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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.

DEA Agent Kills Man in Cartel Murder-for-Hire Sting

An unnamed DEA agent in Laredo, Texas, Saturday shot and killed one of four men he and other agents were trying to arrest as they wrapped up an undercover operation in which DEA agents posed as Mexican cartel members seeking assassins. The dead man, Jerome Corley, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Reuters, citing court documents filed Monday, undercover DEA agents working the months-long sting sent in an arrest team to detain the four men. One of the agents shot Corley repeatedly, killing him. The court documents provided no other details on the circumstances of the shooting.

The sting operation began in January 2011, when undercover DEA agents posing as members of the Zetas, a notoriously violent cartel originally composed of US-trained former Mexican elite soldiers, were told by two men in South Carolina that Corley's cousin, Kevin Corley, a lieutenant in the US military until two weeks ago, could sell them automatic weapons and ammunition.

As the months ticked by, the DEA agents developed the relationship with Kevin Corley, who told them he was an Army officer who trained soldiers and said he could put together a murder-for-hire ring to raid a South Texas ranch, kill the owner, and recover 20 kilograms of stolen cocaine. He said he and his cousin would carry out the hit for $50,000 and five kilos of coke.

Earlier this month, Kevin Corley sold three assault rifles, five stolen bullet-proof vests, and other equipment to an undercover DEA agent in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for $10,000, the court documents said. At that meeting, Corley discussed the pending hit, saying he had purchased a knife to carve a "Z" in the victim's chest and a hatchet to dismember his body.

At that point, the DEA decided to wrap things up and sent in its arrest team. The surviving members of the wannabe hit squad, including one active duty member of the US Army, are now in federal custody in Laredo and facing federal drug conspiracy and weapons charges.

Laredo, TX
United States

After Supreme Court Win, Antoine Jones Still Seeks Justice [FEATURE]

by Clarence Walker and Phillip Smith

So, a guy gets convicted in a cocaine conspiracy case and sent to prison for life without parole, but wins on appeal and then wins again in a landmark US Supreme Court ruling on search and seizure law that overturns his conviction and forces dramatic changes in the way federal law enforcers go about their work. You would think this guy would be a pretty happy camper, getting back to his life and enjoying his freedom after sticking a thumb in the federal government's eye. But you would be dead wrong.

Antoine Jones (photo by Clarence Walker)
Meet Antoine Jones, the Jones in US v. Jones, last month's Supreme Court case in which the high court held that tracking a vehicle's movements by placing a GPS tracking device on it without first obtaining a search warrant is constitutionally impermissible. That ruling set off an earthquake under the Justice Department, evidenced this week with reports that the FBI has turned off some 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.

FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman told a University of San Francisco conference appropriately titled "Big Brother in the 21st Century" that the FBI had had problems locating some of the turned off devices and had sought court orders to get permission to briefly turn them on again, so agents can locate and retrieve them. The Supreme Court decision had caused "a sea change" at Justice, he said.

The Jones case may have been a victory for civil liberties and constitutional rights advocates, but Antoine Jones is still sitting in prison. Determined to nail the former Washington, DC, nightclub owner, federal prosecutors have announced they will seek to retry Jones without the evidence garnered by the GPS tracking device, and they want him securely behind bars until they get around to doing so.

The decision to not free Jones even though his conviction has been vacated and his case sent back to the trial court is of a piece with prosecutors' earlier tactics. After Jones won his case on appeal, prosecutors argued successfully then against granting him bail as they awaited a Supreme Court decision.

They think they have a big time dope dealer. Back in 2005, when the case began, Jones was targeted by the FBI and other federal and state police agencies as a major player in a multi-million dollar cocaine ring with ties to a Mexico-based organized crime group. Investigators said Jones and his co-conspirators distributed cocaine throughout the DC metro area. They eventually won a conviction against him, although it took them two separate prosecutions to do so. It was that conviction that was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Veteran Houston-based crime beat reporter Clarence Walker has been in communication with Jones via mail and the occasional phone call for the past several years. He's also been talking to Jones' appellate attorney, Stephan Leckar, who is exploring a possible plea bargain, although Jones doesn't appear interested in anything less than complete exoneration.

While Jones is pleased with the Supreme Court decision, he's not so pleased with the fact he is still being denied his freedom.

