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Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A probation officer gets caught growing marijuana, a task force commander is accused of stealing $90,000, more cops get nailed for spilling the beans to drug suspects, and more. Let's get to it:

In Savannah, Georgia, a Savannah-Chatham police sergeant resigned December 18 after being the subject of renewed allegations he tipped off a drug dealer and lied to investigators. Malik Khaalis had been the subject of 2010 investigation by the DEA and the Chatham County Narcotics Team for interfering with a drug investigation, but no charges were ever filed. But early in December, a new report found that Khaalis repeatedly lied to his supervisors on the task force, had unauthorized contact with another cop whose brother was being probed, and likely warned a suspect his phone was being tapped.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Orange County's chief probation officer was arrested December 9 on charges she had a marijuana grow in her home. Carlisha Lakwan Davis, 38, went down after a June break-in at her home led to the discovery of the grow. Charges were delayed while investigators "were making sure we had what we needed" to file charges. Davis is charged with felony maintaining a dwelling for the sale, manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance, felony marijuana manufacturing and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. She's out on a $10,000 cash bond pending a court appearance later this month.

In Ambridge, Pennsylvania, a part-time Ambridge police officer was arrested December 18 on charges he bought drugs on duty and informed drug dealers of investigations. Officer Andrew Wanto went down after buying a single Oxycontin tablet from a snitch working for the attorney general's office. This after other snitches told investigators he had been buying drugs, including cocaine and pills, for several months while in his police cruiser. Wanto admitted the following day that he had made drug purchases and revealed information about investigations. He is charged with attempted drug possession, obstructing administration of law and hindering apprehension or prosecution. He remained free on $25,000 unsecured bond.

In Angola, Louisiana, a state prison guard was arrested last Tuesday after being caught smuggling crack cocaine, meth, Lortab, Xanax, cocaine, and fake pot into the prison inside her bra. Guard LeAngela Handy went down after being snitched out, and now faces smuggling charges.

In McAllen, Texas, a former sheriff's office commander was arrested last Tuesday on charges linking him to a local drug trafficking ring. Jose "Joe" Padilla, a 24-year veteran of the office is charged with marijuana trafficking and money laundering. He became a former commander after being fired last Wednesday. He has been freed on a $5,000 cash bond pending trial.

In Maysville, Kentucky, the former director of a now defunct drug task force pleaded not guilty December 18 to charges he stole public funds. Tim Fegan, former director of the Buffalo Trace/Gateway Narcotics Task Force, is accused of stealing $90,000 in drug money that went missing in January. His task force was shut down after a local media outlet broke the story of corruption within it. Although he was indicted on federal program fraud charges, he was never arrested, but was instead issued a summons to appear. He has been released without bail pending trial next month. He's looking at up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted.

In San Diego, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was convicted December 20 of allowing tons of marijuana and loads of undocumented immigrants to pass unhindered through his border checkpoint inspection lanes. Lorne Leslie "Hammer" Jones, 50, began waving cars and vans full of undocumented immigrants through the San Ysidro checkpoint in 2000, and then graduated to semi-trucks packed with pot. He was convicted of drug smuggling, alien smuggling, and conspiracy to engage in bribery. Jones' sentencing is set for March 24.

New Hampshire Cops Kill Man Fleeing Drug Sting

An undercover drug bust in a Weare, New Hampshire, shopping mall Wednesday night ended with the target of the bust shot to death as he attempted to flee. The as yet unidentified victim is the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Concord Monitor and a press release from the state attorney general's office, several Weare police officers and two confidential informants were outside Dunkin' Donuts in Lanctot's Plaza on US Highway 114 doing a drug sting on the target, a suspected heroin dealer.

When officers attempted to detain the man, he tried to flee. Two officers then opened fire, wounding the man as he sped off in his vehicle. He made it about one hundred yards before crashing near an ice cream stand along the highway. He was taken by ambulance to a Manchester Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police have not said why they opened fire. They have not claimed that the man was shooting or pointing a gun at them, or even if a weapon was recovered. They have not claimed he was trying to run them over and they feared for their lives. And they have not mentioned the seizure of any drugs.

The attorney general's office said the investigation into the killing was "ongoing."

Weare, NH
United States

One Dead After Charlotte Police Stage Drug Sting on Elementary School Grounds

An undercover drug sting in the parking lot of a Charlotte, North Carolina, elementary school ended up with one person killed and one person wounded, and a community wondering why police chose that particular location for their operation. Jaquaz Walker, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to reports from WSOC-TV and WBTV 3, police set up a marijuana buy between an undercover police officer, an informant, and two teenagers last Tuesday afternoon. Police said that during the drug deal, Walker pulled a gun and shot the informant in the shoulder in an attempt to rob him.

