Police Corruption

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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More pain pill peddling, plus a pervy DARE officer, and a Hawaii cop with a medical marijuana card who was allegedly up to more than maintaining his own health. Let's get to it:

In Glasgow, West Virginia, a Glasgow police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was peddling pain pills. Donald Scott Wills, 43, went down after an informant told police he had engaged in multiple drug transactions with Wills, and that Wills had bought drugs while in uniform and while in his police cruiser. Police set up surveillance of an area home, where the informant sold 30 oxycodone tablets to Wills, who gave him $30 and said he would pay the rest of the money for the pills once he got rid of them. He was then arrested on a single count of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.

In Edwardsville, Illinois, an Edwardsville Police DARE officer was arrested Monday on charges he was taking surreptitious videos of women undressing at a tanning salon. Officer Michael Collins, 46, went down after a customer at the tanning salon complained she saw him videotaping her with his cell phone over a wall as she prepared for a tanning session. Police confiscated his cell phone and found videos of at least two other women. Collins is charged with felony unauthorized video recording and has been suspended with pay by the department.  He's free on his own recognizance.

In Honolulu, a Honolulu police officer was arrested Tuesday on charges he was involved in a marijuana grow operation. Officer Michael Chu, 41, is facing federal marijuana possession, distribution, and cultivation charges. While Chu has a medical marijuana card, the feds allege that they uncovered a marijuana sales ring. They seized $12,000 in cash, about 20 pot plants, and found a pound of marijuana and several money orders in Chu's police car. The bust went down after Fedex reported a suspicious package from California that turned out to contain eight clones.Last year, the DEA intercepted a package containing 14 pounds of marijuana that was destined for the same address.

In Rogersville, Arkansas, a Hawkins County jail guard was arrested Tuesday on charges he was peddling pain pills. David Wayne "Big Time" Richards went down after the sheriff's office received a tip that he was involved in pill trafficking. Deputies used an informant to set up a drug buy, then pulled Richards over in a traffic stop. They seized 1,345 10-milligram Lortab pills and $650 in cash. Richards was charged with possession of Schedule III narcotics with intent to deliver and as of Tuesday evening was being held on $100,000 bond pending arraignment May 2. He was fired from his jailer position, too. Richards is a well-known figure in the community, having served as an alderman in the town of Surgoinville, but he is best known for dressing up as Santa Claus for an annual Christian motorcycle charity "Toy Run." He's looking at two to four years in prison.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Hoo-boy! Institutionalized misconduct and corruption in Florida and New Jersey, more jail guards in trouble, a pill-peddling cop, and a former Colorado sheriff goes down for trading meth for sex. Let's get to it:

In Clearwater, Florida, defense attorneys have called for a US Justice Department investigation of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit, which is embroiled in an ever widening scandal over its practices. The attorneys say the unit routinely violated the civil rights of people it investigated and engaged in unlawful searches and seizures. The scandal began when a videotape emerged of narcotics detectives hopping over a wall to investigate a suspected marijuana grow without a warrant and then trying to destroy the evidence by taping over it. Defense attorneys also accuse unit members of covering up drug trafficking by the daughter of one of its members, physically abusing a man, stealing public funds, and committing perjury when questioned about their potentially illegal activities. New Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has opened at least six internal investigations into the dope squad.

In Camden, New Jersey, the city has paid out at least $340,000 in damages to nearly a dozen low-level accused drug dealers and users whose convictions were overturned because of potentially tainted evidence gathered by corrupt city police. And that's just so far. Another 75 lawsuits alleging abuses have been filed in state Superior Court and nearly as many in federal court. They claim they were victimized by dirty cops who planted evidence and falsely arrested and charged them. Four former Camden police officers have been convicted of planting evidence, stealing cash and drugs, conducting illegal searches, and fabricating reports that led to a series of arrests and convictions between 2007 and 2009. Each faces about 10 years in jail. In addition to the pay-outs, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office has had to dismiss some 200 cases.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a Jacksonville's Sheriff's Office jail guard was arrested last Wednesday after selling oxycodone tablets to an undercover officer. James Mock III, 28, was on duty and in uniform when he sold 80 30-milligram pills in return for $1,600. Now he's facing first- and third-degree felony charges, including selling a controlled substance within 100 yards of a convenience store and possession of a controlled substance without prescription. He was a probationary employee and has been fired.