"All I can say I am very happy with the Supreme Court decision and I hope the decision helps millions of Americans preserve their right to have reasonable expectation of privacy," Jones told Walker in a phone interview this month. "The ruling came right on time because who knows how many American citizens the government continues to track and monitor for weeks and months without a warrant. Even some of the men here in prison with me have warrantless GPS issues, like a friend of mines named Sigmund James. The government tracked his vehicle for 14 months."

James was convicted in a massive cocaine trafficking case in Orangeburg, South Carolina, an operation called "Bitter Orange." Like Jones, James was sentenced to life without parole.

Jones said he expected to be released after the Supreme Court decision and that he was "shocked" when Leckar told him prosecutors were seeking to retry him or get him to accept a plea bargain.

"Matter of fact, I thought once the mandate was released, I would be freed from prison right away," Jones said, "but Mr. Leckar said the government will never let me go unless I beat them at trial."

"The government is permitted to retry the conspiracy charge, provided they don't use the GPS evidence," Leckar told Walker. "But there are a number of other serious legal issues that must be resolved including whether drugs and cash said to be from a stash house could be admitted," he explained. "But like I told Antoine, the feds have no intention of letting him go and that they will probably retry him on the evidence that was not obtained by the GPS tracker."

Jones got a sentence of life without parole the first time around, Leckar noted, and if he loses a second time, he could face the same sentence. But Jones is not ready to compromise. Instead he is going to fight, both in the criminal courts and the civil courts.

Jones filed a pro se civil suit against numerous law enforcement agencies alleging numerous abuses, but that jailhouse lawsuit was dismissed by the US District Court for Washington, DC, in 2009. Now, however, Jones is refiling, and he has professional legal assistance this time. He is being represented in the civil suit by the DC law firm of Miller & Chevalier.

"The federal authorities know they not only violated my civil rights, and my wife's and son's rights, but they lied on the witness stand, and they burglarized my home and warehouse," Jones charged. "And so now that I have attorneys representing me in the civil suit against the government, they want to wrongfully convict me again to cover up their lies and the crimes they committed during the investigation of my case. The feds know what they have done was wrong."

Jones is not only on the offensive with the civil suits. He has also filed obstruction of justice complaints with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General. He is alleging that FBI and ICE agents committed various illegal acts in attempting to nail him, including falsifying federal reports, conducting searches without a search warrant, planting evidence, forging signatures on search consent forms, and perjury.

GPS satellite
"Since Mr. Leckar said the government will never let me go unless I beat them in trial. I will focus on my civil rights complaints against the Feds and make sure my wife, son and mother-in-law pursue their civil right suit as well," Jones explained. "The civil suits and obstruction of justice complaints could get the federal agents and the police prison time if they are indicted and found guilty."

Purvis Cartwright, a former federal prisoner and highly respected Houston, Texas-based writ writer who has been closely monitoring the GPS case, told Walker that Jones may have made a mistake by suing the federal government because now prosecutors will come back at him very hard to convict him by using "snitchers" to testify against Jones, snitchers that Jones never met.

Cartwright called that strategy a "get on board" scheme, a way for informants to get their sentences reduced by helping prosecutors. "A rat don't have friends," he said, "only victims."

So far, one high-profile snitch has already gotten on board to help convict him in his upcoming retrial, Jones said. He said Leckar told him the government is planning to call a high-level Mexican drug dealer to say he shipped large loads of cocaine to him.

"I've never met nor talked with the guy in my whole life and he never testified in either of my trials," Jones said.

"The feds, like the DEA and FBI, have snitchers in the joint," Cartwright explained. "They will go to these guys and tell them they are trying to get something on a particular guy and then the feds will share with the snitchers some important background information about the target and next thing you know they ready to testify in court against someone they don't even know," he said. "This is rampant in the federal joint."

"The government still thinks they have a case, but they must have forgot what the Court of Appeals stated in their opinion," Jones said, before quoting word for word: "The evidence linking Jones to a conspiracy was not strong, let alone overwhelming, and the government did not have a drug transaction in which Jones was involved, nor any evidence that Jones possessed any drugs."

Prosecutors are reportedly offering a plea deal that would result in a 12-year federal prison sentence for Jones, but he isn't going to take it despite the possibility he could once again doing life without parole. He maintains his innocence, he said.

"I'll fight this case until the end."

Clarence Walker can be reached a cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More asset forfeiture problems in Texas, plus a typical weekly rogues' gallery of dirty cops. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, a former Brooks County sheriff is being investigated by the state attorney general's office over his lavish use of forfeited assets seized from drug and weapons suspects. The Corpus Christi Times details the allegations against former Sheriff Balde Lozano as well as a broader investigation into asset forfeiture in Texas in a series of reports. A state auditor has questioned Lozano's spending on new cedar paneling for his office, 18 vehicle purchases and sales, and $80,000 in credit card transactions.

