By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's program for paying confidential sources to assist with narcotics-trafficking investigations is riddled with deficiencies that could open the door to fraud and abuse, the Justice Department's internal watchdog said Thursday.
In a new audit, the Justice Department's Inspector General found that the DEA continued to pay so-called "deactivated sources," or people who did not qualify to receive money because they had been arrested or had committed serious crimes.
In one instance, the report says the DEA paid a source who had provided false testimony in trials and depositions. Over a five-year period, this confidential source was used by 13 different DEA field offices and paid $469,158.
All told, the audit found that the DEA has paid about $9.4 million to more than 800 deactivated sources from fiscal year 2011 through 2015.
"While we did not review the circumstances of all of these payments in depth, for available information it appears that paying deactivated sources is common enough to justify much closer managerial oversight and review of such payments," the report says.
The report also raises questions about the DEA's practice of paying so-called "limited use" sources, or tipsters who offer up information independently to the government.
These kinds of sources are considered low risk, yet the audit found they were among some of the highest paid sources.
Of 477 "limited sources" reviewed, they received a collective $26.8 million.
In a response provided to the inspector general, the DEA acknowledged the risks associated with the confidential source payment program and said it has taken steps to improve it.
It also said it is reviewing policies and practices to improve oversight of its payments to limited use confidential sources.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch)