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Guess Who Didn't Inhale?

Ann del Llano,
Drug Law Reform Project
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November 7, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle told the latest example of our nation’s flawed informant system, especially in the context of drug law enforcement.

An alleged gang member who was on trial for allegedly selling five grams of cocaine was acquitted in federal court due to sloppy informant practices. The four-month long DEA operation that netted arrests of more than two dozen suspects was a typical federal drug “sting” that relied almost 100 percent on the word of a cocaine-using informant who has been paid over $115,000 for her work with the DEA so far. If the rest of the trials fail this miserably, this operation will have been a catastrophic waste of tax dollars.

The DEA Special Agent in Charge employed all of the typical puffery at the celebratory press conference after the bust: “Mobile Enforcement Teams were designed to hit hard, fast and accurately,” DEA said. “The results of this collaborative crackdown speak for themselves.”

But the snitch fell sleep seven times on the witness stand (!), and said that during the investigation she had been using cocaine but didn’t inhale. She couldn’t successfully catch any of her supposed transactions on tape, and she ended up with a gun of unknown origin in her apartment.

After recruiting the snitch to work for them “because of her record of crack dealing and addiction,” the DEA failed to keep her under surveillance and failed to give her any drug tests while she worked for them.

After hearing all of the prosecution’s evidence, including the snitch’s testimony, jurors were shocked. Two jurors who spoke to the press said that the informant’s testimony was full of discrepancies: “She was terrible, to be honest.”

But they reserved their worst criticisms for the DEA. Jurors thought that the DEA’s investigation was “shoddy” and its agents arrogant and negligent, and not credible. “The DEA did not have the checks and balances in place,” said one of the jurors. “The DEA was very, very sloppy,” said another juror.

“It blew my mind…. They paid this woman $30,000 to go after street peddlers. That’s the best they could do?”

If some of the solutions we propose had been in place – namely, that adequate steps are taken to ensure informant reliability and to corroborate informant testimony – this informant would have never been allowed to work for DEA, nor serve as the prosecution’s central evidence.

Unfortunately, this is just another story in the steady parade of informant-related scandals that demonstrate the extent to which our unchecked informant system is wasting countless tax dollars and judicial resources and failing to assure justice in the end.

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