The undercover police officer then shot Walker in the head, killing him. The teen who accompanied Walker fled, but was arrested later.

"You know, you have 15, 16 year old kids out here wielding firearms, that's a very dangerous situation," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who also defended the decision to do the deal in an elementary school parking lot. "Anytime you conduct an undercover operation, what's a good location? Whether it's a shopping mall or neighborhood, there is no real perfect location."

Monroe also said that school was out and that the site was chosen by Walker and his companion. "This was a location identified by individuals that we were seeking to purchase drugs from," he said. "We were aware that the school was empty of kids."

But residents of the neighborhood where the shooting took place were not mollified.

"It bothers me that I live right across from the school, and it is bad that it was on school grounds," said neighbor Wilmer Bourne. "That's what bothers me so much."

"It's been quiet in this neighborhood, ain't nothing happened over here, everything been good, it's always somebody come in the neighborhood and do this, it ain't nobody in our neighborhood," said resident Johnny Crank.

Charlotte, NC
United States

Snitch: Action Thriller With a Drug War Message [FEATURE]

Snitch is a Hollywood action thriller with a message, and it’s a message that is so far playing well with audiences and theaters across the land. The $15 million crime and justice pic starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Susan Sarandon has already done more than $32 million in gross box office receipts, and its being held over for a fourth week in select theaters around the country.

Based on a 1999 PBS Frontline documentary of the same name, Snitch tells the story of trucking company owner John Matthews (Johnson), whose estranged son is set up by a friend in trouble with the law. The son accepts delivery of a package of Ecstasy, and is then raided and arrested by the DEA. Matthews' hired attorney explains to the stunned parents that their son is looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, and the only way out is to snitch on somebody else.

The son bravely refuses to rat out his friends and is kept behind bars, where he is brutalized, but Matthews feels it is nobler to save his son and decides to intercede on his behalf. Using his business connections, he wrangles a meeting with hard-hearted, politically-driven US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Sarandon) and offers to set up dope dealers himself if that can get his son out of trouble.

From there, it's typical action thriller material, with dangerous, desperate dope dealers (who already have two strikes and aren't about to go down for a third), tormented ex-cons trying to go straight, duplicitious (but kind hearted) DEA agents, and bloodthirsty Mexican cartels. There is danger, suspense, shoot 'em ups, and car chases before the movie resolves with junior getting out of jail and the family disappearing into the witness protection program.

But running throughout the nearly two-hour movie are the twin themes of snitching and mandatory minimum sentencing. Snitch lays bare the workings of the drug war's informing imperative, scratching at the surface of the moral contradictions involved, and subtly brings to life the mindless cruelty of imposing lengthy mandatory minimums on nonviolent drug offenders, but it manages to do so in the middle of a mainstream cinematic entertainment vehicle.

That's just what director Ric Roman Waugh wanted, he told Drug War Chronicle in a phone interview Wednesday from Austin, where he is attending the SXSW festival. Once merely a music showcase, SXSW is now a playland for all sorts of artistic endeavors, including Hollywood action films with a message.

"The move is really a first testament to how far you go to protect your kids," said Waugh. "In the documentary, he didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk. He got the US Attorney to sign off and reduce his kid's sentence for a bigger bust. That really happened, and we wanted to open that up."

When he was offered the chance to rewrite the script for the movie, he jumped at the offer, he said.

"They sent me the original script and the Frontline documentary, and it was that core message that really jumped out, and we turned that into a first-person point of view movie," the stuntman turned director said. "The snitching and the mandatory minimums were integral to what we wanted to talk about. The message of the movie is that you can be for or against the war on drugs, but watch what this father went through and then think about these controversial mandatory minimums. When you walk out of the theater and realize nonviolent drug offenders are doing longer sentences than rapists and people who committed manslaughter, that's something to think about."

panel at DC Snitch screening, with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA, FAMM president Julie Stewart, Waugh, and Lawrence & Lamont Garrison
Snitch was screened last week at an event hosted by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) in Washington, DC, but the film has been generating buzz among the broader public as well.

"The response has been tremendous," Waugh said. "There is a core audience that will go see a movie with a message, but that's a relatively small audience. But when you can put that message in the body of bigger action thriller and you're not hitting them over the head with it but just allowing them to experience the controversies, they're coming out and talking about it. They're talking about the world of informants, the liar's club, if you will, and what you would do if your life or the life of your child was on the line. It's created a lot of dialog, and that's what we intended.

