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Official Corruption And The War On Drugs
According to an investigation conducted by the Associated Press, "U.S. law officers who work the border are being charged with criminal corruption in numbers not seen before, as drug and immigrant smugglers use money and sometimes sex to buy protection, and international investigators crack down." AP investigators combed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, spoke with "sentenced agents," and reviewed court records, ultimately finding "corruption-related convictions against more than 80 enforcement officials at all levels - federal, state, and local - since 2007, shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on [drug] cartels."
The investigation uncovered not only corruption within U.S law enforcement agencies but also found that "[f]our applicants for jobs in federal border enforcement were not hired when polygraph tests and background checks confirmed they were infiltrators from drug trafficking operations;" the articles' writers state that "Such in-depth checks are conducted on only about 10 percent of applicants for border agent jobs," but officials say that the same level of scrutiny now applied only to one in ten applicants will eventually "be made standard for all applicants."
However, readers should be careful not to place all the blame on Mexico. Ignoring for a minute the major cause of corruption in law enforcement - drug prohibition and the massive amounts of money it allows drug operations to collect and disperse where needed - the U.S. should take at least as much responsibility for the problem as should its southern neighbors. As the article states, "U.S. officials have long pointed to Mexico's rampantly corrupt cops and broken judicial system, but Calderon told the AP this isn't just a Mexican problem." The Mexican president told AP reporters that "To get drugs into the United States the one you need to corrupt is the American authority [...] - not the Mexican. [...] I'm waging my battle against corruption among Mexican authorities and we're risking everything to clean our house, but I think there also needs to be a good cleaning on the other side of the border."
According to an August 2, 2009 Associated Foreign Press report, Mexican "Federal authorities announced the arrest of 34 police officers suspected of corruption, along with 17 drug traffickers, in two major anti-drug operations in Sinaloa and Tabasco states" ("Police Arrested in Mexico Drug Operations"). The Latin American Herald Tribune elaborates ("Drug Bust Nabs 34 Mexico Police and 9 Suspected Traffickers"), stating that "six commanders and several chiefs" were arrested following an investigation that "found evidence of the collaboration of municipal police with the Gulf cartel crime organization." According to the Herald Tribune, "authorities believe that all those implicated in these cases engaged in drug trafficking."
The arrests resulted from a federal police-, army-, and "the state government of Gov. Andres Granier of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI"-led investigatory operation, "on of the biggest against state police of any launched recently," that "concluded between July 29-31" with the high profile arrests. According to Mexico's Attorney General's office, also known are PGR, "With coordinated operations like this we let society know that there's no place for organized crime nor will it find paradises of impunity anywhere in the country."
On March 10, 2009, the Chicago Tribune ran a story about an ongoing spate of eggregious seizures conducted by police in the Texan city of Tenaha, which is "situated along a heavily traveled highway connecting Houston with popular gambling destinations in Louisiana" ("Highway Robbert? Texas Police Seize Black Motorists' Cash, Cars"). As the article explains, "police here allegedly have found a way to strip motorists, many of them black, of their property without ever charging them with a crime. Instead, they offer out-of-towners a grim choice: voluntarily sign over your belongings to the town, or face felony charges of money laundering and other serious crimes," including drug trafficking. Indeed, in an attempt to justify their behavior, Tenaha officials - whose police officers convinced "[m]ore than 140 people [to] reluctantly accept [the aforementioned] deal from June 2006 to June 2008" - claim "they are engaged in a battle against drug trafficking and call the search-and-seizure practice a legitimate use of the state's asset-forfeiture law." As Mayor George Bowers told the Tribune, "We try to enforce the law here [...]. We're not doing this to raise money."
But civil rights lawyers disagree. The Tribune reports that "attorneys have filed a federal class-action lawsuit to stop what they contend is an unconstitutional perversion of the law's intent, aimed primarily at blacks who have done nothing wrong." Tribune correspondent Howard Witt writes, "Tenaha officials 'have developed an illegal "stop and seize" practice of targeting, stopping, detaining, searching and often seizing property from apparently non-white citizens,' asserts the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas." David Guillory, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, "said he combed through [...] court records from 2006 to 2008 and discovered nearly 200 cases in which Tenaha police seized cash and property from motorists." Only about 50 of the detained motorists were actually charged with drug offenses. In the remaining cases, Guillory contends that "court records showed [that] police seized cash, jewelry, cell phones, and sometimes even automobiles from motorists but never found any contraband or charged them with any crime." Even when "police used the fact that motorists were carrying large amounts of cash as evidence that they must have been involved in laundering drug money," Guillory found that "each of the drivers[, whom] he contacted[,] could account for where the money had come from and why they were carrying it - such as for a gambling trip to Shreveport, La., or to purchase a used car from a private seller." The lawsuit has yet to be settled.
In addition to the disproportionately black travelers being targeted by Tenaha police, "Hispanics allege that they are being singled out" in a similar way "[i]n southern parts of Texas near the Mexican border." The article further contends that, "According to a prominent state legislator, police agencies across Texas are wielding the asset-forfeiture law more aggressively to supplement their shrinking budgets." Texas Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, stated that he considers the majority of these instances cases of "theft" pure and simple. He went one step further than just condemning the practice: Whitmire, according to the article, "introduced a bill" in early March "that would require police to go before a judge before attempting to seize property under the asset-forfeiture law - and ultimately Whitmire hopes to tighten the law further so that law-enforcement officials will be allowed to seize property only after a suspect is charged and convicted in court."
