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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

One of California's top narcs gets busted for peddling Cialis, another Florida cop goes to prison, and a pair of Florida prison guards gets popped for the usual. Let's get to it:

In Long Beach, California, one of California's top narcs was arrested Saturday for selling prescription erectile dysfunction pills to undercover police. Special Agent Henry Kim, supervisor of the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement anti-gang team in Los Angeles, had advertised Cialis pills for sale on the Craigslist web site. Long Beach undercover officers responded to the ad, agreed to buy 50 pills for $250, and then arrested Kim when he met them to do the deal Saturday morning. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance for sale and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. But by Tuesday, prosecutors had downgraded the charges to four misdemeanor counts: dispensing drugs without a license, prescribing a controlled substance, unlawfully prescribing dangerous drugs without a prescribing physician, and unlawfully using dangerous drugs without a prescription. Kim has been released on his own recognizance pending trial. He is on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation.

In Hollywood, Florida, a fourth Hollywood police officer has been sent to prison for running drugs for supposed drug traffickers. Former Sgt. Jeffry Courtney was sentenced last Friday to nine years in federal prison after pleading guilty to heroin trafficking conspiracy charges. He accepted at least $22,000 to guard purported heroin shipments for New York mobsters, but the mobsters turned out to be FBI agents. Courtney is the fourth Hollywood Police Department officer to be sent to prison in the sting, known as Tarnished Bronze. A fifth is set to be sentenced in October for lying to FBI agents about letting word of the sting leak out.

In Naples, Florida, two Florida prison guards were arrested August 8 for arranging to smuggle cocaine to a prisoner. Guards Jawaan Rice, 21, and Modeste Pierre, 18, are charged with cocaine trafficking, smuggling a controlled substance into a correctional facility, and prison employee receiving a bribe. The pair, who were trainees hired in June, went down after prison officials overheard Rice and an inmate conspiring to bring a large quantity of coke into the prison. The prisoner turned informant and arranged a cocaine delivery with Rice and Pierre. An undercover police officer made the delivery and the subsequent arrests. The pair have been fired.

Medical Marijuana: Feds Seek Oregon Patient Records in Probe of Growers -- Patients Cry Foul

Oregon medical marijuana patients and their supporters are up in arms after it was revealed that a federal grand jury next door in Yakima, Washington, has issued subpoenas demanding medical records for 17 Oregon patients. The subpoenas were issued in April as part of a federal investigation into a small number of Washington and Oregon marijuana growers.

Subpoenas were served to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, the state office that issues permits to patients and growers, as well as The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, a private Portland clinic where doctors examine patients to see if their conditions can be alleviated by medical marijuana.

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Donald DuPay, official 2006 election photo
As part of the same investigation, DEA agents in June raided the home of medical marijuana patient and caregiver Donald DuPay, seizing 135 plants he was growing for other patients. DuPay, who hosts a local cable TV show about marijuana, was not arrested. He is among the 17 people whose records were subpoenaed.

For Oregon patients, the experience has been frightening and disturbing. "It's crazy. It's really scary. If they can get my records, they can get Gov. Kulongoski's, they can get yours," DuPay, a former Portland police officer and 2006 candidate for Multnomah County sheriff, told The Oregonian on Saturday.

For medical marijuana advocates, it looks like a new tactic deployed by the feds in their ongoing effort to thwart state medical marijuana laws. The grand jury subpoenas are the first ever issued for patient records in a marijuana case, "and of course, it is very worrisome," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "People have an expectation of medical privacy, and I think they have a right to expect medical privacy," Mirken said. "It's one thing to talk about people selling a product that is in fact not legal under federal law. We may think that's stupid. But that's in a whole different realm than obtaining people's medical records."

"This sends a message to the other states and their programs that they're vulnerable to federal interference," said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access. "It doesn't take a brick to hit you over the head to know that the federal government is trying to undermine California's medical marijuana law, given all the raids and threats to landlords. This is one step further that shows the federal government is very serious about going after patients."

Patients and their advocates are fighting the subpoenas. On August 1, attorneys representing the state of Oregon, and the ACLU representing The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, went before Chief US District Court Judge Robert Whaley in Yakima to urge him to throw out the subpoenas.