Unlike documentaries, which typically play to art house audiences and die quiet, largely unlamented deaths, this Hollywood treatment of the issues has demonstrated some staying power.

"It's been playing for three weeks and will continue for quite awhile," said Waugh. "We've exceeded expectations for movies this size, lots of theaters are keeping us over for the fourth week, and we're even adding a few screens. People are able to relate to this in their own lives. What would happen if their kids were in harm's way? The movie tries to look these draconian laws and the system as a whole and get people to ask where they stand on them. We're only halfway there, and it's already a success. That's a real testament that you can do a message movie, you can do a commercial action thriller that's about something."

As noted above, even though Snitch opened on February 22, it's still being held over in theaters across the land. If you have an interest in drug war issues or if you get off on action flicks in general or flicks starring The Rock in particular, or better yet, if you have a friend or family member who's gaga for The Rock or a sucker for car chases, but has displayed no particular interest in or awareness of issues like snitching or mandatory minimums, it's time to have a movie date while Snitch is still on the big screen.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Florida department run amok loses its chief -- at least temporarily -- an Alabama cop gets caught delivering weed, four South Texas cops get caught running cocaine, and a Camden, New Jersey, sergeant goes down for a dope squad run amok there. Let's get to it:

In Bal Harbour, Florida, the Bal Harbour police chief was suspended last Wednesday after a US Justice Department report said the department had misspent millions of dollars in drug money it had seized. Chief Thomas Hunker, 61, has been suspended with pay while an outside law enforcement agency investigates. The Bal Harbour police had developed the habit of conducting undercover operations all over the country to target drug dealers and their cash. Records show the agency doled out $624,558 in payments to informants in less than four years, and ran up $23,704 in one month for cross-country trips with first-class flights and luxury car rentals. The feds have frozen millions that Bal Harbour police helped confiscate, and the Justice Department now wants the village to return more than $4 million. The Justice Department also accused Hunker of professional misconduct for, among other things, conducting unauthorized checks of national criminal records databases for individuals who did not have access to those systems; receiving multiple gifts from people who may have benefited from his influence; allowing a drunk individual to drive a marked police vehicle on a beach, getting a "sweet deal" on his wife's car purchase after the department bought several vehicles from the same dealer; allowing inflated overtime on money-laundering investigations; and improperly paying informants.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Montgomery police officer was arrested last Wednesday after he was caught delivering more than three pounds of high-grade marijuana to a home in Mobile County. Officer Lyvanh Ravasong is charged with marijuana trafficking. Ravasong went down when he arrived at the residence at the wrong time -- as Mobile County Sheriff's deputies were executing a search warrant at the address. Ravasong is also believed to be associated with a 16-acre pot farm discovered in October near Chunchala. Officer Ravasong is now former officer Ravasong.

In McAllen, Texas, four South Texas lawmen were arrested late last week on charges they accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to guard shipments of cocaine. Mission Police Officer Jonathan Trevino, 29, and Hidalgo County Sheriff's deputies Fabian Rodriguez, 28, and Gerardo Duran, 30, were arrested last Friday, while Mission Police Officer Alexis Espinosa was arrested a day earlier. All four were members of an anti-drug trafficking task force called the Panama Unit, but are accused of instead providing protection for traffickers. Trevino is the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Hidalgo. Federal prosecutors said they received a tip in August that task force members had been stealing drugs and set up a sting. The sting resulted in Duran and another task force member escorting 20 kilograms of cocaine north from McAllen, for which they were paid $4,000. The other task force members earned thousands more dollars for escorting four more cocaine shipments in November. It's unclear what the actual charges are, but all four were being held on $100,000 bonds.

In Camden, New Jersey, a former Camden police sergeant was sentenced last Wednesday to eight months in federal prison for his role as the supervising officer of a corrupt anti-drug squad that stole cash, conducted illegal searches, planted drugs and falsified reports. Dan Morris, 49, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive others of their civil rights. He admitted that between May 2007 and September 2008, he conducted illegal searches without a warrant or consent, obtained coerced consents to search residences based on threats and undue pressure, stole money during illegal searches and arrests, and allowed officers he supervised to include facts in police reports that were false. Morris is the third Camden officer to plead guilty in the conspiracy, while a fourth was found guilty at trial, and a fifth was acquitted. The FBI probe of the conspiracy has resulted in the reversal of about 200 drug convictions of suspects arrested by the unit between 2007 and 2009, when the cops were arrested. Morris, a city officer since 1986, was the unit’s supervisor during the time of the investigation.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A scandal that keeps on giving in Florida, a pair of bad apple deputies in LA get their just rewards, a crooked NYPD cop gets his, too, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