In Gloucester, New Jersey, a Gloucester Township police officer was arrested Wednesday on drug charges after an internal investigation. The as yet unnamed officer was on duty when arrested and is charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of an imitation controlled dangerous substance, possession of a weapon during a controlled dangerous substance offense, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.

In New York City, a former city jail guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to having sex with an inmate and smuggling drugs and other contraband into the Rikers Island jail. Clara Espada, 41, pleaded guilty to third-degree receiving a bribe, a Class D felony, and forcible touching, a misdemeanor. She went down after the inmate she had sex with told investigators he helped broker deals for Ecstasy, alcohol, and cigarettes that netted Espada $300 a month. Espada is awaiting sentencing and facing six months in jail under a plea deal.

In Centennial, Colorado, a former Colorado Sheriff of the Year pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he traded methamphetamine for sex with young male tweakers. Former Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick Sullivan, 69, served as sheriff from 1984 to 20002 before resigning to become director of security at a metropolitan Denver school district. He resigned that position in 2008. He was arrested in a sting operation last year after a man arrested on meth charges mentioned a connection and held in custody in a jail named after himself. He copped a plea to felony meth possession and misdemeanor solicitation of a prostitute, while prosecutors dropped charges of meth distribution and attempting to influence a public servant. Sullivan will do 30 days in jail in addition to eight days he served when arrested.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An ugly strip search scandal brews in Milwaukee, a bogus pot bust get cops in hot water in Pittsburgh, plus a crooked border deputy, a crooked Puerto Rico cop, and a crooked prison guard. Let's get to it:

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eight Milwaukee police officers are under investigation for conducting unlawful strip searches on people they suspected were carrying drugs. Complaints are piling up that officers in District 5 on the city's north side sexually assaulted people and violated their civil rights while conducting rectal searches for drugs on the street. Those under suspicion include Sgt. Jason Mucha, who has been investigated in the past after suspects accused him of beating them and planting drugs on them, and Officer Michael Gasser. Under state law, it is illegal for police to perform a cavity search involving someone's genitals. Such a search must be done by licensed medical personnel once a suspect has been arrested.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, two Pittsburgh police officers are the targets of a lawsuit filed last Monday by a Hampton man who alleges they falsely arrested him for buying marijuana at a car wash. Officers Kenneth Simon and Anthony Scarpine arrested Timothy Joyce, 23, after Simon claimed he saw Joyce buy weed from a man at the car wash. That led to Joyce being jailed for several days on a charge he violated probation on a misdemeanor drug possession charge. Video surveillance at the car wash showed that Joyce did not interact with the man the officer claimed sold him the marijuana, and the charges were dropped. Joyce is suing the city and the two police officers for unlawful arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and malicious prosecution.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Hidalgo County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Monday to 11 years in federal prison for his role in a 2009 drug conspiracy. Heriberto Diaz and another deputy raided a house filled with 354 pounds of marijuana, but instead of arresting the occupants, they arranged to have one of their informants steal it. The plot unraveled when a Mission police officer came upon the informant as he was removing the marijuana from the property. Diaz was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and lying on an official report.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, a former San Juan Municipal Police officer was convicted last Wednesday for his role in providing security for drug transactions. Arcadio Hernandez-Soto, 35, was convicted in San Juan of three counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, four counts of attempting to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and four counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug transaction. He provided security for what he believed were illegal cocaine deals, but which in fact were part of an undercover FBI operation. In return for the security he provided, Amaro-Santiago received a cash payment of between $2,000 and $3,000 for each transaction. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison.

In Bloomfield, New Jersey, a Bloomfield prison guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in state prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle drugs, cell phones, and other contraband into the Essex County Correctional Facility. Corrections officer Joseph Mastriani, 32, was the mastermind of the ring and made $1,000 a week in the operation. He had pleaded guilty in November to one count of second-degree official misconduct. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he is required to serve five years in prison before being eligible for parole.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Here's a hint for deputies: Don't go to buy heroin in uniform while the joint is under surveillance in a drug investigation. There are more lessons to be learned this week, too. Let's get to it:

In Maurice River, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly smuggling drugs into Bayside State Prison. Guard Nazair Bey, 36, is charged with drug possession, distribution, conspiracy to distribute and official misconduct. Official misconduct is a second-degree offense, while the drug-related charges are third-degree offenses. The 10-year veteran was earning $74,940 a year as a senior corrections officer. He is now on unpaid leave.

In Carlsbad, California, a Carlsbad police officer pleaded not guilty last Friday to charges he stole heroin from the police evidence room. Michael Koch, 44, had been arrested two months ago after "numerous" police employees witnessed the alleged thefts. He is charged with felony burglary and possession of heroin. The 18-year veteran faces up to three years, eight months in prison, if convicted.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer pleaded guilty last Friday after being accused of running a drug ring while on duty, in uniform, and sometimes out of his police station parking lot. Officer Daniel Redd copped to federal charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and carrying a firearm while drug trafficking. He admitted dealing heroin out of the parking lot and from local restaurants. In return for the plea, five other charges were dropped. A recommended 20-year federal prison sentence was part of the plea deal.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Phillips County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Friday to charges he accepted bribes to look the other way as traffickers shipped drugs through the state. Winston Dean Jackson was the fourth of five Arkansas law enforcement officers arrested as part of the federal "Operation Delta Blues," an enforcement effort centered on Helena-West Helena, Mississippi, which resulted in the arrests of 71 people. Jackson admitted warning a drug trafficker that a state trooper was coming with an arrest warrant, taking cash for his efforts while in his patrol car, and making another drug arrest warrant vanish. He copped a plea to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, and is looking at six to seven years in federal prison when sentenced. That date hasn't been set yet.

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to two years and four month in federal prison after he got caught buying heroin while armed and in uniform. Jason Stewart, a three-year veteran of the force, had been strung out on heroin for longer than that, and went down when he was spotted scoring during an unrelated drug investigation. He was also chauffeuring a drug dealer around town in a sheriff's office vehicle. He pleaded guilty to being a drug addict in possession of a firearm. He also faces state drug possession charges.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pretty quiet week this week, but there is a juicy scandal brewing in Florida. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD officer was convicted last Thursday of lying under oath during an application for a search warrant. Officer Michael Carsey, 31, unlawfully stopped and detained a Harlem man, then falsely testified during the search warrant application and at a later hearing that the man admitted having guns and drugs in his apartment. Carsey's partner, Sgt. William Eiseman, 39, had pleaded guilty in June to perjury for lying under oath, conducting unlawful searches and seizures in Northern Manhattan, and directing subordinates to falsify paperwork in order to make the arrests appears to be legitimate. Carsey had been acquitted on those charges last fall, but was convicted of perjury and false filing Thursday. He was sentenced to three months in jail and five years probation.

In Clearwater, Florida, the scandal in the Pinellas County Sheriff's narcotics unit continues to grow. Narcotics officers are already being investigated for making warrantless searches and surveilling a local hydroponics store, and now three detectives are accused of improperly and routinely accessing Progress Energy billing records for years as they searched for marijuana grows. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has now launched six new internal affairs investigations, in addition to nine he revealed last week. One narcotics supervisor has been reassigned, while two of the detectives have been demoted and assigned to patrol division. The other detective has already left the unit.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A police chief popping pills from the evidence room, a sheriff slinging meth, and those are just the low lights. Let's get to it:

In Trumann, Arkansas, the Trumann police chief resigned Tuesday after an investigation found that he had been stealing drugs that were supposed to be destroyed. Chief Tony Rusher was given a "resign or be fired" ultimatum by the town mayor after an internal investigation found he had stolen between 500 and 600 prescription pills from the evidence room instead of destroying them after their cases had been closed. The investigation was sparked by complaints by Rusher's own cops. Rusher told a state investigator he "did not consider pills that had been through court as evidence" and that "these pills were going to be destroyed anyway." Rusher said he used more than a dozen Xanax, hydrocodone, and Percocet pills daily in addition to Ambien for sleep.

In Somerset, Pennsylvania, a Somerset Borough police officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly seeking a $500 bribe to make a marijuana charge go away. Officer Jason Michael Ponczek, 33, is charged with felony bribery in official and political matters and misdemeanor official oppression. On January 22, Ponczek responded to a residence in the borough after a neighbor complained, asked to enter and was invited inside. Ponczek and another officer found a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia. Instead of arresting the person, Ponczek said he would wait 30 days to file charges and the person could earn leniency by becoming a snitch. The person did so, twice, and then, on February 16, Ponczek met the snitch and offered to make the marijuana charge go away for $500. At that point, the person contacted an attorney, who sent him to the state police, who investigated and arrested Ponczek.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, the former Winn Parish sheriff was convicted last Wednesday of participating in a methamphetamine distribution ring that included using his lover to sell the stuff. A.D. "Bodie" Little, 61, was one of 11 people indicted by a federal grand jury. A jury convicted him of conspiracy to possess 50 grams or more of meth with intent to distribute, possession of five grams or more with intent to distribute, using a communications facility to facilitate drug trafficking, as well as four counts of conspiring with a woman with whom he was alleged to have had an affair. He faces up to life in prison and a $10 million fine.

In Castle Dale, Utah, a former Emery County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Friday to multiple charges related to an apparent serious pain pill problem. Clayton Rue Bell entered guilty pleas to seven felony counts and one misdemeanor, including four counts of burglary, one count of falsely obtaining a prescription, one count of possession of a firearm by a restricted person, one count of theft, and one count of DUI. Bell, 29, was arrested in October after breaking into the evidence room to steal prescription drugs, something he confessed to having done repeatedly. Then, in December, Bell crashed his pickup truck and a paramedic found a box filled with prescription drugs. The next day, Bell's own mother caught him inside a home looking for pills and called police. In exchange for Bell's guilty pleas, prosecutors dropped six more felonies and three more misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 90 days on the DUI, and the remaining charges are being held in abeyance, so if he's a good boy for a year, they will vanish.

In Gaston, North Carolina, a former Cleveland County sheriff's jailer pleaded guilty Monday to charges he smuggled drugs into the jail. Michael Scott Bumgardner went down after the sheriff's undercover narcotics officers heard he was smuggling cigarettes and pills. They set up a buy from him in the jail parking lot, then found more pills -- oxycodone and hydrocodone -- on him when he was arrested upon returning to work. He copped to possession with intent to manufacture and deliver a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance. He will do five to six months in prison.

In Piscataway, New Jersey, a Piscataway police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years in state prison for stealing cocaine from an evidence room he controlled. Albert Annuzzi, 47, copped a plea to official misconduct and must serve two years before he is eligible for parole. He said he took the drugs for his personal use, taking advantage of his position as evidence room supervisor. He was a 22-year veteran of the force.

Review Essay: The Border and Mexico's Drug Wars

Border Junkies: Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juarez and El Paso, by Scott Comar (2011, University of Texas Press, 214 pp., $24.95 PB)

Border Wars, by Tom Barry (2011, MIT Press, 171 pp., $14.95 HB)

Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico, by Beto O'Rourke and Susie Byrd (2011, Cinco Puntos Press, 119 pp., $12.95 PB)

El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, edited by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden (2011, Nation Books, 209 pp., $15.99 PB)

In addition to an ever-increasing death toll, now more than 50,000 since President Calderon sent in the army in December 2006, Mexico's drug wars are generating an increasing level of concern and interest in the US, including a burgeoning literature. Next week, we'll review a trio of new works that seek to describe the emergence and significance of the so-called cartels, but this week, we look at a quartet of books that focus on the drug wars (and the drug scene) along the border.

If there's anywhere in America more attuned to the Mexican drug wars -- by which I mean the prohibition-related violence among competing drug trafficking organizations, between them and Mexican law enforcement and the military, and, sometimes, even between different factions of the Mexican security apparatus -- it's El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from one of the epicenters of the drug trade and the violence, Ciudad Juarez.

That's reflected in these titles. One is written by a pair of El Paso politicians, two more are largely set in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez bi-national metroplex, and the last covers the US border region of which El Paso is front and center. The view from El Paso, staring across the river at the killing and mayhem, can be frightening, but also enlightening.

In Dealing Death and Drugs, El Paso city council members Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke (he of the famous city council resolution calling for a discussion of legalization and now running for Congress) bring a home-town perspective on the drug wars, provide some lessons on the economics of the illicit marijuana business and present a concise, yet cogent, argument for legalizing weed as a means of weakening the cartels and reducing the violence.

Marijuana is critical for the cartels, Byrd and O'Rourke argue, because unlike cocaine, which must be purchased from producers elsewhere or methamphetamine, which requires imported precursor chemicals, the cartels control it from farm to market, generating profits each step of the way. They take you from the pot fields of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where a pound costs $23 to Juarez, where it goes for $73 a pound. Getting it past the border and into El Paso drives the price up to $240, and getting it past the Border Protection Service checkpoints a few miles into Texas gets it to its final US wholesale price of about $550 a pound.

US and Mexican law enforcement seized or eradicated 22 metric tons of Mexican weed in 2008, Byrd and O'Rourke note. That's as much as 90% of high end estimates of all the pot smoked in the US, which means either those estimates are way low or that the business is way profitable. And throwing billions of dollars at the problem through law enforcement hasn't helped.

Legalizing, regulating, and taxing the marijuana market is "the least bad" solution, Boyd and O'Rourke write. Their argument, like the book itself, is pithy, yet compelling, and, as Boyd notes in an afterword, even Calderon is starting to come around. But not yet most policymakers in the US.

With El Sicario, we take a deep, dark turn toward the underbelly of the Mexican drug wars. Border sage and drug war critic Charles Bowden and translator and Juarez body count keeper Molly Molloy bring the terrifying realities of the business into chilling focus through their interviews with a former cartel hitman now in hiding with a contract on his head. This may be the single scariest book I've read about the Mexican drug wars, not for its calm and collected accounts of horrifying acts of brutality, which can be truly stomach-turning, but for the picture it paints of absolutely corrupted and complicit law enforcement, including the military.

Can you imagine if you don't know whether that cop who just stopped you is going to write you a ticket or shoot you dead without warning, or kidnap and torture you because he's actually working for the cartels? That's the case in Mexico now. Our interlocutor in El Sicario attended the Chihuahua state police academy, rose to the rank of comandante, and underwent training by the FBI, all while carrying out killings, kidnappings, and tortures for the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels. Even more perversely, while he was running the anti-kidnapping squad for the state police, he was using police vehicles to kidnap people and transport drugs.

And he is by no means alone. According to the hit man, about a quarter of his graduating class at the police academy were on the cartel payroll -- from the very beginning of their law enforcement careers! The Mexican police are heavily salted with cartel men; it's a long-term business strategy that has paid handsomely for the cartels, but has absolutely shredded any trust the public has in state and local law enforcement there.

But it's not just rotten on the Mexican side of the border. The hit man details how he and his colleagues transported tens of millions of dollars worth of drugs across the border and how he personally paid a US Customs officer $50,000 to let cars full of drugs get through. El Sicario shows that dirty knows no borders, even if the cartels are smart enough to keep the blood-letting almost entirely south of the border.

But there are other ways US law enforcement is benefiting from the Mexican drug wars. In Border Wars, journalist and Center for International Policy analyst Tom Barry uses a series of interlocking essays to argue that since the September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, the US has spent billions of dollars "securing the border" against a triple threat of illegal immigration, drugs, and terror, and has accomplished little good, quite a bit of bad, and plenty of stupid.

Barry opens with the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died for lack of proper medical treatment in 2008 in a privately operated, publicly owned federal immigration prison in remote Pecos, Texas. He recalls that until 2006, we typically handled illegal immigration administratively, often simply deporting Mexicans back across the Rio Grande. But since then, the Bush administration began treating illegal immigration as a criminal matter, and now some 20,000 people languish in those distant prisons. Barry paints chilling, Kafkasque scenes of assembly-line "justice" where judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, all in the pay of the Us government, process dozens of shackled would-be immigrant laborers into the ever-expanding federal immigration detention system.

There is money to be made there, sucking off the federal teat, although more of it appears to go to lawyers, consultants, dealmakers and lobbyists than to the desperate rural towns hoping a private prison will provide them with a semblance of an economy. There's even more money to be made by border sheriffs and border state law enforcement entities in the seemingly endless billions of Department of Homeland Security dollars to fight drugs and terror.

Barry takes us to Texas and Arizona border counties where the numbers show little violent crime, but the sheriffs and politicians cry to high heaven about "spill over violence," Korans found on the border, and the threat of narco-Hezbollah conspiracies, for which there is no evidence. Some of these counties are among the poorest in the nation, lacking social and public services, yet in one of them, the sheriff's department is so awash in federal grant money that each deputy has two official vehicles, one patrol car and one SUV.

Along the way, he exposes the ugliness of border security politics and some of it practitioners, such as Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Jan Brewer of Arizona, who use a politics of fear and hate to firm up support among their most reactionary supporters, who hype nonexistent violence on this side of the border, and who constantly tout their border security efforts "without help from Washington" even as they take in billions from Washington to pay for their loudly-touted initiatives. It's rank cynicism, opportunism, and hypocrisy at its worst, and Barry nails it.

For Barry, the central problem is our inability to enact comprehensive immigration reform, a goal always pushed further into the future as we "secure the border" first. And, he says, we have to separate national security from public safety. The gargantuan Department of Homeland Security should worry about terrorists; a separate Customs and Border Protection Service should deal with illegal immigration and drugs.

"The standard of success for our border policy shouldn’t be how completely sealed and secured our border is," he writes, "but rather how well it is regulated. New regulatory frameworks for immigration and drug consumption are fundamental prerequisites for a more cost-effective border policy." And a more sane and human one. 

Finally, with Border Junkies, University of Texas-El Paso borderlands historian Scott Comar takes us back to "the good old days" in Juarez, a decade ago, before the city earned its blood-drenched reputation. In an eye-opening work of auto-ethnography, Comar tells mainly his own story of his descent into abject addiction, in which he moved with appalling speed from owning his own moving truck to panhandling on the streets to feed his habit.

In telling his own story, though, Comar unveils a never-before-written-about world, that of the street junkies of Juarez. His account, based largely on his journal entries, details the day-to-day struggle of the border junkies, the strategies they adopt to survive and score -- and not necessarily in that order -- the kinship and friendship networks that envelop them, the heroin distribution systems that feed their insatiable appetites. For those with a taste for anthropological examinations of the junkie life, this is fascinating stuff, right up there with the work of Philippe Bourgois.

Border Junkies is notable in one other respect: I don't think there is one mention of the cartels in it. Comar recounts constant harassment by the Juarez police (and the El Paso police, too) and petty corruption, he mentions that some of his fellows belonged to gangs, though only passingly, but the existence of the cartels, the source of their dope, is so distant from their daily lives that it is as if they don't exist.

Of course, that was before the death toll in Juarez started climbing to thousands every year. Now those street gangs that in Comar's time seemed to be engaged mainly in minor thuggery, a little smuggling, and posing with pistols have, in the pressure cooker of the Mexican drug wars, morphed into true killing machines like Barrio Azteca, the Artist Assasins, and La Linea. Those guys who quietly peddled smack on the corners or out of their houses in Comar's day died by the hundreds when the violence swept through just a few years later.

Wretched as the border junkie's existence is, it is doable. Comar did it for three years, commuting over the river to panhandle in El Paso, then back across to cop and nod. It was a gritty, miserable existence, but Comar makes it seem almost routine, banal. And, along the way, he has some interesting things to say about addiction and recovery, too.

Perhaps it's fitting to end with the image of the junkie straddling the border, because the root causes of Mexico's drug wars certainly do. Whether it's America's never-ending appetite for Mexican weed, the cartels' addiction to money and power, their alcohol and cocaine-numbed killers, or border state and federal law enforcement's addiction to immigration/drugs/terror funding booty, it's all entangled there on the line.

Mexico may be another country and, thankfully, the violence, at least, remains on that side so far, but we are all in this together. Legalizing marijuana or even ending drug prohibition in the US won't make the cartels magically disappear, but failing to do so will only ensure that they grow ever more entrenched, while continuing to provide sustenance to malign political forces and authoritarian, if not downright Orwellian, policing tendencies here.

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.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A state trooper transporting marijuana, a pair of cops ripping off drug cash, a constable smuggling across the Mexican border, and a cop with a bad pain pill habit make this week's hall of shame. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, a police sergeant and a patrol officer were charged Monday with stealing $5,000 in undercover government money in an FBI sting operation. Sgt. Ronald Watts, 48, and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, 47, allegedly took the money from a cooperating FBI witness who was under surveillance by federal agents. That same witness testified that Watts had previously asked to be informed of impending drug-cash transactions. Watts and Mohammed have each been charged with one count of theft of government funds. The pair have been released on unsecured $10,000 bonds. They are looking at up to 10 years in prison.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former reserve officer for the Nueces County constable's office was found guilty last Friday of smuggling cocaine and heroin across the Gateway International Bridge from Mexico. Mercedes Perez, 54, went down after a drug-sniffing dog alerted on his vehicle and Customs officers found five pounds of heroin and 15 pounds of cocaine concealed inside his car. Perez testified at trial that he didn't know the drugs were in his car. He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. He faces a mandatory minimum 10 years and could get up to life in federal prison.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a former state trooper pleaded guilty Monday to being involved in a major marijuana grow operation. Kurt Steffen, 30, was hired as a state trooper in May 2007 and shortly afterward joined with others in an indoor grow op that generated untold thousands of dollars before it was busted in January 2010. When it was busted, authorities found thousands of dollars worth of grow equipment and more than 300 plants. In pleading guilty, Steffen also admitted using his state patrol car to transport the weed. He copped to one federal count each of manufacturing and conspiring to distribute more than 100 pot plants. He's looking at a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, and up to 40 years.

In Denville, New Jersey, a former Denville police officer was sentenced last Friday to three years in prison for ripping off oxycodone and heroin from the department's evidence room. Eugene Blood, 38, a nine-year veteran of the department, had pleaded guilty in December to stealing the drugs in 2010 and 2011, when he was the evidence officer. Before sentencing, Blood apologized for the thefts and said he had developed an addiction to painkillers. Blood's thefts compromised numerous narcotics cases, prosecutors said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Two of our four bad apples this week come from the Big Apple, one for planting drugs and one for transporting them. Of the other two, one picked the wrong friends and the other picked the wrong wife. Let's get to it:

In Annapolis, Maryland, an Anne Arundel County police officer was arrested last Thursday on allegations he notified the subjects of a narcotics search warrant that a raid was pending. Corporal Rick Alexander, 36, a 14-year-veteran of the department, was ratted out by some of the very people he tipped off, old friends of his who told searching police he had alerted them. Police found a small quantity of a controlled substance at the home. Based on interrogations at that location, police searched a second location and found 82 grams of marijuana that had been moved after the tip. Alexander is charged with obstruction and hindering a police officer, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, misconduct in office, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He was arraigned and released on his own recognizance.

In Woodward, Oklahoma, a former Woodward police detective was charged last Thursday with repeatedly stealing methamphetamine from the department evidence room to support his then-wife's drug habit. Former detective Michael Morton, 55, faces 13 drug-related felony counts for the thefts that took place between May 2009 and March 2010. The couple divorced in June 2010.  Morton took his then-wife along during several of the thefts and showed her the location of the drugs. The little racket imploded when Morton's spouse ripped some off on her own, kicking open the evidence room door, ripping open evidence envelopes, and stealing the speed inside. Morton faces up to life in prison because on some occasions he gave his then-wife drugs within a thousand feet of a school. 

In New York City, a retired NYPD officer was convicted last Friday of transporting 10 kilos of cocaine from Long Island to the Bronx in return for a $12,000 payment. Alfredo Rivera, 53, went down in a sting operation. He is guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possessing a weapon while possessing drugs. He is looking at 15 years to life in federal prison when he is sentenced in May.

In New York City, a former NYPD narcotics detective was sentenced last Thursday to five years probation and 300 hours of community service for planting drugs on a woman and her boyfriend. Jason Arbeeny, a 14-year-veteran of the force, had been found guilty of eight counts of falsifying records and official misconduct for planting drugs on suspects, a crime he said he committed to reach arrest quotas. The practice of planting drugs on people, known as "flaking," has so far cost the city $1.2 million in lawsuit settlements.

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