In Los Angeles, a jailer at the LA County Jail was arrested last Monday on charges he was smuggling cocaine into the jail. Jailer Remington Orr, 24, was caught carrying the drugs when he went to work at the Men's Central Jail. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, transportation with intent to sell, and bribery. He was jailed on $1 million bail. Three sheriff's guards have been convicted and a fourth fired in recent years for smuggling or attempting to smuggle narcotics into jail for inmates.

In Athens, Ohio, a local police chief was arrested last Wednesday for peddling pain pills. Buchtel Chief of Police Kelsey Lanning went down after Athens County sheriff's deputies did a controlled buy at his home. Lanning is accused of buying the prescription medication to give to someone who was working with the sheriff's Narcotics Enforcement Team.

In Oklahoma City, an Oklahoma City police officer was charged last Friday with tipping off a drug suspect of an impending raid. Sgt. Mari Christina Cervantes is charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructing police officers. In November 2010, police raided two locations, including the home of one of Cervantes' snitches. Police found text messages from Cervantes on his cell phone, including one telling the informant to "stay away," another hoping police wouldn't find anything, and a third saying, "They are supposed to be kicking in the door, but you didn't hear it from me."

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Miramar police officer was sentenced last Friday to two years' probation for searching the apartment of a drug suspect without a warrant and lying about it. Officer Jean Paul Jacobi, 39, was found guilty in December of official misconduct, falsifying records, and criminal mischief and could have gotten up to five years behind bars. The state asked for two years, but the judge gave him probation, and if he keeps his nose clean, with deferred adjudication, his felony record will be wiped clean. The search in question occurred after police arrested a drug suspect in a traffic stop and seized his vehicle. The keys ended up with another Miramar police officer, who gave them to Jacobi, who used them to enter the apartment without a warrant.

Family of Slain Informant Sues WA Authorities

Another small-time drug user murdered after being coerced into becoming an informant, another lawsuit filed. Just days after Tallahassee, Florida, agreed to pay $2.6 million to the family of murdered informant Rachel Hoffman comes news that a Washington state family is suing two counties over the murder of their son, who was killed by a drug dealer he set up for police after being busted himself.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/william-vance-reagan-jr1.jpg
William Reagan killed Jeremy McLean after a drug task force turned him into a snitch and didn't protect him. (Cowlitz Co., WA)
The parents of Jeremy McLean have filed lawsuits against Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, saying narcotics detectives coerced him into becoming an informant, then failed to protect him from one of the guys he helped get busted. McLean was 26 years old when he was murdered by William Reagan in late 2008, after Reagan was arrested with McLean's assistance.

According to court documents in the case, McLean "was forced to sign a plea agreement... in order to avoid incarceration." That agreement required McLean to become an informant for the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force, which involved him helping police bust at least ten drug dealers.

The lawsuit charges that neither the Cowlitz County Offender Services Division, which was charged with monitoring Reagan after his release, or the narcotics task force, took adequate actions to secure McLean's safety.

According to the lawsuit, once Reagan got out of jail on bail, he "immediately began selling and consuming drugs," which breached the terms of his release, the lawyers said. Yet, the lawsuit claimed, Offender Services never tested Reagan for drug use and never booked him back into the jail despite the alleged violations.

While out on bail, Regan "began publicizing his intent to kill Jeremy McLean for participating in Reagan's criminal investigation" and began looking for allies to help. McLean heard the word on the street and "made multiple requests" to task force agents to "help protect him, but they did not take action."

On December 29, 2008, an associate of Reagan's lured McLean to an RV where Reagan was hiding. Reagan shot McLean four times in the head, killing him, and dumped his body along the Colombia River. Reagan later pleaded guilty to murder, saying he was trying to keep McLean from testifying against him and other dealers, and was sentenced to life in prison.

"The officers of the narcotics task force used their authority as law enforcement to create an opportunity for Reagan to attack and murder Jeremy McLean that would not otherwise have existed," lawyers for the McLean family argued. His death was also "a direct result of Offender Services' utter failure to adequately supervise William Reagan" while he awaited trial on drug charges.

The family has filed three claims against Cowlitz County, seeking $200,000 in damages on behalf of McLean and each of his parents and a single claim, also seeking $200,000, against Wahkiakum County.

