, he never questioned anything for T.J.,” said McCubbin. “If we submitted something and forgot a receipt, he’d circle it and send it back to us. He didn’t do that with T.J.”
Bonner vehemently denies wrongdoing. And he insists the investigation and resulting indictment are part of a politically-motivated vendetta against him for his frequent criticism of the federal government’s record on border security during Republican as well as Democratic administrations. “The federal government will continue lying to the American people about the security of our borders; an honest man’s reputation will be destroyed; and millions of tax dollars will be wasted in an ineffectual wild goose chase,” he remarked. Bonner also characterized President McCubbin’s remarks as “whining,” adding, “The union definitely threw me under the wheels of the bus.” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy put it differently: “Siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars from hard-working fellow Border Patrol agents, many of whom put their lives on the line every day to protect this country, is a particularly troubling form of corruption that must be addressed.” Once again, truth will out.