The U.S. Border Patrol protects our borders against persons who attempt to enter our country illegally. It’s risky and often thankless work. Some of its former members, however, may have performed thankless work of a lesser kind: looting their union. A report published in late February by ProPublica and then in other news outlets revealed that the FBI is investigating the disappearance of more than $500,000 from the bank accounts of the National Border Patrol Council, centering on the local for the El Paso sector. Council President Brandon Judd apprised his agents of the situation last November. “We know the FBI is looking into it,” he said. Rumors had been circulating that the finances of the Washington, D.C.-based union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees, are in disarray.
Border protection is a necessary function of any nation. And agents for the U.S. Border Patrol, part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which in turn is part of the Department of Homeland Security, recently have faced severe challenges to carrying out their mission. In the most publicized case, a “caravan” of thousands of marchers originating in Honduras in mid-October 2018 arrived weeks later at the San Ysidro Border Station south of San Diego without authorization, seeking a grant of asylum. Around noon on Sunday, November 25, hundreds of marchers, deciding to circumvent the review process, made a collective run for our border. Temporarily overwhelmed CPB agents, helped by agents from Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), had to use tear gas to repel the riot.
The National Border Patrol Council represents most of the nation’s roughly 14,000 active Border Patrol agents. Like all too many other unions, it has had its share of scandal. Back in August 2012, National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner was indicted by a San Diego federal grand jury for embezzling hundreds of dollars in council funds for his own use; prosecutors eventually dropped the charges in February 2014 on procedural grounds. Similar allegations, however, have persisted, often resulting in convictions. Hundreds of CPB agents since then have been arrested for misdemeanors such as drunk driving and serious offenses such as drug smuggling and sexual assault. In 2016, the Border Patrol’s advisory board declared that agent misconduct had grown to the point where it is jeopardizing our border control.
The new ProPublica story underscores this conclusion. According to an audio recording obtained by the authors, current union President Brandon Judd told member agents that forensic auditors hired by the union discovered more than $500,000 in missing funds. Of that total, $352,389.31 represented misappropriations, while another $150,035.65 represented tax payments not forwarded to the IRS as required. “Somebody pocketed it, just up and walked away,” said Judd, adding, “We expect there will be indictments.” He and other union officials had brought the issue to the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, which subsequently launched a probe with the FBI.
As befits standard procedure, neither the FBI nor the DOL are commenting. But according to four unnamed Border Patrol agents, the focus of the probe is on the union’s former El Paso sector local president, Robert Russell, and his sister, Dawn Munoz, former tax accountant for the union. Russell, who headed the local during 2014-17, had access to funds. In the spring of 2018, after he had stepped down, the local fired Munoz after discovering that a substantial amount of money was missing. It then hired a forensic auditor. Russell, who remains an active agent, insists that no money disappeared when he ran things. Indeed, he is accusing President Judd and his inner circle of concocting the appearance of a scandal in order “to take the heat off themselves” and to divert council member attention from the shortcomings of their new contract. He is also emphatic that his sister had done nothing wrong.
That said, a large sum of money is unaccounted for. And there is good reason to suspect that Dawn Munoz had something to do with that. Munoz, married to a retired Border Patrol agent, has a lengthy history of low-level financial offenses in Texas and New Mexico dating back almost 30 years. Those offenses have included theft, forgery and check-bouncing. Though in each case, the charges were dismissed, she has a selective memory. During an interview with ProPublica, she initially claimed that she was unaware of any prior embezzlement charges against her, but then about 30 minutes later suddenly remembered them. She also claimed that she never had been incarcerated, but when presented with documentation, recalled briefly serving jail time for forgery in 1991 before posting bail. Since 1997, she has been charged with floating bad checks at least four times.
These incidents, in and of themselves, are not proof of wrongdoing by her or anyone else at the union. But they do warrant a close look. It’s worth noting that Cesar Lujan, local treasurer for eight years, quickly resigned his post after the union notified the FBI about the missing money. Current local President Joe Frescas is considering various options to recoup the funds beyond insurance company reimbursement, including a civil suit against Mrs. Munoz’s El Paso-based company, Tax Solutions & Accounting. Hopefully, this case will result in closure. Surely if our Border Patrol agents can protect our southern border, they can protect their dues collections.