The head of the Major Narcotics Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has been charged with professional misconduct for allowing an informant and two Inkster police officers to lie on the stand in a 2005 cocaine case and for misleading jurors in her closing arguments in the case, the Detroit Free Press reported, citing the state Attorney Grievance Commission. The prosecutor, Karen Plants, was reassigned from her supervisory position Tuesday, after the Free Press called Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office seeking comment on the charges, which were filed Monday.
Worthy was in the news just a week ago announcing she would seek criminal charges against Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, for perjuring themselves in a police whistle-blower case. In announcing the criminal charges against the pair, Worthy said perjury cannot be tolerated in court proceedings.
But she was singing a different tune when it came to one of her prosecutors abetting perjury. Although Worthy conceded there was perjury in the 2005 drug case, she said Plants had properly notified the judge after the trial.
Still, Worthy had to reiterate her office's stance on perjury. "The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office does not condone perjury of any kind," Worthy wrote. "The office takes very seriously its obligations to the public, to the accused, and will continue to do so in the future."
Here's what happened: Informant Chad Povish gave police information leading to a 47-kilogram cocaine seizure in March 2005. During a preliminary examination, two evidentiary hearings, and the 2005 trial, Plants allowed Povish, Inskster Police Sgt. Scott Rechtzigel and Det. Robert McArthur to repeatedly deny they knew each other. That prevented defense attorneys from finding out Povish was a paid snitch and attacking his credibility, the commission charged.
Povish actually tipped off the police to a drug buy, then took duffel bags full of cocaine from one defendant before police arrived. He later told jurors he had never met the cops before and he didn't know what was in the duffel bags. Plants knew the claims were untrue, but never corrected them, the commission said. Even worse, she tried to buttress those false claims during closing arguments to the jury, characterizing Povish and another witness as "dummies who were stupid enough to be the carriers, the mules."
According to the commission, Plants told Wayne County Circuit Judge Mary Waterstone twice that the cops and informant had lied, but neither Plants nor the judge notified the defense. "He knowingly committed perjury to protect the identification of the" informant, Plants told the judge in one instance. "I let the perjury happen."
Waterstone said she understood the perjury was committed to protect the snitch's life, a claim made by Plants. But the commission pointedly noted that prosecutors had produced no evidence that Povish's life was indeed in danger or would be if his role was disclosed.
Waterstone has since retired from the bench.
The prosecutor's office later filed a confession of error in the case of one defendant after he was convicted, but both defendants ended up taking plea bargains with significant prison time. But they also both appealed, and one of them, Alexander Aceval, saw his case sent back to the appeals court by the state Supreme Court to decide if the perjured testimony denied him a fair trial.
Aceval's lawyer, David Moffitt of Bingham Farms, told the Free Press the episode is "the worst instance of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct" he has seen. "Not only did they attempt to unfairly convict my client, they covered up and lied in the face of accusations about the scheme."
Legal experts consulted by the newspaper agreed the charges were serious. "If a prosecutor violates a legal or ethical duty, the criminal justice system is perverted," said Larry Dubin, an ethics professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Farmington Hills lawyer Michael Schwartz, grievance administrator for the commission in 1979-88, said: "The normal everyday result should be disbarment. But the mitigation is that she wasn't doing it for herself. She was trying to protect a confidential informant."
Schwartz also faulted Judge Waterstone, who he said should have declared a mistrial or told jurors witnesses had lied once she knew. "A judge simply cannot sit by and do nothing," Schwartz said. She "has to make sure the rules of ethics are adhered to."
Whether Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy will prosecute the lying police and informant like she is the mayor and his one-time paramour remains to be seen. Meanwhile, prosecutor Plants, who abetted the perjury and misled the jury, has been demoted, but is still on the job.