Sunday, April 03, 2005
(due date 4-15-05)
The person I chose to interview is David Wharton. He was the Resident Agent in Charge for the Office of Investigations for Customs Service before he retired in November of 2003. He is also my best friendís father and he has been a good friend of my dad since high school. I interviewed him at his house on Chapman Road in his office while his wife, Lovelynn, was cooking dinner. I wanted to know what his career was and what he has done in the past. I though his story would be an interesting one and would like to share it with you. (ďCĒ will be me, Chelsea and ďWĒ will be Mr. Wharton)
C: First, I would like to start off by thanking you for letting me interview you, Mr. Wharton.
W: Sure, no problem.
C: I want to start off with some basic questions. Where were you born?
W: I was born in Uvalde, Texas, September 21, 1953.
C: I didnít know that.
W: You didnít!?
C: I thought you were from, I thought you were born in Del Rio.
W: Yeah, we didnít move to Del Rio, my dad worked for Central Power and Light; my mom work for the county tax office. And my dad was promoted to, he was the assistant manger in Uvalde and he was promoted to foreman in Del Rio. So, in 1964, we moved to Del Rio, built a house on Fox Drive and thatís where I grew up my whole life, there on Fox Drive. I was about, I was in the 6th grade when we moved. What would that be? 6th, 7th, 8th grades in that little old school right across from the 4-H barns.
C: Thatís the 6th grade now.
W: It was 6th, 7th, and 8th when I was growing up.
C: What kinds of things did you do when you were growing up?
W: Ooh, of course mostly my, I did the things my dad taught me to do, which was hunting and fishing. My dad loved to hunt and fish and of course those were the things he taught me, so hunting and fishing are two of my favorite sports than anything, and hobbies, and they still are today. I enjoyed, in Uvalde before I moved I was on the track team. Unfortunately, when I moved to Del Rio, I didnít know anybody and I kind of didnít do anything, and I never did get into sports.
C: What did you do after high school?
W: After high school, I graduated in 1971, we were the Wildcats. Right after high school, letís see, what did I do? Went to work, letís see in a boat, worked for Inland Marine, worked for Dink Brite out here at Inland Marine for about 3 years during the summer. Soon as I got out of high school, of course I went to college. Went to Cisco Junior College, went to Hardin-Simmons, ended up in San Marcos at South West Texas University where I graduated with a Criminal Justice degree in 1975.
C: Did you always want to become, do the law enforcement thing?
W: Yeah, myself and one of my best friends at the time was, Johnny Allen. And we had some friends at the time that were highway patrol and they used to let us ride with them, and it was a very exciting job. We knew we didnít want to be in an office, we knew we didnít want to ranch for a living at that time, and I donít know, not really knowing what to do we just enjoyed law enforcement, so we decided to go to college and get a law enforcement degree in criminal justice and seek a career in the criminal justice field, not knowing which field weíd get into. Like myself, when I graduated from college, I went to work in the oil fields. Actually I went to Sonora that summer, you know, June JulyÖ May, June, July, August I worked in the oil fields for Tom Brown Drilling and Oil Rig. The reason for that was, is they made a lot of money (laugh). And I like money, like all of us. You know, liked fast cars, nice news cars, and all the jobs that were available including law enforcement, especially law enforcement really donít pay a lot of money. So, went to work there, realized real quick though that oil fields wasnít what I wanted to do forever and of course I had a degree in criminal justice. I had applied for several law enforcement agencies. I pledged for, letís see I put in for Dallas Police Department, San Antonio Police Department, and Dallas DPS. I was called actually first by San Antonio Police Department and there were like 120 of us starting that day at 8 oíclock that morning starting out on the physical. By about 3 oíclock that evening they had weeded out to about, there