In Largo, Florida, three Pinellas County narcotics deputies have resigned in an ongoing investigation of misconduct around their techniques for tracking down marijuana grows. The deputies have been accused of trespassing, passing themselves off as utility company employees, and monitoring customers at a Largo hydroponics store, among other things. Paul Giovannoni, 31, resigned Friday after reading evidence against him collected by the Internal Affairs Division, while Detective Michael Sciarrino and Sgt. Christopher Taylor, the other members of the grow house team, resigned earlier this week. One narcotics deputy and two patrol deputies are still under investigation. The narcs arrested dozens of store customers after using a surveillance camera to capture their auto tag numbers, then getting search warrants and busting down doors. They claimed in most warrant applications they could smell marijuana from public sidewalks or neighbors' yards, but defense attorneys dug up evidence they were actually trespassing and lying about it. No one has faced criminal charges yet.

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges he sold heroin to an FBI confidential informant. Officer Jonathan Garcia, 23 faces four counts of distribution of heroin and two counts of carrying a firearm during drug trafficking. He allegedly sold the snitch a bundle of 14 heroin packets twice in April and May, but the snitch returned the dope, saying the quality was bad. Garcia then made two more sales, thus the four counts. He was being held at the Federal Detention Center in Center City pending a bail hearing. Garcia has been suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.

In Clinton, South Carolina, a former Clinton police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole pain pills from the inmate medication storage area at the Clinton Public Safety Department. Clarence Lewis III, 36, is accused of making off with 116 hydrocodone tablets and faces one count each of misconduct in office and theft of a controlled substance. Police noticed discrepancies in the drug logs at the end of last month, identified Lewis as the culprit and suspended and then fired him earlier this month. He's now out on a $5,000 bond.

In Lumberton, North Carolina, a Lumberton police office was arrested last Friday on charges he was involved in drug trafficking. Officer Jason Walters, 35, is charged with attempted trafficking in opium by possession. (North Carolina law calls any opioid "opium"). He has been suspended without pay and was jailed on $20,000 bond. No further details were available.

In New York City, a former NYPD police officer was sentenced last Friday to nearly five years in federal prison for falsely arresting and trumping up drug charges against a man in a case that has fueled criticism of the department's stop-and-frisk program. Michael Daragjati, 33, pleaded guilty in January to violating the man's civil rights after he was caught on a wiretap boasting that he had "fried" the man, whom he referred to using a racial slur. The unnamed man spent nearly two days in jail after being stopped and frisked and then falsely arrested by Daragjati.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Monday to six months in jail and five years probation for stealing hash and marijuana from a person he had arrested. Deputy Rafael Zelaya copped to felony counts of receiving stolen property and filing a false police report and agreed to resign from the department as part of the plea deal.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to two years in jail for trying to smuggle 24 grams of heroin into a county jail facility inside a burrito. Henry Marin, 27, went down after undercover deputies watched him pick up a bean-and-cheese burrito filled with 24 grams of black tar heroin at the Los Angeles Airport courthouse where he worked. Marin said he was duped into accepting the doped delight, but copped to a plea deal rather than fight it out in court.

A Festival of Lies: Perjury in a Michigan Cocaine Case [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

[Editor's Note: Unless otherwise noted, the information in this article comes from official court documents in the cases under discussion below. Those documents are available online here.]

disgraced former Wayne County Assistant DA Karen Plants (lawreport.org)
Assistant District Attorney Karen Plants was head of the drug unit at the Wayne County District Attorney's Office in Detroit, Michigan, when the suburban Inkster Police Department scored a major drug bust in 2005. Acting on a "reliable tip," officers reeled in 47 kilos of cocaine, the largest haul the Inkster authorities ever made.

Swiftly taken down were Alexander Aceval, Ricardo "Richard" Pena, Chad Povish and Brian Hill, and police estimated the value of the cocaine in the millions. The bust was highly celebrated by police and prosecutors, evidence that the war on drugs was working.

Yet what came next blew the lid off one of the worst cases of police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct in Michigan history. The arresting officer, the prosecutor, and the trial judge ended up being charged with a string of crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to perjury.