Three National Guardsmen were arrested in early June near Laredo, TX for smuggling Mexican nationals into the US. The Houston Chronicle reported on June 12, 2007 ("Arrests Of Guardsmen Stir Border Concerns") that "On Monday, Sgt. Julio Cesar Pacheco, 25, and Pfc. Jose Rodrigo Torres, 26, both of Laredo, and Sgt. Clarence Hodge Jr., 36, of Fort Worth, appeared before a federal magistrate on charges of conspiring to transport undocumented aliens. The suspects are being held in a detention facility in Laredo in lieu of $75,000 bail each. Pacheco, who had served in Europe with the Army, was awarded a Purple Heart two years ago for injuries he suffered in Iraq in 2004. All three Guard members were assigned to Operation Jumpstart, a Bush administration initiative launched in July that deployed 6,000 National Guard troops along the Southwest border to support Border Patrol agents. Meanwhile, one federal source confirmed there is a 'very good chance' the ongoing criminal investigation could result in more arrests."
According to the Chronicle, "ICE agents said Hodges and Torres told them that Pacheco recruited and paid them for the smuggling operation. According to documents, Pacheco allegedly sent Torres a text Thursday afternoon offering $3,500 for taking 24 people. '24 will be tuff 2 fit but ill try,' Torres allegedly replied. Hodge told ICE investigators he helped Torres get the van with the two dozen immigrants past a Border Patrol highway checkpoint. Hodge walked up to the van and made it appear they were conducting National Guard business, the complaint alleges."
The Chronicle noted that "Critics of the border troop deployment, including Laredo mayor Raul C. Salinas, a retired FBI agent, said the incident shows that National Guard troops need more training. 'Before these people are sent and placed in position ... they should be given a very tough course on ethics,' said Salinas. T.J. Bonner, a Border Patrol agent in San Diego who is president of the 11,000-member National Border Patrol Council, said he was 'not shocked' by the arrests. 'You just don't send people down there without the proper training and the proper background checks,' Bonner said. 'It's a big temptation. Smugglers are waiving a lot of money in the faces of these guys.'
An FBI investigation into corruption and abuse of power by guards in a federal prison in Florida resulted in several arrests and two deaths. The Tallahassee Democrat reported on June 22, 2006 ( "Two Die In Shootout At Federal Prison") that "At 7:42 a.m. Wednesday, shots rang out at the prison after agents with the FBI and the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General arrived to arrest six correctional officers. The officers were indicted Tuesday on multiple charges. The allegations against them include giving contraband to inmates in exchange for sex and intimidating inmates in an effort to cover up the scandal. Five of the guards were arrested and taken into custody, but a sixth, Ralph Hill, used his personal handgun and shot at the agents, according to Scott Middlebrooks of the federal Bureau of Prisons. More gunfire ensued, and Hill was killed. William 'Buddy' Sentner, an agent with the Office of the Inspector General, also was killed. Sentner, in his mid-40s, was based in Orlando. He had a career spanning about 15 years, Folmar said. A lieutenant with the Federal Bureau of Prisons was injured in the shooting and was taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. He was listed in stable condition and is expected to recover. Officials said they were not releasing his name because not all family members had been notified."The Democrat noted that "In addition to Hill, those named in the indictment were Alfred Barnes, Gregory Dixon, Vincent Johnson, Alan Moore and E. Lavon Spence. All of the remaining guards except for Johnson were in the Wakulla County Jail. Johnson's location was unknown as of late Wednesday night."
According to the Democrat, "The guards, with the exception of Johnson, were alleged to have had sex with inmates in exchange for contraband, according to the indictment. Johnson allegedly counseled an inmate not to cooperate with the investigation. It wasn't the first time guards at the facility have been accused of having sex with an inmate. In 2000, K.P. Price was sentenced to probation in connection with charges that he had sex with and impregnated an inmate. The inmate later sued Price. The Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee is along Capital Circle Northeast about 3 miles east of downtown. It is a low-security facility housing females. There is an adjacent Federal Detention Center that houses males who are awaiting trial or awaiting transportation to another prison. About 1,445 inmates are housed at both facilities."
Some US military personnel stationed in Colombia appear to have fallen prey to the temptations posed by the cocaine trade. The El Paso Times reported on Sept. 16, 2005 ( "Soldier Admits Drug Smuggling") that "Army Staff Sgt. Kelvin Irizarry-Melendez pleaded guilty Thursday to drug charges and was sentenced by a military judge to six years of confinement, reduction to private, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge. Irizarry-Melendez, 26, an exemplary soldier who rose rapidly in the enlisted ranks, was accused of conspiring with others to smuggle cocaine from Colombia and of transporting money in connection with the scheme."
According to the Times, "Two other soldiers, Staff Sgts. Daniel Rosas and Victor J. Portales, are awaiting military judicial proceedings in the case. Rosas is to go on trial later this month. On Aug. 12, Spc. Francisco Rosa, pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to five years of confinement, reduction to private, forfeiture of pay and a bad conduct discharge. All the soldiers belonged to the same unit."
The Times noted that "According to testimony, Irizarry-Melendez had a government top-secret clearance, was a substance-abuse coordinator in his unit and belonged to the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion, which performed drug-interdiction duties in Colombia. Irizarry-Melendez was among the soldiers assigned to the 204th at Fort Bliss who traveled to Colombia as part of his work for the unit. The unit helped process intelligence about drug activities from intercepted communications in other countries."