was only 12 of us. Went through background investigations and all the physical requirements, weeded everybody out. Right at the last they weeded me out because they dent me up to a sonogram test for my hearing and Iíve always been kind of hard of hearing at a high frequency and so I flunked the hearing test. So, back to Del Rio I come. Well, right after that, Dallas Police Department and Texas Department of Public Safety called and myself and one of my best friends, Tommy Ratliff decided well, letís try the DPS route. So, in October í75, we joined the DPS Academy and we spent 18 hard, brutal weeks with DPS and we graduated in March 5, 1976. Upon Graduation I was sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, as a state trooper Highway Patrol Service. At that time, there were several different services in Department of Public Safety, just like there are with our police department agencies and I spent approximately 2 years in Eagle Pass in the highway patrol and I transferred. The last year while I was on the highway patrol, I met my wife. Met her in Del Rio, here we were dating. She was going to college in San Marcos so I tried to get as close to her as I could so we could be together more. An opening came up in New Braunfels, Texas, so I put in for New Braunfels and I got it. So in 1977, I moved to New Braunfels and I was stationed in New Braunfels and worked Spring Branch, Bulverde, New Braunfels I-35 area. Of course as a highway patrol our priorities are Texas state traffic laws. We had to patrol the highways, look for any type of crime, but mainly its traffic laws, working you know accidents and DWIís, and there were many of them on that Interstate 35, kept me pretty busy at night. Lotís of really bad wrecks, you, lots of really bad things, a lot of people that are deceased, that are killed in accidents. Iíll let you ask your questions or else Iíll go on and on.
C: O.k., how demanding was your job?
W: Well, in any law enforcement career itís very demanding. You donít, you do not get into a law enforcement career for the money, you do it because itís something you want to do, something that is exciting, especially when youíre young. Not so exciting when you get older. Its long hours, hard hours, you have to work in all types of adverse conditions; it doesnít matter if itís snowing or sleeting, in fact thatís when all the accidents happen. You have to be right out in it. Itís very strenuous; you never know whatís going to happen, when itís going to happen. You never know when that person is going to step out of a car and shoot you. Or, every night on a regular basis, normally we had to fight somebody or at least wrestle someone. I arrested probably 3 or 4 individuals at night for DWIís, and some of them came along peacefully and some of them didnít. So, you had to, youíre out there in the middle of nowhere all by yourself and itís just you and you may have 4 or 5 people in the car. If you have to arrest somebody, the others might get irate too, so you may have to fight more than one person. So, yeah, itís very demanding. Itís not just demanding for the person who is an officer, is also demanding on your wife and family because, while everybody else is out having a good time on all the holidays and weekends, normally in law enforcement, youíre out working. And course, you work all different shift hours, thatís hard and it was very little pay. When I quit the oil fields I was making about, what was I making? I was making three thousand a month and DPS I was making about 500 dollars a month.
C: Thatís a big difference.
W: Big difference. But, I did what I wanted to do. And of course I was just starting out and it did get bumped up a little bit. Back in those days, in í76, í77 pay scale was real low for law enforcement. Itís up a little higher now but itís still not where it should be, especially for people with college degrees. Of course DPS requires, at that time I think we had to have two year degree or 60 hours. I donít remember now but mostly state and federal law enforcement require a four year degree, so itís something you have to want to do because with a four year degree you could go into other fields and actually make more money with better hours.
C: Did you eventually go into other fields?
