NewsNational NewsScripps News

Actions

Whistleblower report alleges impropriety from CBP's chief doctor

A new report accuses Dr. Alexander Eastman, the acting chief medical officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, of improper conduct in office.
Whistleblower report alleges impropriety from CBP's chief doctor
Posted at 3:35 PM, Feb 19, 2024

What do fentanyl lollipops, a questionable trip to San Diego and falsified federal contracts have in common?

According to a whistleblower report, it’s Dr. Alexander Eastman — the acting chief medical officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Eastman, who was temporarily appointed to the role after his predecessor was reassigned in the wake of the death of a little girl in the agency’s custody, is accused of:

- Manipulating agency rules so he could bring fentanyl lollipops with him on a helicopter flown by a friend during the UN General Assembly’s meeting in New York 

- Billing the government for travel and hotel stays unrelated to his official duties

- Falsifying bid documents to allow himself to hire consultants to work in his office

The allegations against Eastman were forwarded to Congress Friday by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Project on behalf of a group of current and former CBP employees and contractors.

SEE MORE: Whistleblowers claim cover-up in state-run homes for kids in Tennessee

Fentanyl lollipops, trips

In late September 2023, when the UN General Assembly held its annual meeting for heads of state in New York, Customs and Border Protection detailed agents and equipment to assist in security.

Without explaining why he needed to go, according to whistleblowers, Eastman began instructing his subordinates to get him fentanyl lollipops to take with him while he joined CBP agents aboard a helicopter as part of the security efforts.

Eastman allegedly told employees that he needed the powerful narcotic painkillers with him in case a CBP employee or patient they encountered needed painkillers.

However, according to the report, both Eastman and the helicopter pilot he was to fly with — a friend of Eastman's — had been investigated by the agency on allegations of improper ordering, procurement and storage of fentanyl lollipops. 

When told that the agency’s policies didn’t allow for that, whistleblowers say Eastman wrote his own policy without seeking authorization from above. 

Whistleblowers also complained Eastman used CBP money for travel to Orlando, San Diego and Phoenix and other places which were “unrelated” to his job, and that he justified them by adding unnecessary stops “tangentially related” to his duties.

He is also alleged to have had three consultants improperly hired to serve as his "assistants and advisors" as part of an add-on to an unrelated information technology contract — and giving them “inside information” to help in bidding on a contract for a new electronic medical records system championed by Eastman.

His efforts were only thwarted, according to whistleblowers, when he was informed that a vendor could not be found in time.

An unusual background

Eastman’s management experience prior to the Department of of Homeland Security came as head of trauma surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital during the time it was penalized for millions of dollars in billing fraud, and before endemic safety failures led federal officials to impose an unprecedented form of direct federal monitoring.

While he had been described as the “chief medical officer” of the Dallas Police Department, a police spokesman said Monday that role is part of Eastman’s unpaid volunteer work as a “reserve” police officer.

Prior to 2023, Eastman worked as a Dallas-based employee of the Department of Homeland Security’s office in charge of countering weapons of mass destruction and was involved in assisting law enforcement agencies in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, DHS officials gave Eastman an award for his work overseeing medical screening along the southern U.S. border — apparently while on loan from his regular duties.

During that period there were numerous problems in health and screening along the border — when at least five children died in CBP custody or after being taken to the hospital.

It was also the time period during which the Government Accountability Office found the border patrol had misdirected money meant for medical care and food to instead purchase dirt bikes, boats and ATVs.

In fact, it was CBP’s repeated failures along the border during that period which led to the creation of the chief medical officer role.

Also prior to joining DHS, Eastman was a professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, which has a longstanding relationship with Parkland and was involved in the billing fraud there. 

In 2022, UTSW paid a $4.5 million fine to settle DEA and Justice Department allegations that an “almost shocking disregard” for the laws on handling narcotics allowed employees to steal drugs, including fentanyl, from 2013 to 2018.  Eastman was on the faculty during much of that time,  but was never publicly implicated in the case.

In a statement released Friday, an agency spokesperson said the case had been referred to the agency's office of professional responsibility.

On Monday a spokesperson confirmed that Eastman remains in his position, but said she was unable to get answers to  additional questions  due to the Presidents Day federal holiday.

SEE MORE: Family demands justice in CBP fatal shooting on Tohono O’odham Nation


Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com