A former Chicago police officer, convicted on federal charges of running a cocaine ring, had his appeal denied in late June 2005. The Chicago Tribune reported on June 22, 2005 ( "Ex-City Cop Loses Appeal Of Conviction In Federal Drug Case") that "Former Chicago police officer Joseph Miedzianowski, whom prosecutors called the most corrupt cop in the city's history, has lost his legal fight to overturn his 2001 racketeering conviction on charges that he used his badge to run a Miami-to-Chicago drug ring. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld the convictions of two of Miedzianowski's co-defendants--Omar Feliciano, a drug customer of the ring, and Alina Lis, a drug courier and Miedzianowski's former mistress."
The decision did however still leave the three some possibility of a change in their sentences. As the Tribune noted, " The appeals court, however, did offer Miedzianowski and the other two a sliver of hope for reduced sentences. That hope flows from a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that drastically changes how defendants are sentenced in federal courts. The Supreme Court ruled that federal sentencing guidelines, which have provided judges with rigid formulas to calculate sentences, were not mandatory and that judges were not required to follow them. In the wake of the high court's ruling, the appeals court in Chicago crafted a new approach and is applying it to appeals cases here. The court ruled that Miedzianowski and his co-defendants were entitled to a limited remand, placing the sentencing issue back before the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning. Manning, like other judges in the 7th Circuit, is being asked whether she would have handed out lower sentences if the sentencing guidelines had been advisory rather than considered mandatory. If Manning rules she would have handed out lower sentences, Miedzianowski and the others could be granted new sentencing hearings."
The chances of a changed sentence for the former cop seem slim, however. The Tribune reported that "Manning had sentenced Miedzianowski to life in prison and sentenced Lis and Feliciano to 30 years each. In all, 23 people were convicted in the case, but most had pleaded guilty and cooperated against Miedzianowski. As she sentenced Miedzianowski, Manning told him that he betrayed society by dealing drugs and arming street gang members, who were part of his conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine on the streets he swore to protect. 'There comes a time in every person's life to embrace what he or she has become, to check the compass of his heart, to remember paths traveled,' Manning said. 'I'm afraid to discover, Mr. Miedzianowski, what you are now, sir. You used your powers to infect a trusting society.""
A low-level defendant in a case related to the Miedzianowski case made the news in early July 2005 when a member of Congress complained to the sentencing judge that a sentence was too low. The Chicago Tribune reported on July 10, 2005 ( "Lawmaker Prods Court, Raises Brows") that "In an extraordinary move, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn't believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term. Rep. James Sensenbrenner ( R-Wis. ), in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong. He demanded 'a prompt response' as to what steps Flaum would take 'to rectify the panel's actions' in a case where a drug courier in a Chicago police corruption case received a 97-month prison sentence instead of the at least 120 months required by a drug-conspiracy statute."
The judge seemed more than merely unconvinced by the Congressman's reasoning. The Tribune noted that "Flaum declined comment on the situation, saying he does not publicly discuss matters pending before the court. He sent a letter back to Sensenbrenner saying it was inappropriate to comment on a pending case. But the panel amended its ruling to cite a Supreme Court case that showed Sensenbrenner was wrong."
The faulty reasoning may not have been entirely the fault of the Congressman. The Tribune reported that "Jay Apperson, the congressional counsel who brought the ruling to Sensenbrenner's attention, added: 'We can't have judges violating the law.'"
According to the Tribune, "Apperson, who is chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties. Further, the letter may be an intrusion on the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine, or, at least, the latest encroachment by Congress upon the judiciary, analysts said."
The controversy relates to the sentence given a convicted courier in the drug operation. Beyond the fact that the Congressman's letter violated court rules, there is also the question of appearances. The Tribune reported that "Apperson, who is chief counsel of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, insisted the request for the court to change its ruling was 'appropriate. . . . This is the committee with oversight of the judiciary--that's exactly what we are supposed to do.' At issue was the court's decision to uphold a 97-month prison term for Lissett Rivera, who was convicted for her role as a courier in a drug ring headed by former Chicago Police Officer Joseph Miedzianowski. Sensenbrenner said in his letter to Flaum that federal law required the sentence to be 120 months. Contrary to court rules, Sensenbrenner's letter was not sent to Rivera's appellate attorney, Steve Shobat, who received a copy only after the letter was placed in the official court file. 'To try to influence a pending case is totally inappropriate,' Shobat said. 'My client had a very small role in this case, and to think that she is the focus of the head of the House Judiciary Committee? It is intimidating.'"
Not only was the letter inappropriate, the courier's involvement was quite limited so a lesser sentence seemed correct even to the prosecutor in the case. According to the Tribune, "Rivera was convicted, along with other defendants, of participating in a conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine--a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months in prison. Miedzianowski and more than 20 others, including street gang leaders, were convicted of taking part in the distribution of 350 kilograms of cocaine. Evidence at the trial showed that Rivera, who had no criminal record, was personally involved in handling less than 5 kilograms. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning imposed the 97-month term, citing a 1993 court ruling that allowed that the drug quantity that relates to an individual be taken into account in imposing a sentence less than the minimum required. At the time, federal prosecutor Brian Netols told Manning, 'I think that would be the appropriate sentence.' Shobat appealed, contending the sentence still was too high. The U.S. attorney's office did not appeal the sentence as a violation of the 120-month minimum."