The lawsuit will not bring back Jeremy McLean, but any light it shines on the unsavory practice of coercing small-time drug offenders into becoming snitches will be welcome, especially if it results in changes in police practices.

Tallahassee to Pay in Death of Informant Rachel Hoffman

Tallahassee, Florida, city commissioners last Friday voted to approve a $2.6 million settlement in the wrongful death suit of a young woman killed in a drug sting when she agreed to be a confidential informant for police after being busted on marijuana and ecstasy charges. The payout comes even as a similar killing is shaking the Detroit area.

Rachel Hoffman (facebook.com)
Rachel Hoffman, 23, a recent Florida State University graduate, inhabited student drug circles, but after she was busted and agreed to become a snitch in 2008, Tallahassee police sent her out into an entirely different world. They set up a "buy-bust" sting, giving Hoffman $13,000 in marked bills to buy ecstasy, cocaine, and a gun. Instead of completing the transaction, the two men targeted shot and killed her, stole the money, her credit cards, and her car, and left her body in a ditch. The killers were later caught and are now serving life sentences.

But Hoffman's parents sued after her death, claiming police were negligent in setting her up as an informant and putting her in harm's way. Jury selection in the case began two weeks ago, and the trial was set to begin Monday. After meeting with city attorneys, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the settlement. The city itself will pay an initial $200,000 installment shortly, but under Florida law, the rest will only be paid after the Florida legislature passes a "claims bill," which could take years.

The city's settlement isn't the only fallout from Hoffman's killing. After her death, her parents lobbied for, and the legislature passed, "Rachel's Law," which mandated reforms to protect informants. Under that law, police who work with informants are also required to get special training, must allow them to talk with an attorney before agreeing to anything, and cannot promise them reduced sentences if they cooperate.

If Michigan had such a law, perhaps Shelley Hilliard would be alive today. The 19-year-old transgender woman was found murdered and mutilated on Detroit's east side in October after last being seen going to meet a man she had set up in a drug sting after being busted herself for marijuana.

In a Thursday preliminary hearing for Qasim Raqib, the man charged with her killing, testimony revealed that police told her she could avoid arrest by helping to set up a drug deal. She used her cell phone to call Raqib as police listened in on a speaker phone and told him she knew someone who wanted to buy $335 worth of marijuana and cocaine. He was arrested when he arrived at a local motel 20 minutes later.

Further testimony suggested Raqib called Hilliard two days later and urged her to meet him. A taxi driver who took Hilliard on all her calls testified she said she was worried that Raqib would seek payback over the drug bust. The taxi driver testified that after dropping her off, she called him and sounded fearful, and he then heard a sound like the phone dropping to the ground before it went dead. Her body was found hours later.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

In Fernandina Beach, Florida, the Nassau County Sheriff's Office is being investigated by the FBI in a wide ranging corruption and civil rights abuses probe. Allegations include Sheriff Tommy Seagraves blocking the drug prosecution of the wife of a close friend, detectives using steroids, job-related kickbacks, marijuana grow lamps and beer keg taps that disappeared after being seized in drug raids, physical assaults on drug suspects, improper use of department property, and ongoing misconduct in the narcotics unit. Part one of the Florida Times Union's two-part investigative report on the sordid story is available at the link above. Part two is forthcoming.

In Rogersville, Tennessee, a former Hawkins County sheriff's narcotics detective was indicted December 15 on charges he was stealing drugs from the evidence room. Brad Depew was hit with a 68-count indictment after he was caught on videotape breaking into the locked evidence room with a screwdriver and exiting with evidence envelopes containing drugs. A subsequent search of his home turned up unspecified quantities of  the Schedule II narcotics oxycodone and methadone, the Schedule III narcotic dihydrocodeinone, and Schedule IV tranquilizers alprazolam, diazepam and clonazepam, which matched the kinds of pills missing from the evidence room. The search also turned up 26 grams of cocaine, a half gram of meth, and drug paraphernalia, including scales, baggies, a pipe, screens, spoons and straws. None of that come from the evidence room, though. He faces 47 counts of evidence tampering, as well as possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, possession of meth with intent to deliver, official misconduct, four counts of burglary, four counts of possession of burglary tools, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, two counts of theft under $500 for the actual evidence envelopes, and six counts of misdemeanor drug possession for the drugs found at his residence. Depew worked as a detective on the HCSO Narcotics Unit and 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force for more than a decade. He is free on $100,000 bond pending trial.

