Tuesday, December 21, 1999

‘Local’ agent
accuses DEA of bias

By Debra Barayuga


A 28-year veteran of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is charging that the agency discriminates against Asian-American agents.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, Robert Aiu of Kauai alleges the agency targeted him and fellow Asian-American supervisors despite their outstanding work performance.

He also accuses the federal agency of retaliating against him after he filed a complaint.

"There are signs that DEA headquarters discriminated against agent Aiu and other minority supervisors because they were seen as a so-called 'local-boy clique' in Honolulu," said Clayton Ikei, Aiu's attorney.

The suit names as defendants U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and three high-ranking DEA officials in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

It asks that the DEA officials be enjoined from further retaliating against Aiu, and seeks at least $150,000 in damages.

Ikei said Aiu was singled out and faces disciplinary action, while Caucasian agents under investigation for more serious allegations of misconduct are continuing to work and face no disciplinary action.

For example, he said, an undercover agent "lost" thousands of dollars in government funds but no action was taken against him. Another agent remains active in investigative work even though he faces serious misconduct charges.

The DEA, however, placed Aiu on limited-duty status on Dec. 10, 1998, and on nonduty status on Jan. 19 while it investigates allegations of professional misconduct lodged against him by an anonymous Caucasian agent.

Among the allegations Aiu is accused of are allowing his cousin Thomas Aiu, also a DEA agent, to participate in drug enforcement activities against the instructions of his supervisor, Sidney Hayakawa; directing subordinate agents not to include Thomas Aiu's name in reports of drug enforcement activities; and yelling at a prisoner who was in custody and was trying to damage DEA property.

In February, Robert Aiu filed an informal complaint alleging racial discrimination against himself, Thomas Aiu -- whose transfer to the New York field division was later rescinded -- and Hayakawa, who retired from the DEA after 27 years of service.

The suit says Robert Aiu, Hayakama and retired supervisor George Clemente all received negative reports during an inspection of the Honolulu office in January. They were not interviewed by the inspection team, but a fourth supervisor who is Caucasian was interviewed and was not found deficient, according to the suit.

Thomas Kelly, special agent in charge of the DEA's Honolulu office, said he hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined comment, except to say Aiu is exercising his rights.

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