Former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was indicted by the US Justice Department on drug, corruption and related charges in June, 2005. The Brownsville Herald reported on June 10, 2005 ( "Former Sheriff Faces Drug Trafficking, Other Charges") that "Former Sheriff Conrado Cantu faces drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and other charges listed in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday. Cantu and four others, including a former captain and a former jail vendor, are accused of using the Cameron County sheriff's office to protect drug traffickers in exchange for payments. Court records show the former sheriff acted as the leader of a three-man ring that allegedly extorted and accepted bribes totaling nearly $50,000 from suspected drug traffickers, money launderers and undercover sources."
According to the Herald, "A 10-count, 45-page federal indictment unsealed Thursday lists more than a dozen examples of Cantu and the others abusing his office to protect smugglers, money launderers, illegal video gamblers and political supporters. The indictment shows that Cantu faces numerous charges of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, obstructing justice and conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. Cantu also allegedly covered up a kidnapping charge for an undisclosed political supporter."
The Herald noted that "Federal authorities arrested the former sheriff in a Wednesday-morning traffic stop near his home outside Olmito. Cantu's former captain Rumaldo Rodriguez is facing racketeering and extortion charges. Armed agents arrested him at his place of work as a deputy constable in Port Isabel at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Former jail commissary vendor Geronimo 'Jerry' Garcia faces racketeering, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy charges. According to the indictment, Brownsville plumber Reynaldo Uribe is accused of transporting laundered money. Both Uribe and Garcia were arrested Wednesday in a raid at Garcia's Brownsville home."
The Herald also reports that "Federal officials also arrested Brownsville business owner Hector Solis on Thursday morning at his restaurant, Pepe's Tacos To Go, 3850 Paredes Line Road. Solis allegedly ran an illegal video gambling casino and faces an obstruction of justice charge. A federal investigation shows that Cantu agreed to tip off Solis about county task force raids against his casino and on one occasion told deputies not to raid it. Solis is expected to appear in federal court today. Cantu, Rodriguez, Garcia and Uribe appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Felix Recio Thursday morning. At the prosecution's request, Recio ordered that Cantu, Rodriguez, Garcia and Uribe be held in federal custody without bond until a Monday afternoon hearing. U.S. Marshals spokesman Gene Diaz said the men are expected to be held at a federal detention center in Willacy County but would be kept isolated from the prison's general population for their protection. It was not clear Thursday if Cantu and the others would be kept separate from each other, but defense attorneys said they could be freed on bond after the Monday afternoon hearing. Cantu's attorney Alberto Pullen said Cantu plans to plead innocent to the charges. 'These are charges we can fight,' Pullen said Thursday outside the courthouse. 'Based on what my client has told me, he believes that he is innocent.' Pullen replaces Cantu's long-time attorney Ernesto Gamez who reportedly had a conflict of interest in the case. Neither attorney would elaborate on that conflict."
Federal troops have moved into Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican city on the US border, to try and restore order after the most of the police force was taken into custody for questioning on suspicion of corruption and other crimes relating to drug trafficking. The San Jose Mercury News reported on June 14, 2005 ( "Troops Take Over Violent Mexican City") that "Residents of this besieged city awoke Monday to find their police force gone, replaced by Mexican special forces troops who took over this border community stung by drug violence. After a gradual buildup over the weekend, Mexican troops -- some of whom were trained by the U.S. military -- swept into the city before daybreak and took control of a number of strategic operations, including city hall, the communications tower and police installations. They also detained hundreds of local police officers suspected of being in cahoots with drug traffickers."
According to the Mercury News, "Most of the 1,200-member police force underwent drug tests and background checks, local officials here said on the condition of anonymity. More than 700 officers were loaded onto trucks and detained for further questioning here and in Mexico City. Some U.S. law enforcement officials praised Mexico for the action, but said, 'We have sent them addresses, photographs of suspects. Let's see if they really mean business or if it's just a show.' In Mexico City, officials of President Vicente Fox's administration called on the U.S. government to assist in stopping the entry of illegal weapons into Mexico that have contributed to widespread bloodshed. Many of those weapons -- assault rifles, Uzis and AK-47s -- are purchased at gun shows throughout Texas, U.S. and Mexican intelligence officials say."
The Mexican government reponded to concerns that this was an escalation of the drug war. "Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar denied the government was militarizing the border and said the operation has been in the planning stages for weeks. 'There are very clear signs of a relationship between elements of the Nuevo Laredo police and drug smuggling, hence the decisive action,' Aguilar said. Nuevo Laredo represents the largest hub for land trade and a key transshipment point for South American cocaine and Mexican-produced marijuana and other narcotics heading for the United States."
Nuevo Laredo had already been known as a home for the Zetas, a former military anti-drug unit which had switched sides and gone to work for drug traffickers. The Dallas Morning News reported on March 8, 2005 ( "Fear Runs High In Mexico Town") that "Authorities on both sides of the Rio Grande say the bloodshed is happening now because rival drug traffickers are fighting for control of the city, a key corridor for Texas-bound cocaine, marijuana and heroin. The bodies of two unidentified men killed Saturday night showed signs of torture, police said. Local newspapers splashed color photos of their bodies across the front pages Monday. 'One victim's head blown off by a machine gun blast,' La Tarde said. But many Nuevo Laredo residents say they aren't interested in such gruesome details. And many would rather not get involved or even talk about the violence. They're understandably afraid, said Arturo A. Fontes, a special agent for the FBI. 'People across the border live life with a gun pointed to their head,' he said. Everyday fears are evident in the police officer who still doesn't know how to use a gun and constantly looks over his shoulder, the businessman who's had enough of Mexico's mayhem and is moving across the border to Laredo with his family, the reporter who 'limits' himself in what he writes for fear of retaliation from a shadowy hit squad known as the Zetas. 'We're all selling our houses and moving across the border to Texas,' said Alicia Anaya, 76, a retired vendor who sat Monday with her son and daughter in the shade of a Nuevo Laredo newspaper stand.