As Circuit Judge Mary Waterstone, who presided over the trials of Aceval and Pena, told a Michigan Attorney General's Office investigator, prosecutor Plants expressed concern that the life of the informant who made the "reliable tip" was in danger. That informant was Chad Povish, who set up his co-defendants to be arrested.

Waterstone said Plants told her she discussed the looming perjured testimony with Tim Baughman, head of the DA's Office appellate division, who told Plants to inform Waterstone, but not the defense. Baughman also suggested the record of the private conference be sealed.

Waterstone and Plants then agreed to knowingly allow perjured testimony by Povish and the arresting officers -- that police didn't know Povish -- into the trial in a bid to protect his identity. Plants later confessed that she had acted improperly.

"I informed the court when the witnesses lied and I did so in a manner to protect the identity of the confidential informant," she said. "In retrospect, I would have handled the case differently. I realize that allowing false statements is wrong."

In their private meetings, Waterstone and Plants agreed with arresting officers Sergeant Scott Rechtzigel and Detective Robert McArthur and Povish to hide from defense attorneys evidence that would reveal Povish was the snitch who set the bust up.

Povish later told investigators that Plants coached him to testify falsely that he wasn't an informant but only an innocent party to the offense. Povish said the message from then-prosecutor plants was clear: "I didn't know either of the officers." But this wasn't true. Povish was a paid informant for the Inkster police. He also personally knew the officers whom he helped to make the biggest drug bust of their careers.

Police contradicted Povish's story when they finally confessed that he tipped them off about the cocaine in order to collect 10% of Aceval's assets, the standard finder's fee in Inkster. Povish had done the same with other drug dealers in the past. He would later be granted immunity for his perjury in the Aceval and Pena case in return for testifying truthfully against the police, the prosecutor, and the judge.

disgraced former Wayne County Judge Mary Waterstone (3rdcc.org)
Both Plants and Waterstone said they felt the informant's life was in danger if he were exposed as the person who helped police take 47 kilos from the Mexican drug cartels. But there was never any testimony from a witness or police to substantiate those fears. The judge's and prosecutor's fears may or may not have been justified, but their actions trampled on the constitutional rights of the defendants. And it doesn't end there.

Michigan attorney David L. Moffitt represented Aceval on appeal after he and Pena were convicted on perjured testimony. He insists that police were playing fast and loose with the truth from the time the bust went down.  The arresting officers wrote in their reports that they saw Aceval and Pena place kilos of cocaine into Povish's Oldsmobile, he points out. But Povish himself testified that he and Brian Hill loaded the coke.

"Immediately upon the arrests of Alexander Aceval and Ricardo Pena, the perjury scheme went into motion," Moffitt declared at the time.

Allowing perjured testimony is absolutely inexcusable, said Wayne State law professor Peter Henning.

"There's no circumstance in which perjury should knowingly be allowed to be put before a jury. And if it is discovered afterward, it needs to be corrected and that's true even in a case such as this one," he told the Metro Times.

Although this was clearly a case of multi-level misconduct, it worked -- at least at first. Aceval and Pena were convicted based in part on perjured testimony and sentenced to prison. Povish and his friend Brian Hill were never charged. Justice had been served, or so it seemed.

The Tables Turn

But things took a dramatic turn when Moffitt and James Feinburg, Aceval's and Pena's appellate attorneys, discovered the secret meetings between prosecutor Karen Plants and Judge Mary Waterstone. The Wayne County legal structure shuddered as if hit by an earthquake. When news broke that the prosecutor enlisted the judge in the case to go along with perjury by police and Chad Povish during Aceval's and Pena's trials, lawyers and concerned citizens were stunned.

Judge Waterstone was charged with misconduct in office, a felony which carried five years in prison. Plants and the officers were charged with obstruction of justice and perjury, offenses punishable by life in prison. If convicted, Plants would fall from her prestigious position as head anti-drug prosecutor for the DA's Office to being a criminal ringleader in what had been the biggest case of her drug-fighting career.

"Prosecutor Karen Plants intentionally conspired with Judge Mary Waterstone and the officers to hide the truth about Chad Povish being the informant," Moffitt recently told this journalist during an interview.

"Plants and Judge Waterstone were in on the fabrication from the beginning, yet Plants told the court she had not spoken to Povish before Aceval and Pena's preliminary examination. "Without Povish's pejury at the preliminary hearing Mr. Aceval could not have been bound over for trial," Moffitt said.

Perjury in the Aceval-Pena case is another classic example of prosecutors and law enforcement officers engaging in shady tactics to win at all costs. When DA Karen Plants allowed lies to infect the case against Aceval and Pena, her actions amounted not only to prosecutorial misconduct, but rose to the level of criminal behavior.

