Pubdate: Thu, 24 Mar 2016
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Brad Heath, USA Today


Calif. Surveillance Was Legal, Court Filing Says

The Justice Department offered its first defense this week of a 
once-vast eavesdropping program carried out by drug agents in the Los 
Angeles suburbs over the objection of government lawyers who feared 
it was illegal.

The Justice Department urged a judge not to throw out wiretaps agents 
used to arrest an accused marijuana trafficker, saying the 
surveillance was "authorized in accordance with state and federal 
law." That defense came in a filing Monday in federal court in Louisville.

The Kentucky case is the first major challenge to a surveillance 
program by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecutors 
in Riverside County, Calif., so large that it once accounted for 
nearly a fifth of all U.S. wiretaps. Monday's filing was the first 
time the Justice Department expressed an opinion publicly on whether 
it was legal.

Prosecutors offered a narrow defense of the halted wiretap program, 
arguing mainly that the accused trafficker's lawyers had not offered 
up enough evidence that the taps used in that case violated federal 
law. But the prosecutors attached evidence that could help the 
defense make that case.

The challenge follows an investigation last year by USA TODAY and The 
Desert Sun that found the DEA and prosecutors in Riverside County, 
outside Los Angeles, constructed a vast and legally questionable 
wiretapping operation that secretly intercepted millions of calls and 
text messages with the approval of a single state court judge. 
Justice Department lawyers refused to use the results in federal 
court because they did not think the surveillance could withstand a 
legal challenge.

Last month, defense lawyers charged that Riverside's prosecutors 
approved "illegal wiretaps with astounding frequency," and they asked 
a judge to throw out recordings the government planned to use against 
Christopher Mattingly, who is accused of trafficking in marijuana 
from California.

"Riverside County made a mockery of individual privacy rights, 
ignored federal requirements limiting the use of wiretaps and 
permitted law enforcement to intercept telephone calls at their whim 
and caprice," wrote Brian Butler, one of Mattingly's lawyers.
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