San Diego Union-Tribune

October 28, 2001

'Fun day' at INS weapons site among allegations in inquiry
     Civilians said to be allowed to fire machine guns

By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- There is no more "fun day" at the Immigration
and Naturalization Service's weapons and ammunitions center.

For years, the head of the INS' National Firearms Unit improperly allowed civilians to fire machine guns and pistols at the Pennsylvania facility's gunnery range, said Justice Department investigators.

The once-a-year-event was dubbed "fun day" by the supervisor,
Gary Runyon.

Runyon, who retired last year, is among seven current or former
INS officials targeted in a wide-ranging investigation for irregularities at the firearms center, INS officials said.

Since 1993, Runyon supervised the INS armory in Altoona, Pa., which maintains thousands of weapons. The firearms center's officials also monitor the INS' nationwide inventory of weapons and ammunition, including firearms housed at California facilities.

Among their findings, the investigators alleged that Runyon:

Improperly used thousands of rounds of ammunition for his personal firearms collection, gave ammunition to subordinates and left 30,000 rounds of ammunition unaccounted for. He took government-owned weapons home and used government vehicles for personal business.

Authorized the INS to spend more than $260,000 to buy gun-repair lathes and milling machines. The equipment was unneeded, INS officials said.

Allowed the Remington Gun Co. to pay for meals and other expenses of the INS staff at a Las Vegas gun show.

Invited non-INS employees to fire machine guns and a Beretta pistol when they visited the facility to demonstrate a computer program.

The Justice Department and INS investigators' findings are included in reports compiled by the federal Office of Special Counsel, a small agency that reviewed the case after several National Firearms Unit employees complained.

Last week, the Office of Special Counsel sent its report -- which
cited "gross waste of funds and abuses of authority" -- to the White House, as required by law.

Elaine Kaplan, head of the Office of Special Counsel, which monitors whistle-blower complaints, said the INS' failure to discipline Runyon or seek criminal charges was not reasonable.

"The agency allowed him to escape accountability," Kaplan said.

Runyon retired in October 2000 after the investigation was launched, officials said. He could not be reached for comment.

Once Runyon quit, INS officials said they believed they "lost the
opportunity to take any disciplinary action against him," according to the Office of Special Counsel documents.

"There is no force on Earth that can keep an individual from retiring if he elects to do that," said Greg Gagne, an INS spokesman in Washington.

INS officials also determined that "administrative handling of the
matter was appropriate to the circumstances and the findings of
fact," Gagne said.

But fallout from the investigation is continuing.

Gagne said personnel cases are pending involving six current National Firearms Unit employees -- including supervisors -- "stemming from specific actions that were inappropriate."

The National Firearms Unit facility in Altoona serves as a central
weapons and ammunition maintenance-and-repair facility. At
least 18,000 firearms are stored inside the armory, whose supervisors also monitor about 53,000 weapons housed at facilities nationwide, including offices in San Diego.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office strongly criticized the INS for mismanaging its inventories, including weapons.

Among the items misplaced, lost or stolen were dozens of revolvers and shotguns at San Diego INS and Border Patrol offices, according to the inspector general.

INS officials blamed the audit's conclusions on flawed record
keeping. San Diego officials said they were unaware of missing
weapons.

In its report, the inspector general made no mention of problems at the National Firearms Unit.

The separate inquiry was launched into activities at the firearms unit after several employees complained about Runyon and other officials.

Runyon admitted to the "fun day" activities and several other allegations, including his ordering of two INS employees to repair an antique sewing machine owned by a supervisor.

Reacting to the investigation's findings, the INS has begun to tighten procedures at the firearms center. An acting director also was named.

And "fun day," officials said, has been eliminated.