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Justice Department watchdog investigating $854K in payments to Amtrak secretary

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FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee appears at a hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network, The Associated Press has learned. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the $854,460 an unnecessary expense and asked for further information about the incident in a letter he released Monday to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General says it is investigating wasteful payments of $854,000 over 19 years to an Amtrak secretary for providing ridership information to the Drug Enforcement Agency that the DEA should have been able to get for free.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) highlighted the excessive payments earlier this month, and said this apparent case of wasteful spending was highlighted in an OIG assessment of Amtrak. That report listed the payments as an issue that could be the subject of a criminal action.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants an investigation into huge payments made to an Amtrak secretary, and a Justice Department watchdog says it is looking into the issue. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

On August 12, Grassley called on the DEA to fully investigate how those payments could have happened. He also noted that DEA and Amtrak are both part of a drug enforcement task force, which should have allowed DEA to get the ridership information it wanted free of charge.

It's unclear whether the DEA's payments were legal at all, or whether the Amtrak secretary was legally able to accept the money.

On Tuesday, Grassley announced that the Justice Department's OIG is investigating the payments, a move that Grassley welcomed.

"If it's accurate that the DEA was paying a secretary for information it could have received for free, that's a waste of public money," Grassley said. "Bigger picture, it's important for the Justice Department and the inspector general to determine whether payments like this happen regularly at DEA and other Justice Department components and if so, whether the money is going out the door with little or no oversight."

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