W: Yeah, the main reason I left DPS was the pay scale. DPS was a very fun job, I really enjoyed it. Probably one of the best jobs Iíve ever had and some of the finest people Iíve ever worked with. Of course most of them were Texans; most of them were from the state of Texas. Once I left Highway Patrol and was accepted by the federal government as a Border Patrol Agent and that was in 1978, June 1978. They stationed me in Hebbronville, Texas. Well I spent about five and a half years in Border Patrol in Hebbronville, Texas. After that I decided that processing aliens wasnít what I wanted to do. And I looked at friends of mine that worked in DEA Service in U.S. Customs so I applied for U.S. Customs and was accepted as a Customs Patrol Officer at Falcon Dam. So, we still, we continued to live in Hebbronville, and I commuted to Falcon Dam for approximately 2 years after that. So we lived in Hebbronville for about seven and a half years, when I was working a Customs Patrol Officer at Falcon Dam, Texas. At Falcon Dam our priority was, then, was narcotics, so all we messed with was fighting narcotics smugglers. Anything smuggled across the river, other than aliens. The Immigration Service and Border Patrol concentrated on the smuggling of people, and the Customs Service concentrate on the smuggling of merchandise. So, thatís what we did. In 1983, no í85, I put in to be a special agent for the Customs Service and I was accepted and promoted and they sent me to McAllen, Texas, where I was a special agent. In 1989, I was promoted to Group Supervisor and had an opportunity to come back to Del Rio as a supervisor for the Office of Investigation for The U.S. Customs Service. Of course my wife, being from Del Rio, wanted to come home, so we ended up coming back to Del Rio. From 1989 to 1995 I was group supervisor for Del Rio. 1995, I was promoted to what they called, RAIC, Resident; itís an acronym for ďResident Agent in ChargeĒ, R-A-I-C. And 1995 til 2003 when I retired, I was a RAIC, in charge of Customs Office of Investigations here in Del Rio.
C: What was that job?
W: Our primary function, because of the geographical area on the border of Mexico, again, the Customs Service Office of Investigations was a branch. It was a department of Treasury at the time and our primary functions were the smuggling of narcotics, money laundering, weapon smuggling, navigational violations, child pornography and actually we enforced 40 other federal agenciesí violations. Iíll give you an example; there are a lot of federal agencies out there that have very limited personnel, or agents. So what, for instance, Iíll give you an example, FAA, Federal Aviation Agency, they have very limited enforcement personnel so they depend upon Customs agents to do the enforcement action. So weíd go out to the airport, weíd have the authority to board aircraft, to seize the aircraft for FAA violations. So, that was one of our, navigational violations same thing. If you were out on the water and didnít have the right lights, or any type of navigational violation, customs service enforced any type of violation. But here in Del Rio, anywhere up and down the Mexican border, 98% of our work was narcotic trafficking, narcotic smuggling, money laundering.
C: Now, you said that you didnít like what Customs had become, is that why you retired?
W: That was the main reason, yes. Immigration service has a lot of flaws in it, the government new that, anybody in the government knew that. Thatís why they made changes. Unfortunately they made the wrong changes. They took an agency like the Office of Investigation of U.S. Customs, which was doing an outstanding job, that had a really good reputation, then they put, under the merger of Department of Homeland Security they merged the Customs agents with the Immigration agents. So now, we not only have to deal with all the things we had to deal with as a Customs agent, we have Immigration issues and we have to abide by Immigration rules and regulations. But then actually, Immigration Services is now running my office. So for me, I really did not want to process illegal aliens again, I did that for five and a half years, wasnít really fond of it. To me, I didnít really consider that law enforcement although it was smuggling of people. But I just didnít want to get involved with it again. And I was at a point in my career, I been in enough years and seen enough changes, at this point I had other things that I wanted to do with my life, ranching and farming, so I decided Iíd go ahead and retire.
C: So do you keep busy ranching and farming?
W: Oh, yeah, I stay, I donít make much money at it, but I have fun. And I can go fishing and hunting whenever I want, and I help my father-in-law at the ranch, weíre sheering right now; rounding up and sheering and marking and drenching lambs and goats and it takes about, it takes a good 12 to 14 days. Everyday at the ranch, by the time we round up each pasture, get the sheep and the goats, then drench and mark and sheer. So, it takes a while, a lot of work.