In that hearing, Assistant US Attorney James Hagery, who is leading the federal investigation, admitted that the subpoenas were too broadly written. He told the judge the grand jury is investigating "four or five" Washington and Oregon growers for using the medical marijuana laws to cover up their marijuana sales, that the 17 patients were people who got medical marijuana from the growers in question, and that the grand jury wants only current addresses and phone numbers, not "medical records" for those patients.

Hagerty did not explain why, if he is investigating alleged non-medical marijuana sales, he needs to look at registered medical marijuana patients.

A ruling on the subpoenas will come soon, the judge said.

Medical Marijuana: New Mexico Balks At Growing It

Update: Gov. Richardson has ordered the Health Dept. to implement the law, and has urged President Bush to stop the medical marijuana prosecutions.

When the New Mexico legislature passed the state's medical marijuana law this year, the law was unique in mandating that the state would oversee the production and distribution of the herb. But Wednesday, the state health department announced it would not comply with that portion of the law for fear of the feds arresting state employees.

"The Department of Health will not subject its employees to potential federal prosecution, and therefore will not distribute or produce medical marijuana," said Dr. Alfredo Vigil, who heads the agency.

The decision was not exactly a surprise. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King warned last week that the department and its employees could be criminally prosecuted by the feds and that his office could not defend state workers in criminal cases.

But while lifting the threat of potential federal prosecution from the health department and its employees, the move may open them to legal action from supporters of the law. The agency is "leaving itself open for a lawsuit," Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski told the Associated Press Wednesday. "I remember certain legislators talking about how they didn't want their grandmother to have to go into some alley and deal with some criminal element," said Szczepanski.

Asset Forfeiture: Austin Police Use of Seized Funds Probed

Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo announced August 9 that a criminal inquiry is underway into how Austin police spent money seized in the past five years and whether they violated rules governing how such funds are to be used. Acevedo, who has been on the job less than a month, said he wants to look closely at several payments made from the millions of dollars seized by the department during that period.

The probe comes after the Austin American-Statesman reviewed thousands of transactions obtained under Texas open public records laws. The review found that much of the money was spent on vehicle maintenance, training, and equipment purchases, but not all of it. Other spending included:

  • $13,000 in college tuition for a police commander.
  • $12,025 in October 2002 for an awards banquet.
  • $3,314 for clothing for the department's running team in November 2005.
  • $1,895 in May 2005 for a "race clock."
  • $625 in October 2001 for coffee mugs.

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Austin police -- busted?
A memo prepared for Chief Acevedo found more problems. It said the department had used seized funds in 2005 and 2006 to balance its budget. In fact, the department's seized funds account began running a negative balance in June because the money had been spent to balance the 2006 budget.

Both the state of Texas and the federal Justice Department have rules regarding how seized funds may be spent. The feds, for instance, bar funds from being used to pay salaries or supplant existing funding or from spending such funds before they are actually received. Texas law says that money can be used for salaries, overtime, officer training and investigative equipment and supplies. Other items may be bought with state funds only if used by officers in "direct law enforcement duties."

Acevedo said he had hoped to reveal the results of an internal investigation last week, but that was derailed when it morphed into a criminal investigation.

South Asia: India's Shravan Pilgrims Bring Profits to Marijuana Sellers

Pilgrims celebrating the Hindu month of Shravan (mid-July to mid-August) are filling the pockets of marijuana sellers in the Deoghar district of Jharkand, according to a report in the News Post of India. Considered auspicious by followers of Lord Shiva, the month is marked by, among other things, a pilgrimage by millions of adherents to pour water on the Shiva Linga at the Baidyanath temple in Deoghar.

The pilgrims, clad in saffron, smoke marijuana (ganja) as part of the observance. According to one estimate cited by the News and Post, devotees are buying and smoking 50 to 65 pounds of marijuana a day from happy Deoghhar pot vendors.

Police are aware of the sales, but turn a blind eye, the newspaper reported.

"Marijuana is liked by Lord Shiva. There is nothing wrong in smoking ganja. It makes the 110 km journey from Sultanganj in Bihar to Deoghar easy," one pilgrim told the newspaper.

Marijuana has been used for spiritual purposes for thousands of years in India. It is currently cultivated in at least 10 districts in Bihar and Jharkhand, and Maoist guerrillas reportedly are also getting into the business.