The violence in Nuevo Laredo has reportedly already far north across the US border. As the Dallas Morning News reported on Feb. 19, 2005 ( "Mexican Zetas Extending Violence Into Dallas"), "A team of rogue Mexican commandos blamed for dozens of killings along the U.S.-Mexico border has carried out at least three drug-related slayings in Dallas, a sign that the group is extending its deadly operations into U.S. cities, two American law enforcement officials say. The men are known as the Zetas, former members of the Mexican army who defected to Mexico's so-called Gulf drug cartel in the late 1990s, other officials say. 'These guys run like a military,' said Arturo A. Fontes, an FBI special investigator for border violence based in Laredo, in South Texas. 'They have their hands in everything and they have eyes and ears everywhere. I've seen how they work, and they're good at what they do. They're an impressive bunch of ruthless criminals.'
According to the Morning News, "Concern over the Zetas' activities in Dallas comes at a time of increased violence along the border and a crackdown on drug cartels by Mexico that President Vicente Fox has dubbed 'the mother of all battles.' In the first seven weeks of this year, about 135 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico, mostly in northern states, including Tamaulipas and Chihuahua - which border Texas -and Sonora and Sinaloa. In Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state, about 300 people have been reported missing in recent months, including 27 Americans, some of whom are believed to have been victims of the Zetas-sponsored drug violence. The Americans included two abducted this week and released Thursday after a ransom was paid, a U.S. law enforcement official said."
Sixteen US soldiers and law enforcement officers pleaded guilty to drug charges in one of the "largest public corruption cases along the US-Mexico border in recent years." The Los Angeles Times reported on May 13, 2005 ( "US Soldiers, Law Officers Snared In Border Drug Sting") that "A brazen conspiracy among U.S. law enforcement officers and soldiers to smuggle cocaine from Mexico was disclosed Thursday by the Justice Department, adding to concerns that public corruption north of the border was growing. Wearing uniforms and even driving U.S. military vehicles, 16 suspects were caught in a sting run by an FBI-led task force. Eleven entered guilty pleas Thursday in Tucson; the other five have agreed to do so soon."
According to the Times, "Justice Department officials describe the case as a 'widespread bribery and extortion conspiracy.' It is one of the largest public corruption cases along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. The defendants 'used their color of authority to prevent police stops, searches and seizures of narcotics as they drove the cocaine shipments on highways that passed through checkpoints,' the Justice Department said in a statement. The defendants pleaded guilty to transporting 1,232 pounds of cocaine and accepting $222,000 in cash for their activities. The 16 defendants are or have been employed by a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Army, the Arizona Army National Guard, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Arizona Department of Corrections, the local police department in Nogales, Ariz., and the immigration and naturalization service."
The Times noted that "U.S. Atty. for Arizona Paul Charlton has been sounding alarms about the problem of public corruption for several years, and the latest arrests seem to confirm what he and others have been saying. 'It is a problem along the whole border,' Charlton said in an interview more than a year ago. 'Along the port of entries, custom officials have been paid to assist with smuggling. Some of these people don't have the ability to say no.' In the last several years, almost every segment of the U.S. border with Mexico has had cases of law enforcement, customs and immigration officials, local police and U.S. military personnel prosecuted for bribery, drug trafficking and other federal crimes. In the last three years, a border patrol agent and his wife were convicted of smuggling illegal immigrants in San Diego, an immigration officer pleaded guilty to charges of helping drug dealers smuggle narcotics in Texas and two Forest Service rangers were convicted of marijuana trafficking along the Arizona border. As the convictions have mounted, concerns that well-financed drug and smuggling organizations in Mexico could corrupt the U.S. civil service and military along the border has been growing. The FBI set up a public corruption squad in its Phoenix office in 2003. Last year, federal authorities organized a joint meeting to step up efforts to combat corruption."
Could this be the tip of the iceberg? As the Times reported, "One of the biggest emerging concerns is that a corrupted southern border could leave the nation more vulnerable to terrorists who could more easily pass through undetected and possibly join forces with drug interests. 'It is not just the threat of drugs, but the possibility that terrorists will slip through,' said Douglas C. McNabb, a criminal defense lawyer who has represented government officials charged with corruption. 'We have a huge problem along the border.' Rumors about Operation Lively Green have been circulating among law enforcement officials in Arizona for years, said one federal agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'The big question in the field was why these guys weren't being prosecuted,' he said. 'Now, it looks like they were flipped.' Justice Department spokesmen confirmed that the defendants had cooperated with the investigation, which is continuing. The defendants were appearing before Magistrate Judge Charles R. Pyle in Tucson. Each conspiracy charge carries a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine."