C: Did you ever feel like you life was in danger at times? I mean, I know you said you hadÖ
W: Oh yeah, all the time. Sometimes, like I said, on a weekly basis. There are people that refused, you know, youíd tell them they were under arrest and they said no Iím not going in. There we people that I had to arrest that they were so big that their hand-cuffs wouldnít go around their wrists. There were many times that youíd have to draw your weapon, and force people to go. There were times where people you had stopped, you knew there was something wrong. I remember one occasion in Border Patrol that I stopped this young couple and an older, long haired guy, had long hair down to about the middle of his back; real, real scraggly looking. And he just had this look about him that I didnít like, he was just nervous and the young couple was really nervous. There was, I noticed there was a huge bouy in the back seat. I knew there was something wrong. This particular stretch of highway I was patrolling, we usually catch a load of narcotics a day on a shift on this road and it was very high profile for smuggling drugs. Well, I assumed they had a load of narcotics on the car. I searched as hard as I could; I was by myself at like 2 oíclock in the morning. I didnít have any back up, all I could do was search as good as I could by myself and I had to keep telling that young couple to sit back on the hood of the car. When I would search the car, they would start approaching me, and I had to, you had to keep an eye them so they wouldnít come up and hit you on the head or take your gun or whatever. When I decided I couldnít find anything illegal on them I had to cut them loose. Well, a few minute later, came back on the radio after I run a check on the, that the guy was wanted. See what had happened was he killed a deputy sheriff in Mississippi; he killed another old couple in Texas. Come to, what happened the young couple was just hitch hikers. They were real nervous, they were just nervous. Make a long story short, they ended up catching the guy later on down the road, and he admitted to murdering all these people and he used the knife I saw in the back seat. And he said that if Iíd given him the chance, he would have killed me that night. So, those are the type of things that everybody you stop, you just never know what kind of lunatic youíre gonna stop. You really hope as a law enforcement officer you never have to use you weapon but unfortunately there are times that you do. There were two occasions we had to use our weapons and both occasions, there were people that were killed. The only thing I can about that is that Iím just happy it was them and not us.
C: How did your wife feel about all this?
W: Well, she knew from the get go what I was interested in and, you know itís not any different than a person working in an oil field, itís dangerous; itís not any different than a person working in some type of factory. Look at the explosion that happened in Texas City. There are a lot of dangerous jobs out there. So, nah, and I donít, the one thing I did in my career, I didnít bring my work home. My wife, if I had a bad night on the job, or something bad happen, I didnít bring it home and discuss that with my wife. I left my job on the job. So, when I came home weíd talk about what we were going to do tomorrow or the next day, or vacation, or whatever; work in the yard or the house, I just didnít talk about my work. I kept it between me and my job.
C: Did you meet many people?
W: Oh yeah. Oh absolutely. Thatís one of the best things about the law enforcement agencies, especially in the job that that I had as a special agent for Customs service. I did a lot of traveling, went all over the United Stated. Went back and forth to Washington D.C., of course got my taste of that and realized that I didnít want to go there. For me to promote any higher than what I was, Iíd have to go to Washington D.C.; which I could have done, I just didnít want that lifestyle. Theyíre expensive, you have to take the subway, itís mostly paperwork, and that just wasnít my, I didnít want to do that. But the good thing is as a federal agent of the government is we got to work with all the state, local and county law enforcement agencies, we prosecuted our case at the U.S. Attorneyís office, we had to go to pretrial services, we got to meet all the people in the Defense team; there were public defenders that they represented the people we arrested the pretrial services, you had the judges, the federal magistrates. Everybody in all the other law enforcement agencies, you get to know. So yeah, as an agent working for Customs service (cough) when we were working on cases, we may leave Del Rio, then go to Florida, Georgia, we may end up anywhere. Now when I was an agent in McAllen I spent most of my time in Houston, Texas, because most of the drugs that we transported from McAllen were all going to Houston. Different areas all go to different areas. For instance in Del Rio the majority of the narcotics goes to Austin, Fort Worth. McAllen, it all goes to Houston. But it depends on, like my men here did a lot of traveling between Austin and Fort Worth. Oh you get to meet all kinds of people. And even, whatís really sad, even a lot of the people we arrested were not necessarily bad people, they were just doing it for the money. It was illegal, theyíd run the risk, hoping they could get by with out getting caught. There was just too much money involved, itís just too tempting.
