Pubdate: Tue, 22 Jan 2008
Source: News-Journal (Mansfield, OH)
Copyright: 2008 News-Journal.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)


CLEVELAND - A woman wrongly convicted by the federal government with
help from a drug informant who lied served 16 months in prison before
she was released with no home to return to and a 3-year-old daughter
who didn't recognize her.

Defense attorneys say a street-smart but dishonest informant and a
federal agent working without oversight manipulated the system to
convict Geneva France and dozens of others.

"They stole the truth," France said. "I don't think I'll ever trust
people again. It's too hard. I don't know how a human being with a
heart could stand up there and lie about another person. They stole
part of my life."

France, 25, was convicted of being a drug courier - a conviction that
prosecutors now acknowledge was built on lies. A judge released her in
May. Her case was part of an extensive operation to stem the flow of
drugs in Mansfield.

Federal prosecutors in Cleveland charged her and 25 others from
Mansfield in 2005, based on the work of informant Jerrell Bray and
Drug Enforcement Administration agent Lee Lucas. Twenty-one people
were convicted.

U.S. Attorney Greg White has admitted there are major problems with
the case.

White told the News Journal he would comment further on the case on

Several area law enforcement officers were named in a federal lawsuit
filed by Joshawa Webb, 28, a Mansfield man who wrongfully spent 20
months in jail. Webb is suing the USDA and other police officers for
an investigation involving Bray, who later told investigators he and
Lucas helped convict innocent people.

Federal prosecutors were expected to ask a judge Tuesday or Wednesday
to throw out the convictions of 15 men imprisoned in the same tainted
investigation, including the case against a man serving 30 years in

U.S. District Judge John Adams told attorneys Tuesday that he hopes to
have the men out of prison by Feb. 1.

"This does not happen, it just does not happen," said federal public
defender Dennis Terez. "But what the prosecutors did was the right

"There's an investigation going on in looking at the relationship with
Mr. Bray and these cases," White said. "That's being conducted by the
Department of Justice. We are looking at the matter of how we address
the fundamental fairness of prosecuting these defendants. We're going
to do what's right."

Most of the men had pleaded guilty to drug charges, but prosecutors
said they lack the evidence needed to convict them if the cases were
to go to trial.

In recent weeks, a special federal prosecutor and an investigator
spent hours listening to France, hoping to determine how a massive
drug investigation, spearheaded by the DEA, became a debacle.

France said she believes her trouble began when one of her friends
introduced her to the man the friend dated - Bray. He scared France
immediately, bragging about how he could stuff her in a trunk, take
her to Cleveland and no one would ever hear from her again.

He also asked France out for a date. She refused.

At 6 a.m. Nov. 10, 2005, federal agents pounded on her door. She
opened it, and authorities burst in, placing her youngest daughter,
Leelasha, on the couch as they searched for drugs. They found nothing.

"I didn't know what to think," France said. "I was getting my children
ready for school when all of a sudden people start screaming, 'Where
are the drugs?' There were no drugs."

France had never been in trouble. In court, she refused a plea
agreement of three or four years in prison, went to trial and was
sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Bray, acting as informant for the DEA, and Lucas said they bought more
than 50 grams of crack cocaine from her about 2 p.m. Oct. 25, 2005, a
time when France said she was braiding a friend's hair.

No surveillance photos, which are standard in tracking drug dealers,
were taken in France's case.

It was her word against Lucas'.

"There he was, this big DEA agent who had worked in Bolivia, and there
I was, this woman from Mansfield," France said.

France spent time in prisons in West Virginia and Kentucky and earned
12 cents an hour cleaning. For every three hours of work, she earned
enough money to pay for one minute of talking to her daughters on the

"I thought I was going to be in prison for 10 years, and I just gave
up," she said.

Finally, in May, the case unraveled. Bray got in a fight while selling
marijuana on Cleveland's West Side and shot a man. Stewing in jail,
Bray admitted he lied about France, saying she never sold any drugs
and shouldn't be in prison. On June 29, federal prosecutors asked a
judge to release her immediately.

France walked out of federal prison with $68 and a bus ticket. Her
landlord had evicted her from the rental during her incarceration, and
everything she owned had been tossed on the street.

It was unsettling seeing her children, Kyelia, 8; Kateria, 6; and
Leelasha, 3. Her older children loved her, but they couldn't
understand why she was gone. Her youngest daughter didn't recognize
her and wouldn't go near her.

Lucas, the DEA agent, has declined to speak about the case. Bray has
been sentenced to 15 years in prison for perjury and violating civil
rights related to the Mansfield cases.

He is cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department's internal
investigation of the case. His attorney, John McCaffrey, has urged a
detailed look into how the DEA handled Bray. 
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