WASHINGTON — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office is taking over the agency's troubled aviation division, following allegations of mismanagement and waste at the operation, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
The DEA announced the transfer of special agent Gary Olenkiewicz in an internal message to employees last week.
The DEA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
In recent months, more than a dozen DEA agents interviewed by McClatchy have described a system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors. Other agents who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped for the overseas duty.
One agent, Daniel Offield, filed an employment discrimination complaint alleging that he was told if he refused to go to Afghanistan by July 15 that he'd be sent back to street duty. He asked for a reprieve because he was in the process of adopting two special needs children, and offered to serve his required temporary duty in other countries.
The Stockton, Calif., agent was reassigned to street duty at the DEA's Oakland, Calif., office.
DEA officials have denied discriminating against Offield and said that in such cases agents aren't being demoted, because even if they lose their pilot position, the salary is the same.
His lawyer disagreed, countering that DEA pilots receive from $1,000 to $2,000 more a month in hazard pay.
In another dispute, William Brown, the former special agent in charge of the division, chartered a private plane for the DEA's acting administrator to fly to Colombia at a cost of $123,000, even though the agency has 106 planes of its own. The DEA scheduled the trip in October as the nation was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades.
In a separate incident, he invested in untested planes that agents feared were unsafe.
Brown stepped down soon after McClatchy's reports on the matters.
Last fiscal year, the DEA's aviation division spent about $76 million. The agency flies its 106 planes for law enforcement operations and drug surveillance throughout the nation and the world, according to its Web site.
In an internal announcement about the transfer, Olenkiewicz is described as demonstrating "exceptional leadership" and "team-building skills."
Olenkiewicz began his career in 1984 and has worked in cities across the country, including New Jersey, Miami and Texas, according to the Justice Department's Web site. He took over the Chicago office in 2006.
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