A former Forsyth County, GA deputy running for sheriff in that county "is accused of accepting thousands of dollars in cash last week from undercover FBI informants with the promise of contracts, kickbacks and other special treatment if elected," according to the Macon (GA) Telegraph ( "Forsyth County Candidate Says He Will Still Run For Post," July 16, 2004).
The Telegraph reported that "Federal authorities released the video and audio tapes of Beebe's meetings with informants. The video clips are partially obscured and appear to be shot in a poorly lit office. Beebe is sitting behind a desk in all the videos. It appears the camera was in place before Beebe and the informants entered the room. On one of the audio tapes of a July 8 meeting between Beebe and an informant, Beebe is heard saying he will 'run roadblock' so the informant and his henchmen can destroy methamphetamine labs in Forsyth County. He also tells the informant to keep any cash or drugs he procures and suggests making it look like a turf war. 'Lady Justice is blind. I'm not blind,' Beebe says, referencing the tendency of some criminals being able to skirt the law on technicalities. Later, the informant asks about exacting revenge on a man who once testified against him. Beebe first responds that if the informant lures the man to Forsyth County, 'We can send him away for a long time . and I tell you what, I'd rather be dead than go to prison.' The informant then suggests shooting the individual. 'I figure that's the right way,' he says. Beebe says something about the murder going unsolved and when the informant asks Beebe to repeat himself, he says firmly, 'If it happens in Forsyth, it will go unsolved. That's what's important.'"
According to the Telegraph, "His court-appointed attorney said Thursday that Beebe is not dropping out of the sheriff's race. Beebe is the only challenger to incumbent Ted Paxton. Both are Republicans, so voters will choose the sheriff next week. 'Mr. Beebe remains a candidate for the sheriff of Forsyth County with considerable support,' Attorney Natasha Perdew Silas said in a prepared statement. This, despite evidence that includes video and audio tapes depicting Beebe making cash deals with informants at undisclosed locations. His attorney said Beebe is dedicated to a career in law enforcement. Beebe has 15 years of police work with agencies in Forsyth County, Brunswick and Palmetto."
An elite drug squad in Toronto has been the target of a major investigation into police corruption. The Toronto Star reported on Jan. 20, 2004 ( "New Drug Case Bombshell") that "Stunning new allegations in the drug squad scandal that has rocked the Toronto police force were unsealed by the province's highest court yesterday. A series of sworn affidavits from a task force that probed the central field command drug squad allege that police officers charged a "tax" on drug dealers to ply their trade in certain areas of Toronto. Other allegations against the officers are that they: Took up to $479,000 from safety deposit boxes, though charges filed later mention only $34,000. Beat up a drug dealer for information. Pocketed jewellery, narcotics and cash while doing searches. Lied in court to get convictions against drug traffickers. Some drug squad officers had suspiciously large bank balances while working with the squad, the documents stated."
According to a report in the Calgary Sun on Jan. 20, 2004 ( "Cop Probe Widens"), "Information contained in police affidavits suggests allegations go far beyond criminal charges laid against six former drug cops 13 days ago and also appears to contradict Chief Julian Fantino's statement that the scandal is 'isolated' and has been dealt with appropriately. The affidavits, released by the Ontario court of appeal, contain a statement by RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily, head of the probe, that 'evidence of criminal activity exists against 17 members' of the Central Field Command. In another affidavit, Neily stated 12 were involved in 'serious criminal behaviour.' 'I am attempting to identify only those who are alleged to have committed the most serious offences,' Neily wrote. The affidavits contain allegations officers were involved in the theft of 'large quantities of drugs and the later resale of drugs' to 'significant drug criminals and organized crime figures, including outlaw motorcycle gang associates.' One officer is alleged to have been 'actively involved' in drug trafficking in recent months."
The murders of candidates in two county sheriff races in Kentucky has led to charges of drug-related corruption. According to the Louisville Courier-News on April 21, 2002, ( "Killing Raises Fears Of Drug Corruption"), "Police believe Pulaski County Sheriff Sam Catron was killed April 13 to help a rival candidate with ties to a known drug dealer. A few days earlier, Harlan County's sheriff said an alleged drug dealer was seen on a videotape giving $2,500 to Paul Browning Jr., a former Harlan sheriff who was running for the office again until he was murdered last month."
Though the US Attorney for Kentucky's Eastern District, Greg Van Tatenhove, told the Courier-News that he was reluctant to draw any conclusions based on the two cases, others were not as reticent. According to the article, "Tom Handy, commonwealth's attorney for Laurel and Knox counties, said the cases reflect 'the infiltration of drugs into legitimate government' that has occurred for years. Catron, a tough-on-drugs lawman who was seeking a fifth term as sheriff, was shot to death last weekend at a fish fry and political rally. Jeff Morris, one of Catron's rivals in the May 28 Republican primary, and two of Morris' supporters -- one of them a known drug dealer -- were charged in the case. Browning, seeking a political comeback after being convicted in 1982 of plotting to kill two Harlan County officials, was found burned in his pickup truck in late March. No one has been charged, but a videotape released after Browning's death showed him taking $2,500 from a man who current Sheriff Steve Duff said is a drug dealer."
The Courier-News continued:
Charges were dropped against one of the last remaining defendants yet to stand trial on charges arising from the infamous Tulia drug sting. As the Amarillo Globe-News reported on April 10, 2002 ( "Newly Uncovered Evidence Frees Defendant In Tulia Drug Sting"), "One of the last defendants from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting was freed Tuesday on newly uncovered evidence that put her in Oklahoma City at the time she allegedly sold illegal drugs."