Attorney David Moffitt
Plants' behavior was extreme, but prosecutors cutting corners to win convictions has been a problem all over the country. Reports of rampant prosecutorial misconduct have led Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to introduce Senate Bill 2197, the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, which had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill is a bipartisan proposal with five cosponsors that requires federal and state prosecutors to turn over to defendants all evidence favorable to their case. The bill would also impose penalties when prosecutors fail to do so.

Anatomy of a Bust

Alexander Aceval owned a popular club in Farmington Hills outside Detroit called "J-Dub." Aceval's club generated lots of business and he made lots of money. Chad Povish was a professional carpet installer who friends said once wanted to become a cop -- and sometimes acted like one. But instead he became a paid snitch for the Inkster Police Department under narcotic detective Robert McArthur.

Povish met Aceval through a friend named Bryan Hill. Hill worked at Aceval's club as a bartender. During conversations between Povish and Hill, Hill confided to Povish that Aceval sold more than liquor. This startling news piqued Povish's interest.

On March 11, 2005, according to court records, club owner Aceval offered Povish a cool $10,000 to drive a load of cocaine (worth millions) to a designated location when the drugs arrived from a Mexican drug cartel connection in Texas. Povish was excited. He thought he'd hit the jackpot!

First, he contacted Detective Robert McArthur and laid out the plans about to go down. McArthur called Sergeant Scott Rechtziel to assist. A trap was set for the suspected dealers, and the officers were anxious to make the biggest drug bust of their careers.

Once Aceval's Texas connection delivered 47 cocaine kilos, Povish and and Hill stashed the contraband into duffel bags and placed them into Hill's 1986 Oldsmobile vehicle located outside Aceval's club. Aceval allegedly directed Povish and Hill to transport the drugs to a certain location. Aceval followed in a separate vehicle. Pena was arrested near the club with cocaine in his pocket.

But the deal was doomed. As soon as the vehicles hit the highway, the police swooped in and stopped Povish and Aceval's vehicle. Everyone was arrested. But Povish and Hill were released. Aceval and Pena were charged with possession with intent to distribute over 1,000 grams of cocaine including conspiracy to deliver over 1,000 grams of cocaine.

Courtroom Drama: Here Comes the Judge

Police and prosecutors wanted to hide the fact that Povish was the snitch, and that he was motivated to target Aceval because of the chance for a big payday -- he would receive a percentage of Aceval's not insubstantial assets. While Judge Waterstone and Prosecutor Plants would later say they hid the information about Povish's
informant status from the defense to protect him from being killed, it also removed potentially damaging lines of inquiry for the defense team.

"It was always known that there was an informant," said appellate attorney Moffitt.

Aceval's trial attorney, James Feinberg, had also suspected Povish or Hill as the informant and that perjury existed. Before trial, attorney Feinberg asked the court to identify the confidential informant. During an evidentiary hearing on June 17, 2005, Judge Waterstone conducted an interview with Detective McArthur. McArthur informed the judge that he and Sergeant Rechtizigel knew that Povish was the confidential informant, adding that Povish had been paid $100 for his services and, "He was going to get 10% of whatever we get."

The conference meeting record was sealed. Judge Waterstone denied Feinberg's motion to identify the informant although the officers had already told her that Chad Povish was the informant.

It kept getting worse. As a court reporter took down notes during a meeting between DA Plants and Judge Waterstone, Plants sounded worried as she explained how defense attorneys for Aceval and Pena were trying to obtain phone company records for Povish and Hill's cell phones. Plants mentioned she heard from a jailhouse informant that Aceval and Pena had targeted Povish or Hill as the guys who gave them up.

Waterstone heeded Plants' concerns. Instead of letting the defense attorneys know about the meeting as the law required, Waterstone issued an order to the phone carriers informing them not  to release the cell records.


Subsequently, attorney Feinberg fired off another motion to have Waterstone to suppress other specific evidence. At a hearing on September 6th 2005, Sgt. Rechitzel lied when he testified, in response to defense counsel's questioning, that he "never had any contact with Povish before the arrest of  Aceval and Pena on March 11th 2005."

Even though prosecutor Plants knew the officer was lying, she never objected. But there was more.

On September 8, 2005, in another private conference without defense attorneys present, the prosecutor admitted to Waterstone she knew Sgt. Rechitzel lied about denying involvement with Povish and Hill prior to the time he arrested Aceval and Pena.

