Sometimes we are hard-pressed to come up with material for this feature, but this week our cup runneth over with a veritable cornucopia of corruption. Long-running scandals are in the news again, along with coke-smuggling soldiers, a sticky-fingered drug task force, and the usual motley crew of crooked cops and amoral state agents. Let's get right to it:
In Detroit, former police officer Donald Hynes, 43, was convicted March 28 of being part of a ring that stole more than 80 kilos of cocaine from the Detroit Police evidence room. Hynes was accused of making more than $336,000 from his share of the stolen coke. In a plot that continued from 1995 to 2000, Hynes and civilian police employee John Earl Cole, who worked in the evidence room, stole the coke over the years. Hynes was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to embezzle police property, conspiracy to launder money, and making false declarations to a grand jury. He faces a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison when he is sentenced June 19.
In Honolulu, Police Officer Robert Henry Sylva was arrested March 28 at the main police station and charged with selling 4 ½ ounces of methamphetamine. The charges came after a sting operation during which Sylva sold speed on three occasions to a police informant -- including one time when we was wearing his police uniform, the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported. Sylva, 49, a 22-year veteran of the force, is the second officer to go down on speed charges since December. Then, Officer Harold Cabbab was charged by the feds with trying to steal meth from drug dealers. Sylva faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence.
In Chicago, employees of the Illinois Secretary of State's office are accused of taking bribes from auto dealers who were selling cars to drug dealers and gang bangers, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The state employee would produce fraudulent titles for the cars, the paper said. At the Far South Side government office, auto dealers reportedly handed out bribes and even a new SUV to at least one manager who processed their paperwork, helping them avoid Internal Revenue Service reviews. The revelations come in a case that has already led the feds to shut down three dealerships, seize more than 100 luxury vehicles, and arrest five people in a wide-ranging investigation into heroin trafficking and international money-laundering. The auto dealers are accused of laundering money for drug dealers.
In Las Vegas, an ethically-challenged group of cops has survived departmental scrutiny, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas Police canine officer David Newton has admitted to placing drugs in the vehicle of local resident Mark Lilly last July as he was being arrested on suspicion of selling fake drugs. Newton claimed he put the drugs in Lilly's vehicle as "a training exercise" for his dog. But Newton then "forgot" he put the drugs there and let fellow officer Kevin Collmar and David Parker arrest Lilly for drug possession. While Newton, to his credit, wrote in a report that Lilly should not be charged, that report never got to prosecutors, Lilly went to trial, and Colmar and Parker testified that he possessed the drugs. The case only collapsed after another officer notified prosecutors the bust was bad -- and after police had already auctioned Lilly's impounded car. While a civilian police review board determined that the officers should be fired, Sheriff Bill Young announced last week he will only suspend them.
Review-Journal editorial page writers were not impressed. Instead of asking whether contaminating a crime scene with drugs is an acceptable training exercise, the paper noted, "A better question might be what Officer Newton was doing carrying narcotics to an active crime scene in the first place. Has he been charged with possession of those narcotics? Were they of a quantity that would get anyone else automatically charged with 'possession with intent to sell'?" The newspaper had more questions: "How many other drug busts have officer Newton and his trained pooch helped facilitate? How many have served time after one of these little 'training exercises'? How large a stash of contraband drugs does the officer possess, where did he get it, and what's it for? How much will taxpayers end up paying to settle the promised lawsuit from the falsely accused Mr. Lilly?"
In Oregon, the Valley Interagency Narcotics Team, or VALIANT, has been disbanded after mishandling evidence in some 1,300 cases, according to the Oregon Department of Justice. Auditors were unable to find 345 firearms, $10,423 in cash, and various quantities of seized drugs. Although the cases were submitted to a Linn County grand jury, no indictments were forthcoming. According to investigators, VALIANT officers routinely destroyed evidence improperly and destroyed records that could have traced that evidence. In many cases, the investigators found, VALIANT officers disposed of personal property after cases were closed without notifying the owners. While the task force has been shut down, officers involved still face possible discipline within their respective departments. Of the more than 1300 mishandled cases, 219 were recommended for internal affairs probes. In the meantime, the task force has paid out $9,180 for lost property and $14,652 to replace money that was seized.
In Bogota, five US Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly conspiring to smuggle 32 pounds of cocaine from Colombia aboard US military aircraft, the US Southern Command announced March 30. The five soldiers were detained and are being held "somewhere in the United States," military officials said. The US military has spent over $3 billion and sent some 800 troops to Colombia to fight the cocaine traffic.
In Dallas, the infamous "Dallas Sheetrock Scandal" came a step closer to winding down as a jury March 31 convicted former Dallas police officer Mark De La Paz guilty of lying to a judge in a search warrant application. De La Paz, whose numerous busts of Mexican immigrants on cocaine or speed charges fell apart when the substances actually turned out to be sheetrock or gypsum, now faces up to 10 years in prison. Three informants who worked with De La Paz have already pled guilty in the scheme that set up innocent people for arrest and imprisonment, and the city of Dallas has paid out millions to the wrongfully imprisoned. While De La Paz was acquitted in November of federal civil rights charges, he still faces 13 indictments in Dallas.
And last but not least, in Los Angeles, the city's Rampart police corruption scandal is coming to a close. City officials announced last week that the city has settled nearly all lawsuits related to the scandal, in which Rampart Division officers rampaged through the community robbing drug dealers, framing innocent people, and even shooting and paralyzing one man, then sending him to prison on perjured testimony. More than 100 criminal convictions have been overturned, more than a dozen officers forced to retire from the force, and eight officers convicted of corruption-related offenses -- although three of those convictions have been overturned. According to city officials, the city will settle some 200 remaining lawsuits with victims of the narcs gone berserk for around $70 million. But what the settlements mean is that the cases, in which people allege police beat, shot, or framed them, will never hear the light of day.