In Atlanta, two Talbot County sheriff's deputies pleaded guilty December 14 to ripping off drugs and money from motorists they targeted. Deputies Alvin Malone and Jeff Sivell admitting using a confidential informant to identify vehicles carrying drugs and drug money, then seizing the dope and cash and splitting it with the snitch. Each pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Hobbs Act, or attempted extortion by a public official. They will be sentenced in February and are looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty December 14 to charges he bought heroin while on duty and chauffeured a drug dealer around the city. Jason Stewart, 31, copped to a single count of being a drug addict in possession of a firearm. He went down after he went to an area of the city known for drug dealing that happened to be under federal and local police surveillance. He had just conducted a transaction when he was pulled over, and police found a fifth of a gram of heroin, drug paraphernalia, and a bottle of urine wrapped in a hand warmer, which he said he carried with him to thwart drug tests. He faces up to 10 years in prison, but will reportedly be sentenced to 18 to 30 months.

In Beaumont, Texas, a Beaumont police officer resigned Monday after being accused of leaking confidential information in a drug investigation. Officer Eugene Wilson had been suspended with pay. No charges are being filed against him.

In Haskell, Texas, a former Haskell police officer was sentenced Monday to seven years probation for planting drugs in a man's vehicle. William Glass had resigned from the department last year just before he was about to take a lie detector test over an allegation that he planted methamphetamine in a man's vehicle during a traffic stop. He was indicted on charges of fabricating physical evidence, possession of a controlled substance, and official oppression, but he copped a plea to just the first count. The meth had come from an earlier drug bust.

Virginia Police Kill Old Man in Pill Raid

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

Police in Hampton, Virginia, executing a search warrant for prescription pain pills shot and killed a 69-year-old homeowner after he fired on them inside the house. William Cooper becomes the 30th person killed in US domestic law enforcement operations so far this year.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/hampton-police-badge.jpg
According to the Daily Press Hampton News, police sought a search warrant after a confidential informant told them Cooper had sold methadone, Percocet, and "several other unknown prescription pills" from his home. Police executed the warrant just after 10:00am Saturday, forcing his front door open and entering the residence.

Hampton Police spokesman Jason Price said police identified themselves when they arrived at the house. "We did knock and announce our presence," he said. "It was not a no-knock search warrant."

A common police practice in executing warrants is to announce their presence with loud knocks on the doors and shouts of "Police!" or similar phrases, then wait a matter of seconds before breaking down the door, effectively making them knock and announce raids in technical legal terms only. Neighbors reported the police had forced their way in, and the door was visibly broken.

Price said there was an exchange of gunfire, with Cooper shooting first and the officers firing back. Cooper was pronounced dead at a local hospital an hour later.

Police announced Tuesday
they had seized four prescription pain pill bottles -- three of them empty -- and a number of weapons in the retiree's home. They consisted of one empty bottle of Oxycontin and three bottles of Oxycodone-acetaminophen (Percocet), with one containing pills. They also seized 16 other pill bottles, including ones containing drugs used for treating the symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Police also seized Cooper's wallet, $903 in cash, and his 2000 Lexus, as well as a vehicle title and "financial documents." They alleged the 11-year-old car was connected to the drug sales.

"We did locate evidence that supports the charge of distribution of illegal narcotics," police spokesman Jason Price said Tuesday. Police did not say whether Cooper had prescriptions for the pain pills.

But friends of Cooper said he used a cane, suffered from knee and back pain, and took lots of pain medications. Cooper complained that the drugs he was taking "weren't enough" for the pain, said Richard Zacharias, 58, a retired NASA employee who was renting a trailer home from Cooper. He also said that Cooper had poor eyesight because of cataracts and often slept late. Those factors might have caused him not to realize it was police in his home at 10:00am, Zacharias said.

But Price said police would continue to identify themselves as they moved through the home. "It's very obvious that we're the police," he said.

"It doesn’t smell right," Zacharias protested. "He wasn't real big, he wasn't real threatening." The police killed Cooper "in his own house, and that doesn't sit right with me," he said. "People around here sleep with a gun beside their bed because of all the home invasions we've had. The guy was a nice guy. The guy was a good guy."

The two so far unnamed police shooters are now on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation. But Hampton Police Chief Charles Jordan Jr. didn't see any need to wait for that. "The investigation thus far supports the actions of the officers," Jordan said Saturday. "They were met with deadly force and had no alternative other than to return fire."

Hampton, VA
United States

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