"I let the perjury happen because I thought an objection would reveal the identity of the informant," Plants said.

Judge Waterstone agreed with Plants. "Given the circumstances, it was appropriate for the officer to lie," she said in the sealed record of the meeting.

In his appeal, attorney Moffitt asserted that a transcript showed that Plants asked pointed questions of Povish and both officers, questions which elicited false responses, which Plants knew were false but never corrected.

During trial on September 12, 2005, Chad Povish took the stand and repeated the lie that he never met officers Rechtizgel or McArthur before they stopped his cocaine-loaded vehicle and lied again when he testified that neither officer offered him a deal of any kind. He also testified he never knew what the duffel bags contained.

In closing arguments to jurors, Plants characterized Chad Povish and Bryan Hill as "dummies stupid enough to be mules."

"The prosecutor's argument misled jurors about Povish's true role in actually helping police to arrest Aceval and Pena," Moffit noted.

Aceval's trial ended in a hung jury while Pena was convicted on drug charges. Meanwhile the attorneys for both men filed appeals on their behalf. Pena's conviction was overturned. Pena's reversal exposed what the attorneys already knew: a conspiracy to cover up perjury had been going on.

Prior to Aceval's new trial, Moffitt  and his co-counsel encountered another shocker: Despite Judge Waterstone's and DA Plants' admissions that they allowed perjured testimony by the cops and the informant in the first trials, the new judge would allow DA Paul Bernier to call Waterstone, Plants, informant Chad Povish, and the cops as witnesses in the retrial of Aceval to explain why false testimony wound up in the original case.

"That was incredible," Moffitt said.

Harmless Error

Once the court records detailing the secret meetings between Plants and Waterstone discussing the perjured testimony of Povish and the police officers were unsealed, attorney Moffitt filed a motion to quash the indictment against Aceval to block a retrial. A new judge, Vera Jones, appointed to the case after Waterstone recused herself, denied Moffitt's motion to dismiss.

Moffitt appealed, but the appellate court upheld Jones's ruling without much explanation. The appeals court also refused to find that Plants had committed prosecutorial misconduct. Moffitt appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. In December, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

"The high court's failure to summon a majority to review whether judicial and prosecutorial misconduct can be a basis to convict may relegate Michigan's justice system to one worthy of a third world dictatorship," Moffitt told the Detroit News.

The Quest for Justice

David Moffitt is not a quitter when it comes to fighting for the underdogs caught up  in the criminal justice system. He has been a passionate advocate to see that the public officials in the prosecution of Alexander Aceval and Richard Pena are punished not only in state courts but also to face charges for civil rights violations in federal court.

"This case should be looked at closely by the feds," Moffitt said.

Moffitt continues to wonder how much the upper echelons of the Wayne County District Attorney's Office knew about Plants' subornation of perjury in the Aceval and Pena trial. He recalls Wayne County Chief Prosecutor Kym Worthy remarks about her duty to prosecute former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for perjury.

"Witnesses must give truthful testimony and we demand that they do," she said then.

"Ms. Worthy does not hold herself or her employees to the same standards," Moffitt said."There's absolute proof that Worthy's Assistant DA Karen Plants confessed to allowing lies in my client's case and Worthy didn't have the moral turpitude to fire Plants for actually committing a crime in a court of law. She allowed her to retire."

With defense efforts to get the case thrown out because of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct thwarted, Aceval and Pena took plea deals instead of going back to trial in 2006.

The Judge Walks

After a series of appeals and pretrial challenges, on April 11, the Michigan Appellate Court dismissed the last pending felony charge against the now retired Judge Waterstone. Last year, Wayne County presiding Judge Timothy Kenny dismissed three other counts against Waterstone, who retired after the Aceval-Pena scandal.

As Kenny put it in his decision, "the meetings between Waterstone and Plants were not a neglect of duty as alleged in the indictment, but instead their actions were deliberate acts taken out of concern for informant Povish's safety."

Michigan Attorney General John Selleck hinted he might appeal the final dismissal of charges against Waterstone. "We are reviewing the opinion and will make a decision on which action to take at a later time,"

Waterstone was elated. "I'm going to get a good night's sleep for the first time in three years," she told the Detroit Free Press.

Former DA Plants wasn't so lucky. She pleaded guilty to official misconduct and was ordered to serve six months in jail. Earlier this year Plants' law license was permanently revoked.

Officer Robert McArthur pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report and he, too, was ordered to serve 90 days in jail. Sergeant Rechtizgel pleaded guilty to a similar charge but no jail time was ordered.

