Pubdate: Sat, 3 Apr 1999
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 1999 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: John Basilesco


CONCORD, N.H. -- Twenty drug dealers will be released from prison because
the evidence used to convict them was illegally seized by a Rockingham
County deputy sheriff.

The deputy sheriff, Wayne Powers, of Rye, now faces criminal charges.

As a member of a Rockingham County air freight drug task force since 1996,
Deputy Powers opened about 100 packages of marijuana without a search
warrant, which is a violation of the New Hampshire and U.S. Constitutions,
said U.S. Attorney Paul M. Gagnon.

''Any convictions obtained with tainted evidence must be reversed,'' Mr.
Gagnon said.

For eight of the convicted drug traffickers it will mean an abrupt end to
prison sentences ranging from three to five years. The rest are serving
lesser sentences, some of which have already been completed.

Mr. Gagnon said the investigation did not reveal any wrongdoing by any other
law enforcement officers.

The officials would not discuss the possibility of lawsuits being filed
against the state by the convicted drug traffickers, nor would they comment
on whether restitution of any kind might be granted to the 20 people
convicted on the tainted evidence.

The action to overturn the 20 convictions was the result of a six-week
investigation that started when other law enforcement officers participating
in the air freight drug investigation raised concerns about Deputy Powers'

A criminal investigation has also been launched against Deputy Powers and
the case has been turned over to the Civil Rights Division of the United
State Department of Justice for review.

Rockingham County Sheriff James Daniel ''Dan'' Linehan said Deputy Powers
has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an
internal investigation that is expected to take about six weeks. Mr. Linehan
said he wants to ''ferret out all of the facts'' to determine ''how (Deputy)
Powers will be disciplined.'' Firing him would be the maximum punishment,
Mr. Linehan said.

Officials said Deputy Powers tried to cover himself by obtaining search
warrants after opening packages containing marijuana at air freight
warehouses near Manchester Airport and elsewhere in Rockingham County.

Deputy Powers could not be reached for comment last night.

State Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin and Mr. