DEA Supersnitch Goes Down in Flames, DEA Supervisors Next? Or, Who Will Investigate the Investigators? 6/2/00

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Andrew Chambers made a nice career for himself as an undercover informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Over a 16-year period, the drug agency paid him more than $2.2 million for his efforts, leaving him in either first or second place as the DEA's all-time highest paid informant. Chambers, a smooth-talking practitioner of the "reverse sting," was involved in some 300 cases with at least 445 defendants, some of whom are now serving life sentences as a result of their dealings with him (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/124.html#scandals2and3).

Now, however, Chambers has been "deactivated" (DEA lingo for "suspended") as a growing scandal swirls around him, his DEA supervisors and a number of U.S. Attorneys. The problem is that at least three federal courts consider Chambers to be an incorrigible liar.

Chambers' career began to unravel last fall when a California public defender, H. Dean Stewart, won a two-year lawsuit forcing the DEA to reveal not only its payments to Chambers, but also his history of arrests, which the agency hid from defense lawyers. But it was only after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chambers' hometown paper, ran an extensive investigative piece on January 16, that he was deactivated. And it was not Chambers' DEA supervisors who gave the order, but Attorney General Janet Reno, who acted after reading the story.

The Post-Dispatch reported that Chambers had perjured himself repeatedly in trials across the country. In order to bolster his credibility, Chambers consistently testified that he had no criminal record, but the newspaper found he had been arrested at least seven times on charges including soliciting a prostitute, impersonating a DEA agent, forging a loan document and larceny. Most of the charges were dropped (some by the intervention of his DEA handlers), but Chambers pled guilty to the solicitation charge in Denver in 1995.

As early as 1993, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California wrote that Chambers had perjured himself repeatedly. Again in 1995, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis agreed, condemning the government's tactics. And last June, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, DC found that Chambers' serial perjury for the DEA was "very compelling" evidence of serious government misconduct.

Now defense attorneys around the country are mulling appeals of cases involving Chambers, and U.S. Attorneys in Florida and elsewhere have dropped at least 14 cases where Chambers was set to testify, according to a May 28 Post-Dispatch follow-up.

That Chambers lied repeatedly to help his bosses send hundreds of people to prison is scandal enough, but that's only the half of it. According to the Post-Dispatch and the Tampa Tribune, Chambers' DEA supervisors are now engaged in covering-up their earlier cover-up of his criminal history and proclivity for perjury.

As many as two dozen St. Louis DEA agents are being investigated by the agency (!) to see whether they knew their witness was lying. Some agents clearly knew, since they had helped him squirm out from under arrests for soliciting, impersonating an agent and suspicion of forgery.

But the person in charge of the investigation, DEA Chief of Operations Richard Fiano, seems to have his own problems with the truth. Fiano told the newspaper that he was unaware of Chambers' perjury until last August, but DEA records show its chief counsel's office was aware of the problem last May. Also, the agency had just fought the two-year battle with public defender Stewart to keep the information secret.

And, the Post-Dispatch reported, DEA's February internal report on the cover-up was also full of lies:

  • The report denied that the DEA had an agreement with Chambers to give him a percentage of whatever his investigations turned up. In 1995, a federal judge in Denver disagreed and dismissed 10 indictments against defendants. Internal DEA documents from November 1995 admitted that the DEA indeed had such an agreement, and a DEA agent's sworn testimony confirmed it.
  • The report denied that St. Louis U.S. Attorney Ed Dowd ever "officially notified" the St. Louis office he was rejecting any cases with Chambers as a witness. But Dowd called the St. Louis special agent in charge in 1998 and "bluntly" told him not to bother using Chambers in his district.
  • The report denied that St. Louis federal prosecutor Dean Hoag dropped charges because of Chambers' lies, but federal court records say the opposite.
  • The report said Chambers lied only four times while under oath, but court records available to the DEA listed at least 16 occasions, and probably many more.
The DEA now says its report is being "constantly updated," but has refused to make copies available to reporters.

Fiano, who is in charge of DEA's 4500 agents and approximately the same number of informants, also claimed that once alerted to problems with Chambers last August he immediately "put a hold" on using him. Not quite true. DEA records show that agents could continue to use Chambers with approval from the special agent in charge at one of the agency's 21 field offices. Chambers was not actually "deactivated" until February and, by the way, even that suspension is not total: the DEA says Chambers can continue to work on existing cases.

DEA remains the only agency investigating its use of Chambers. Its congressional overseers seem uninterested as well; during April's confirmation hearing for acting DEA administrator Donnie Marshall, the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn't find the energy to broach the subject.

-- END --
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Issue #139, 6/2/00 DEA Supersnitch Goes Down in Flames, DEA Supervisors Next? Or, Who Will Investigate the Investigators? | Ecstasy Panic Looms: 1985 All Over Again? | Grow Canada: Health Canada Medical Marijuana Contract Has Bidders Abuzz | Two Drug Policy and Sentencing Reform Newsletters Come Out | ... While Another Newsletter Concludes Its Distinguished History | Pressure Builds to Reform Rockefeller Drug Laws | US Customs Urges Congress to Allow Searches of Out-of-Country Mail | Massachusetts State Senate Approves Needle Exchange Bill | Action AlertS | Media Scan | Event Calendar | Hartford, Connecticut Job Opportunity | Editorial: My First Controlled Substance
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