A judge forced to retire in disgrace and who barely escaped felony charges. An ambitious prosecutor forced to retire in disgrace, disbarred, and jailed. Two police officers forced out of their jobs and convicted of criminal charges. If those police officers and judicial officials had simply honored their oaths to uphold the law, such fates would not have befallen them.

But that would have made it more difficult to win their case. And that desire to win at all costs trumped upholding the Constitution.

Detroit, MI
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

What's the matter with Kansas? Two corrupt cops stories out of the Jayhawk State this week, but also tales out of Arkansas, New York, and Pennsylvania. Let's get to it:

In Stockton, Kansas, the Rooks County sheriff resigned last Thursday after being on administrative leave since being charged in January with nine felony counts of methamphetamine distribution. Randy Axelson presented his resignation to the county clerk in the morning, to take effect at noon that day. He had been continuing to collect his salary while on leave. Five of the charges against him involve meth sales within a thousand feet of a school, which carries a stiffer penalty than the four remaining sales charges.

In Holton, Kansas, a former Sabetha police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole methamphetamine from the department evidence room and resold it. Ryan Bruggerman went down after an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. He is charged with one felony count each of distribution of meth and official misconduct. He was jailed in Holton on $5,000 bond.

In Buffalo, New York, a Buffalo police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was involved in running a marijuana grow-op. Officer Jorge Melendez, 41, and another man were caught on federal surveillance videos attending a 100-plant grow in a warehouse, and Melendez was captured on video driving up to the warehouse in his police car. Both men face charges of conspiracy to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants, maintaining a premises for manufacturing marijuana, and manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants. The charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum of 40 years, a fine of $4,000,000 or both.

In Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a former Hatboro narcotics detective was charged last Friday with various counts related to alleged thefts from the department's evidence locker and using his informants to buy drugs for his own personal use. John Becker, 42, had worked for the department for 17 years before a 16-month investigation resulted in his suspension, resignation, and arrest last month. Becker is accused of stealing at least 10 firearms and $18,000 cash from the evidence locker during a six-month period in 2010 and 2011. He is also accused of using snitches to buy OxyContin, Percocet, and cocaine for him to use throughout 2010.

In New York City, a former NYPD narcotics detective was acquitted last Wednesday of charges he planted drugs on bar patrons. Adolph Osback walked after a jury acquitted him of multiple charges of falsifying police reports, perjury and official misconduct after deliberating for only 90 minutes. He was indicted based on testimony of his former partner, Stephen Anderson, who testified that Osback "flaked" people by planting drugs on them. Anderson has already pleaded guilty to flaking after being caught on surveillance video. Osbach was fired when he was arrested back in December 2010.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Marvell police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to two years in federal prison for accepting bribes to look the other way as drug traffickers transited the region. Robert Wahls was one of five law enforcement officers and 66 other people who were indicted in an investigation called Operation Delta Blues, which focused on drug trafficking and corruption in the Mississippi Delta towns of Helena and West Helena. He pleaded guilty in January to extortion and money laundering, and admitted he took money for escorting someone posing as a drug trafficker.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Don't give joints to snitches you're having an affair with -- that's the lesson one California cop learned last week. There are more crooked cops for us this week, too. Let's get to it:

In New Bern, North Carolina, a New Bern police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges she was stealing pain pills from the evidence room. Officer Frances Sutton went down after the department reviewed drug cases in which she was the charging officer and found oxycodone tablets seized as evidence had gone missing. She is charged with four felony counts of obstruction of justice and three felony counts of altering, destroying, or stealing evidence of criminal conduct. She was placed in the Craven County Jail under a $35,000 secured bond.

In LaGrange, Georgia, a Troup County jail officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he snuck marijuana, cell phones, credit cards and other items to inmates. Officer Angel Vargas, 38, went down after an eight-month investigation by the sheriff's office. He is charged with violating Georgia's controlled substance act, prohibited possession of inmate contraband and crossing the guard line of the jail with contraband. Vargas is the 78th Georgia correctional officer to be charged with smuggling contraband to inmates in the last four years.

In Hayward, California, a former San Leandro police detective pleaded no contest last Wednesday to charges he gave marijuana to a police informant with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Jason Frederikkson, 39, copped to a misdemeanor count of possession of more than an ounce of marijuana after prosecutors agreed to drop a felony count of transporting and furnishing marijuana to an informant. He got a 30-day jail sentence, but will be able to serve the time on work release. He was also sentenced to five years probation.

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