Latin America: Colombian Admiral Fired in Growing Probe of Military Drug Corruption

A Colombian rear admiral who served along the country's Caribbean coast was removed from his post Monday for alleged links to drug traffickers. Rear Admiral Gabriel Arango is only the latest in a series of military officers investigated in what has become a widening probe of connections between the military and the country's powerful drug trafficking organizations.

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too much trouble over this plant -- just legalize it already
"There is a very advanced investigation currently under way regarding Arango's illegal activity," Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview with RCN Radio. "I cannot deny that the investigation is related to the drug trade and that several other members of the navy appear to be involved."

Arango protested his innocence, pointing to his record in seizing drugs as a naval commander. "Never in my life have I been linked to any drug traffickers," he told Caracol Radio.

It's not just the navy. Colombian prosecutors are currently investigating at least eight army officers for alleged collaboration with the Norte del Valle cartel, the country's most violent drug trafficking organization.

The Colombian military has been the recipient of billions of dollars in US counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency aid under Plan Colombia. But coca and cocaine production have remained relatively steady despite the billions.

That's because there are too many vested interests benefiting from the drug trade and the drug war in Colombia, a now-imprisoned former paramilitary commander told Reuters this week. Salvatore Mancuso, former leader of the murderous Northern Bloc paramilitary drug trafficking organization who surrendered in a sweetheart deal in 2004, said those vested interests include politicians and military officers who collude with drug smugglers, contractors connected to a multibillion-dollar US anti-narcotics program, and companies that sell chemicals used to process cocaine.

"As long as there is a conflict in Colombia, all this will flourish," Mancuso predicted. "We have to cut off the guerrillas' oxygen supply, and that oxygen supply is cocaine."

Mancuso, whose sweetheart sentence is now threatened by a Colombian Supreme Court ruling demanding harsher treatment of those who killed innocents in their fight with leftist guerrillas, is not a disinterested observer. He is now offering his anti-cocaine strategy and services to the US government, undoubtedly in hopes of getting a US indictment for drug trafficking dropped.

Mancuso's prescriptions sound familiar, too. "First we need all-out coca eradication. Second a coherent plan for security and a state presence in these rural areas," Mancuso said. "Then there has to be social and economic development for each community."

Meanwhile, drug prohibition and Colombia's drug war drag on, and those in a position to profit are doing so.

Latin America: Nicaraguan President Warns of DEA's "Unexpected Interests" and "Terrible Things"

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Monday he does not trust the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because its operations hide "unexpected interests" and "terrible things." Ortega did not elaborate, but he undoubtedly has keen memories of the DEA and the Reagan administration attempting to portray his Sandinista government in the 1980s as major drug traffickers while the CIA and Oliver North were, at best, turning a blind eye to cocaine running operations funding the US-backed anti-Sandinista Contra rebels.

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Daniel Ortega (courtesy Wikimedia)
"You have to be careful with the DEA. You can't be blind," Ortega said in remarks during the celebration of the Nicaraguan Navy's 27th anniversary. "We have to wage the war against drugs, but don't come to us with stories about involving your Cobra helicopters and troops," Ortega said, apparently addressing the US government. "The best combatant is the Nicaraguan soldier."

The Ortega government has cooperated with the DEA. Nicaraguan soldiers seized more than 6,100 pounds of cocaine with DEA collaboration in the past year. Ortega said he would continue cooperating with the DEA in order take advantage of the agency's technology and experience.

But with one eye on Colombia, where hundreds of US soldiers and mercenaries are stationed as part of the US counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency effort there, and one eye on Mexico, which is apparently about to reach a major counter-narcotics assistance agreement with Washington, Ortega is signaling that such a massive US intervention would not be welcome in Nicaragua.

Europe: Dutch May Join Trend and Ban Magic Mushrooms

Since the turn of the century, psychedelic (or magic) mushrooms have been declared illegal by authorities in Britain, Denmark, Ireland, and Japan. Now, amidst a media blitz over a handful of incidents involving people high on 'shrooms, the conservative Dutch government is considering doing the same.

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psilocybe cubensis (courtesy erowid.org)
While the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances banned psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, the mushrooms themselves, especially when fresh, have inhabited a murkier legal status. In the United States, magic mushrooms are illegal under federal law, but not the spores from which they can be generated.

In Holland, where marijuana is retailed at state-sanctioned coffee houses, magic mushrooms are also available at so-called smart shops. Under Dutch practice, the smart shops can sell the mushrooms as long as they are fresh. They also sell various "smart drugs" and herbs, as well as other exotic psychedelics, such as salvia divinorum or San Pedro cactus.