According to the Globe-News, "Tonya Michelle White, 33, was expected to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover agent Tom Coleman. That won't happen after an emergency grand jury took one hour to decide not to indict White. The hearing came after District Attorney Terry McEachern received new evidence that showed White made bank transactions and phone calls within hours of the alleged 10:15 a.m. Oct. 9, 1998, drug deal with Coleman."
The Globe-News noted that "White was one of 46 defendants - 39 of whom are black - who were indicted in July 1999 after an 18-month undercover investigation that sparked a firestorm of controversy. White was not arrested until last year, when she turned herself over to authorities, and she was later released on a $25,000 bond. Fellow defendant Zury Bossett remains to be tried in the case." According to the Globe-News, "White's attorney, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, said the evidence proved it was more than a minor inconsistency. 'Now we know it's ( the case ) a total lie,' he said. 'To say it's an inconsistency is like saying the Empire State Building is kind of big.'"
Blackburn was able to elaborate on the case in an article in the New York Times on April 12, 2002 ( "Drug Charge Dropped In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"): "Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer for Ms. White, said the charge against her that was dismissed on Tuesday further undermined the credibility of the undercover agent in the Tulia operation, Tom Coleman. In nearly every case, Mr. Coleman was the lone witness and provided the only evidence in winning convictions. One case has been dropped because of false identification. Critics say Mr. Coleman operated with almost no oversight. Former colleagues described him in documents in a dispute over custody of his children as a compulsive liar. Mr. Coleman has also been charged with misdemeanor theft of gas from a government pump while he was a sheriff's deputy. 'This is the first time that we have proven through direct evidence that he made up an accusation against someone,' Mr. Blackburn said of the White case. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation known as the Tulia law that prohibits convicting a defendant solely on the testimony of an undercover agent."
People involved with the Tulia defendants are hopeful for more positive outcomes. As the Times reported, "Mr. Blackburn said the White case could provide grounds to overturn other convictions. Already, national groups like the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union have gotten involved. Vanita Gupta, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said her group was representing two defendants in their appeals and had found lawyers in Washington or New York for the other 18 defendants who are in prison."
A police scandal in Dallas, TX has resulted in at least two dozen criminal cases being suspended, according to the New York Times on Jan. 16, 2002 ( "Fake Drugs Force An End To 24 Cases In Dallas"). The Times reported that "Nearly half of the cocaine and nearly a quarter of the methamphetamine that the Dallas police seized last year have turned out to be gypsum from wallboard, a discovery that has led to the suspension of two dozen criminal cases, local officials say. All the cases involve a single unidentified informer who has received at least $200,000 from the Dallas Police Department over the last two years, officials confirmed last week. The supposed drugs tested positive in field tests after the arrests, they said, but more sophisticated testing done later in preparation for trial found no more than traces of drugs."
The scale of the case is rather large. According to the Times, "Investigators have found more than 660 pounds of fake cocaine and at least 22 pounds of fake methamphetamine. Some of those arrested have already spent up to six months in jail and at least four have been deported on charges that could have resulted in sentences from five years to life in prison." A great number of cases may be affected. The Times again: "Janice Houston, a spokeswoman for the police department, said today that at least 70 drug purchases associated with the unnamed informer over the past two years would be reviewed. But Ms. Houston would not comment on the possibility that the evidence in question might have been tampered with while under police custody. 'We have an investigation under way,' she said, 'and it's just too early to speculate on where the problem might be.'"
Additionally, allegations have arisen of racial bias in this case. According to the Times, "All 18 people named in the two dozen suspended prosecutions have Hispanic surnames, prompting accusations of racial profiling from the Mexican Consulate here and Hispanic organizations." According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News on January 22, 2002 ( "Hispanics Were Targets In Drug Cases, Attorneys Say"), "Outrage in the legal community appears to be growing, as District Attorney Bill Hill announced that his office is working to dismiss 59 cases, some involving two Dallas police undercover narcotics officers who are on administrative leave and at least one paid confidential informant who no longer works for the department. Thirty-nine people had been arrested as a result of the 59 cases."
According to the News, "'The majority of defendants involved are Mexican nationals, which to me looks like they were targets,' attorney Cynthia Barbare said. Dallas attorney Tony Wright was more pointed, calling the cases "the epitome of racial profiling.' 'The police knew they were picking on people that would be deported,' he said. '( Hispanics ) need to be marching on City Hall,' Wright said. 'They're upset. They just don't know what to do about it. They came from a country where corruption is the standard. Now they just don't know who to trust.'"
The informant in this case has run into other troubles in the since the story broke. As the Rocky Mountain News reported on Feb. 8, 2002 ( "Ex-Informant Lied, Indictment Says"), "A judge has ordered the key confidential informant in the fake drug cases handled by the Dallas Police Department held on charges of lying about being a U.S. citizen. Enrique Martinez Alonso, 44, appeared in federal court in Dallas after being indicted on two felony counts of misrepresenting himself as a U.S. citizen while applying for a Social Security card. Alonso was a paid police informant in a series of major drug seizures in which, lab tests later showed, the evidence contained finely ground gypsum, flour or only trace amounts of illicit substances."
