In mid-April, DRCNet made its most recent report on the case of Andrew Chambers, the Drug Enforcement Administration's tarnished star informant (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/181.html#deacoverup). At that time, DRCNet also sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency asking it to reveal the results of its internal investigation into when its employees knew about Chambers' bad habit of lying on the stand and why they continued to use him.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat us to the punch. The newspaper, which broke the story last year, forcing Attorney General Janet Reno to suspend Chambers, issued its own FOIA request months earlier, and has now received a censored version of the DEA's internal investigation.
In the words of the Post-Dispatch, "the agency's report absolves itself of any wrongdoing," even though at least one DEA agent and one federal prosecutor heard Chambers admit on the witness stand of a Los Angeles federal courtroom in 1988 that he had been lying under oath since 1985.
Chambers, whom the report describes as "motivated by money, thrill, camaraderie, and a sense of self-righteousness," contributed to the arrests of more than 400 people while participating in at least 280 DEA investigations, the report said. He worked with at least 211 DEA agents who paid him somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. (The agency had publicly put the figure first at $1.6 million, then at $2.2 million, but now says $1.9 million, although it admits it hasn't been able to keep account of all payments to Chambers.) Those payments were witnessed by 357 government officials and authorized by 112 different DEA supervisors.
The report also reveals that Chambers worked as a snitch for the FBI, Customs, the Secret Service, IRS, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the US Postal Service, and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies. The Post-Dispatch notes that "there is no known investigation of his testimony at those agencies."
The DEA report says that Chambers testified under oath at least 25 times for the agency and in 16 of those cases he lied about his background -- in particular, his arrest record, the extent of his experience as an informant, and his tax payments -- in order to appear more credible before judges and juries.
Chambers' pattern of perjury started within a year of his appearance as a government informant. In federal court in St. Louis in 1985, he testified that he had never been arrested. At the time, he was out on bail on felony forgery charges from Paducah, Kentucky. He had also been charged with posing as a private investigator and defrauding a jeweler of $1,550. In all, the report said, Chambers had been arrested 13 times and convicted on one count of soliciting a prostitute.
A DEA agent who should have alerted his superiors -- and defense attorneys representing defendants against whom Chambers would testify -- to his client's perjurious path, instead protected his informant by later convincing a judge to drop the Paducah charges.
In Los Angeles in 1988, he admitted his previous perjury, but added that he had been arrested again for being "hot handed" with his wife, and then compounded his offense by telling a new whopper under oath. This time, he told the court he had testified for the government "more than a hundred times," the report said.
This time, his DEA agent notified her supervisor, as did the Assistant US Attorney prosecuting the case. Chambers' number should have been up at this point, but according to the report, the DEA found no evidence that warnings about Chambers' lies ever left Los Angeles. (The report notes that the DEA supervisor in question was fired for "unrelated misconduct.")
Chambers continued to testify over the years, using his fabricated persona to burnish his credibility and help send people to prison, and US Attorneys sometimes adopted a "see no evil" approach to his misdeeds. In federal court in Denver in 1995, when a judge ordered prosecutors to collect information about Chambers from all DEA field offices, prosecutors instead dropped the federal charges and re-filed them in state court. The information went uncollected, the defendants went to prison, and Chambers went on his merry, mendacious way.
By 1998, Chambers' career began to unravel. Assistant US Attorney Dean Hoag, who was preparing to use Chambers as a witness, went to the judge after he heard from a California defense attorney about Chambers' pattern of deceit. Hoag also told the DEA he wouldn't allow Chambers to testify and that he would not prosecute any cases where Chambers was a witness, the report said.
Hoag also contacted Joseph Corcoran, special agent in charge of DEA's St. Louis office, telling him, "I don't think he should be used anymore," the report said. But Cochran and his superiors in Washington blithely ignored the warnings until the Post-Dispatch's expose forced the Attorney General's hand last January.
The DEA internal investigation found a "systemic" failure of communication by mid-level headquarters officials, some of whom had known of Chambers' lies for years, and that at least one DEA field supervisor was derelict in failing to report his knowledge of Chambers. But it clears top agency officials, saying there is no "substantiated" evidence that they knew their long-time star informant was habitually lying on the stand.
The agency did find room to blame Chambers. "Chambers was unique in the world of informants," the report maintained. "His cases spanned the country. Because the cases in which he was involved were in different cities throughout the United States, he was able to testify falsely in one place with the agents in another subsequent case not being aware of the previous false testimony.
"The problem was systemic. There was no effective system in place to memorialize issues regarding the credibility of an informant, and the [DEA special agents] who activated Chambers in another office did not know about his false testimony in a prior case. Chambers was able to exploit, either wittingly or unwittingly, that weakness in the DEA [confidential informant] program."
Whether anyone in the agency has been punished remains a mystery. DEA officials blacked out five of the report's six major findings. It also blacked out the names of the agents who worked with Chambers.
Jim Redden, a long-time Portland crime reporter and author of Snitch Culture: How Citizens Are Turned Into the Eyes and Ears of the State, raised an eyebrow when told of the particulars of the Chambers case. "I know informants are an essential part of the criminal justice system," he told DRCNet. "Many heinous crimes would not be solved without someone ratting. I think people are willing to tolerate the legitimate use of informants, but most adults object when police cross the line. That includes letting one heinous criminal walk in order to get another one, or, in the present case, allowing people to continue to commit crimes while they are informants or looking the other way when the informant's testimony is obviously false," Redden said.
In the Chambers case, said Redden, "the amount of money involved is so high that people have to ask 'can he be trusted or is he just in it for the bucks?' How do we know he's not setting people up to line his own pockets? The man has demonstrated that he has no credibility," the police reporter noted.
But, said Redden, the Chambers case is an inevitable outgrowth of drug prohibition. "We've reached a situation with the drug laws since the crack mania of the late 1980s where we have really changed the legal landscape. Now they use RICO laws to make anyone involved in a drug crime guilty of the most severe crime committed by anyone else involved, and they threaten you with long mandatory minimum sentences unless you rat."
"This country has a long tradition of trying to outlaw anything and everything, and it's just been a complete disaster," Redden argued.
|Issue #185, 5/11/01 Editorial: People of All Shapes and Sizes | With DEA Administrator Nomination, Bush Puts a Hardline Drug Policy Troika in Place | DEA Internal Report on Supersnitch: Agency Finds Itself Not Guilty | US Slapped Down at UN, Removed from Human Rights, Drug Panels, Congress Threatens to Take Ball and Go Home | Louisiana Legislators Act to Reduce Drug Sentences as Prisons Bulge, Alabama Prison Crisis Going Un-addressed This Year | Australia: First Injection Room Opens in Sydney as West Australia Eyes Similar Plan | Canada's Top Drug Cop Calls for Look at Injection Rooms | SSDP Making Waves: Madison, Hampshire, Amherst SSDPer Stages Mock Coffee Prohibition, Other Events | Smoke-Ins, Hempfests and Mass Protests: Movement Makers or Risky Distractions? | The Reformer's Calendar||
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