But ever since Gaelle Caroff, a photogenic French teenager, died after jumping from a building under the influence of magic mushrooms in March, sectors of the Dutch press and conservative politicians and Caroff's parents have agitated for their sale and use to be banned. Although Caroff had suffered previous psychiatric problems, her parents blamed the mushrooms.

Dutch newspapers repeatedly published photos of the 17-year-old Caroff and they began highlighting other incidents involving people high on mushrooms, usually young tourists: a Brit, 22, who ran amok in a hotel, breaking a window and cutting his hand; an Icelander, 19, who, thinking he was being chased, leapt from a hotel balcony, breaking both legs; a Dane, 29, who drove crazily through a campground.

Amsterdam health services reported in January that emergency services were summoned to deal with bad mushroom trips 148 times over a three-year period from 2004 to 2006, or about once a week. Of the 148 incidents, 134 involved foreigners. Other Dutch government numbers suggest that tourists are gobbling up most of the mushrooms sold in smartshops.

In response to the rising clamor in the press, Health Minister Ab Klink ordered the national health institute to reassess the risks of magic mushrooms. Klink has said that, depending on what the institute concludes, he will recommend either that magic mushrooms sales be banned outright or limited to those over 18.

Either proposed move appears to have broad support in parliament. A majority of center and rightist parties has demanded the fungi be banned. That would be in line with the broad contours of a Dutch government that is increasingly conservative on issues ranging from Muslim immigrants to misbehavior in Amsterdam's notorious Red Light District to a mostly frustrated inclination to try to reverse the country's liberal marijuana policy.

Middle East: More Drug Executions in Saudi Arabia

Three drug offenders were among five people executed in Saudi Arabia last Friday, one of the busiest days for the executioner there in some time. According to the Saudi interior ministry, the total number of executions so far this year now stands at 117, four more than the number executed in all of 2000, the previous record high year.

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In Riyadh, Pakistani national Omar Sardar was executed for "smuggling heroin concealed in his stomach." His compatriot, Jahangir Zarin Bin Adam Khan Mhanid was executed in Jeddah for the same offense. Nigerian Nureddin Mohammed was also executed in Jeddah, for cocaine trafficking.

The other two people executed last Friday were Pakistani nationals convicted of robbing taxis.

In an International Harm Reduction Association report on drug executions issued last month, the author cited Amnesty International as finding that 26 of 50 Saudi executions in 2004 were for drug offenses and "at least" 33 more occurred in 2005. There are no figures yet available for last year.

According to the IHRA report, the number of countries that have death penalty provisions for drug offenses has climbed from 22 in 1985 to 34 this year. While nearly three dozen countries, including the US, have the death penalty for some drug offenses, actual executions have only been carried out in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Southeast Asia: Probe into Thai Drug War Killings Getting Underway

In early 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared that he would wipe out drugs in Thailand by spring's end. That didn't happen, but some 2,500 alleged drug users and traffickers were killed by shadowy death squads as part of the Thaksin government's drug war that year alone.

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2003 protest at Thai embassy, DRCNet's David Guard in foreground
With Thaksin overthrown by a military coup some months ago, the new Thai government has said it would investigate the killings. This week, the investigation took a step forward with the naming of former Attorney General Khanit Nakhon to lead an independent committee looking into the killings.

Justice Ministry permanent secretary Jarun Pukditanakul told theBangkok Post Saturday the commission will ask the Department of Special Investigation to provide information to help bring guilty officials to justice. ''The government has to give priority to this issue," he said. "Those who had a hand in the extra-judicial killings must be held responsible for their acts."

That sounded good to Somchai Homlaor, head of the Foundation for Human Rights and Development, who said the murders involved people from low-level policemen all the way up to former Prime Minister Thaksin. ''This is a big issue. The government should be serious about it,'' said the human rights activist.

Thaksin acted amidst growing concern over the rapid increase in the use of methamphetamine in Thailand early this decade. Known in Thailand as "ya ba," or "crazy medicine," the drug has been popular among workers, students, and night-clubbers. Thaksin's bloody offensive to wipe out drugs failed, of course, and methamphetamines are still widely available in Thailand, but 2,500 are dead. Now they just might get some justice.

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