Meanwhile, another confidential informant for the Dallas police
has charged that police "encouraged" him to lie. The
News reported, again on Feb. 8:
Some in the news media have taken notice of the problem of drug trafficking inside prisons. The Oklahoma City, OK Oklahoman reported on Nov. 11, 2001 ( "Oklahoma Prisons Battling Drug Smuggling") that "The state Department of Corrections is using sniffing dogs, random shakedowns, drug tests and strict visitation policies to crack down on drugs use in prisons. But illegal substances still are making their way behind bars in Oklahoma, said officials and former prisoners." According to the Oklahoman, "During fiscal year 2000, the most recent period for which complete information was available, the department reported conducting 16,442 random drug tests systemwide with 1,423 or 8.7 percent positive results. Marijuana was detected in 74 percent of the positive tests. Cocaine was the second most detected drug."
Drug smuggling into prisons can be particularly difficult to
track and stop because often, prison staff are involved. Once
again from the Oklahoman:
According to DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, no DEA agents will be disciplined for use of career informant Andrew Chambers, whose lies under oath went unchecked for 16 years. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 30, 2001 ( "DEA Won't Punish Agents Who Failed To Disclose Lying By Informer Chambers") reported that "Beginning in 1984, when Chambers was recruited at the agency's Clayton (MO) office, he helped arrest more than 400 drug suspects in 31 cities. He also lied under oath at least 16 times, but the DEA says its agents either didn't know or, if they did, didn't tell their colleagues elsewhere."
The Post-Dispatch asked, in its story,
"How could no one be punished after years of courtroom lying?
Administrator Hutchinson defended the use of snitches in the Post-Dispatch interview, saying "'You've got to use informants. . . . Otherwise, you can't get the job done.'" The Post-Dispatch continues: "He said the DEA won't use Chambers again in any capacity - despite accolades from dozens of agents who considered him the best. Here's how the DEA investigation describes Chambers: '. . . Motivated by money, thrill, camaraderie and a sense of self-righteousness.'" Critics are not pleased. The Post-Dispatch spoke with the attorney who led an effort to stop the snitch Andrew Chambers career of deceit. According to their story, "'I'm stunned that so much government wrongdoing meant so little to the government,' said Dean Steward. He's a former federal public defender in California who led a three-year effort to make the Justice Department disclose the extent of Chambers' lying - and the Justice Department's complicity. 'Had this been a major corporation, heads would roll,' Steward added."
The Los Angeles Times reported on Sept. 9, 2001 (
"Miami Cops Accused Of Cover-Up") that
"In the city's worst police scandal since the days of
'Miami Vice,' 13 current and former officers were
accused by federal prosecutors Friday of planting guns, lying
to investigators and otherwise trying to cover up four shootings
in which three people died." The Times continued:
Federal Report Describes Endemic Corruption Related To War On Drugs, Infects All Levels Of Enforcement
"Wherever there is a well-organized, illicit drug industry, there is also the danger of police corruption," that according to the United Nations Drug Control Programme. It is already widely known that such corruption exists in other countries, such as Colombia. Unfortunately corruption is also a problem here in the United States, though not at the same scale. As noted in Drug War Facts, the US General Accounting Office in a 1998 report to Congress cited recent examples of drug-related police corruption in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Washington, DC. More recent reports only reveal more problems. Most police are good officers, but considerable damage is done to the public trust as a result of the few who go bad.
Los Angeles: City Of Fallen Angels
In Los Angeles, a growing scandal in the department's
Rampart Division has resulted in several indictments and
even prison terms for ex-LA police officers (
"Perez's Ex-Partner Reaches Plea Deals").
In San Antonio, TX, a number of police have been indicted
as a result of a sting operation, in which an FBI agent
posed as a cocaine trafficker. As the
Dallas Morning News
reported on March 27, 2001 (
"Drug-Sting Videos Cast Straight-Arrow Officers
In Ugly Light"):
Other communities are experiencing their own troubles with drug-related official corruption, though not on the same scale as Los Angeles. For example, the Fresno (CA) Bee reported on March 8, 2001 ( "Sheriff's Officer, Friend Booked On Drug Counts" ) that a Fresno County sheriff's deputy assigned to the department's crime-prevention program was recently "arrested on two counts of sale of narcotics, was placed immediately on administrative leave and booked into the Fresno County jail." Farther north, in Washington state, the indictment of a police forensic chemist on misdemeanor charges of evidence tampering has created problems for prosecutors. On March 31, 2001, the Snohomish County (WA#&041; Daily Herald reported that "A convicted drug trafficker was allowed to withdraw a guilty plea Friday as part of the expanding legal turmoil surrounding a former Washington State Patrol chemist's admission that he pilfered drugs sent to his lab for tests." ( "WSP Drug Lab Taint Lets Felon Withdraw Guilty Plea" )
Sometimes police use of informers also leads to trouble. For example,
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
reported on April 8, 2001
"Informer's Lies Free Another Drug Dealer")
that a DEA report of an internal investigation documents how
"the agency's most celebrated supersnitch -- Andrew
Chambers, formerly of University City -- lied in court over 15 years
while sending hundreds of people to prison." According to
Check out Drug War Facts: Corruption of Law Enforcement Officer for additional information. Also, you can download from the CSDP website research section a copy of a 1998 GAO report on Law Enforcement and Drug-Related Police Corruption or go directly through the General Accounting Office.
Police corruption in the war on drugs was also the subject of one of Common Sense's ads, "What Do America's Major Cities Have In Common With L.A.? Crooked Cops."
There are a great number of articles relating to police corruption in the Media Awareness Project archives.