Agent recounts undercover life with drug cartels to help at-risk kids

Agent recounts undercover life with drug cartels to help at-risk kids

EL PASO, Texas - On the border where drug cartels recruit kids with promises of easy money, an undercover federal agent who spent years running drugs uses his experience to help at risk youth.

On a sunny summer morning, Oscar Hagelseib, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigation, shared his experience with a group of ten students enrolled in the Border Patrol's R.E.A.L. Mission, which stands for Rewarding Education Attitude Leadership, an outreach program for at risk youth.

The high school students in this group were required to participate in the program because they had problems with truancy.

Uniformed agents warned the kids to "live clean and most important stay in school" before Hageseib walked in wearing street clothes, a Chicago Bulls cap tilted slightly on his head, his arms covered in tattoos.

"These officers are going to tell you, 'Don't do drugs, crime doesn't pay. Do the right thing.' All that stuff we all hear when we're growing," said Hagelseib.

The students were not told Hagelseib has worked as an undercover agent before he talked about his life running drugs.

"I was dealing with multi-key amounts of cocaine. I'm taking about more cocaine than you would ever see like in the movies," said Hagelseib. "I was employed by the cartels. They would pay me to deliver to Chicago. They'd pay me to deliver to Dallas, New York."

A slideshow behind him included photos fast cars, flashy motorcycles and Hagelseib wearing a bandana around his head.

There were big drug deals and big money.

"It was nothing for me to blow $5000 on a bar tab," said Hagelseib.

There were also multiple arrests.

"I've been arrested and handcuffed by probably every agency, every law enforcement department," said Hagelseib.

He asked students why they thought he was not locked up behind bars. One teen said "snitch."

Hagelseib pulled out his badge and said, "I did all this as an undercover agent."

"Oh, shocker," said Viviana Villanueva, a student who heard the presentation. "It was cool. Something different, I didn't expect it."

Hagelseib talked to the students about his work on both sides of the border and half way around the world.

"Mexico, we had grenades thrown at us. We were fired on at our offices," said Hagelseib, who was assigned to Monterrey during a period when the U.S. Consulate was attacked.

In Saudi Arabia, he investigated possible terrorist cases in the region for Homeland Security Investigation before taking the top job at the agency's El Paso office.

"He's kind of intimidating, but then he ended up having a real cool job," said Camila Lopez, a student who listened intently to the presentation.

She asked him about careers for women in the agency and undercover work.

"We have some female undercover agents who are awesome," Hagelseib told her and the other students.

"He got to meet the president. I think that's cool," said Daniel Herrera.

Like the students listening to his talk, Hagelseib was considered at risk at their age.

"I graduated from an alternative program. I was a borderline at risk kid," said Hagelseib.

He grew up on the border in the El Paso area and remembers a similar presentation from another street-smart undercover officer.

"And when he pulled out his badge, I remember the shock value it had for me. And that was the turning point for me. That's when I said, 'That's what I want to do,'" Hagelseib said.

He identifies with the kids and hopes they identify with him.

"What we've tried to show them even though you've gotten into trouble, probably fallen behind like I did," said Hagelseib. "That doesn't preclude you from succeeding in life."

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