C: So, youíve been retired almost a year, or had it been a year?
W: oh gosh, I guess this November itíll be two years.
C: Two years.
W: Two years, I retired in November of 2003.
C: Do you miss the job?
W: Oh, there are times. But as you get older, the thrill of the, you know, like when I was in that black and white and you were your own boss, you can do what you want, basically. You just have a lot of good times, it was just a lot of fun. Itís the thrill of it, but as you get older and work in a particular profession, it becomes, you get tired of it. One thing that I really do miss, I do miss the people. A lot of my friends, a lot of your friends in law enforcement, I guess in any field that your in as a nurse or a teacher, you tend to see people sticking with their own kind. A lot of people donít want to deal, a lot of people donít want to be around law enforcement people, foe whatever reasons. If you notice that school teachers tend to stick together, nurses tend to stick together, law enforcement tend to stick together. Yeah, I miss, I miss the people. My office has parties, you know every couple of weeks and I still get invited and I go every chance I can, itís just camaraderie. Thatís the worst part, is, itís really hard in the federal government, because you get to know so many people that are form different areas all over the United States. People that I worked with in the Border Patrol all the way into the Customs, they were friends of mine, partners, people that I broke in, people that I trained. They turned out to be, well actually, the people that I trained are all heads of the agencies, way above me. So, but, a lot of these people that I trained or worked with are from __________, Maine; Blaine, Washington; Miami, Florida. They transfer from all these different places, and like all the people I had worked with, you know with me, Sean McCarthy, and all these different people that go to Washington D.C. and then they, they branch out through the whole government so itís hard to see them. We stay in contact by email and telephone, but I donít get to Blaine, Washington to see Brolley much, I donít get to Washington D.C. anymore to see my friends that were her in my office, they worked for me. So yeah, thatís the hardest part, is not being able to see them as much as you want to.
C: So, do you plan on doing anything else?
W: Iím probably not going to have time. As my father-in-law is getting older, he needs to retire. We got a lot of cattle at the ranch. We are going to be taking over two ranches up towards Sonora, so we are going to be moving a lot of cattle up on that end. Going to try to cut back on the sheep because it takes up so much damn time. Where cattle, one or two people can work cattle. We can take them, keep them instead of sheep and goats. Nah, it looks like between the farm and the ranch thatí going to be a full time job. Iím not going to have time for anything else. And its stuff I like to do now. I didnít want to do it when I was young, but now I want to do it. As you get older, things change in you life. Which youíll find out soon, things that you didnít particularly like when you were younger, as you get older things change.
C: Well, I guess thatís all I have, thatís all, now that youíve explained everything to me. Well, thank you for the interview.
W: Sure, Iím glad I could help, not much too really tell you. And, there are probably a million things I could say, but I just canít think of them at the time. You can always come back (laugh).
C: Yeah, well thank you again.
W: Yeah, sure. Anytime, Chelsea.
When I stopped the tape, I stayed to talk with Mr. Wharton for a while longer. Of course, when I turned the tape off he told me stories about certain things he remembered. He also told me that there were many things that he had experienced that he would like to forget. He said that the things he hated to see the most were car wrecks with women and children. One time, he told me, there was a wreck that he had come upon, that a car had rolled and the baby in the car was tossed out. When the car rolled over, it rolled over the baby and all he could see of the baby was its legs kicking and trembling as it died. He told me about another time, that four teens were driving while they were high and they crashed into an on-coming car with a grandmother and her grandson inside. He said that when he arrived at the crash, the car was so compacted that they had to cut the car open to get the teens out. He said that the engine was in the drivers lap, the steering wheel had split apart and the column had gone through the guysí chest, slicing open his heart. He said all he could do for the guy was talk to him and calm him while he died, because he wasnít going to live. He said the guy kept telling him that he felt very cold and it was because he was bleeding to death. So he stayed with him and talked to him to keep him calm until he died. I guess those would be some of the things I would want to forget if I had experienced them.