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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,

[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 (
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 (
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

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.
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.

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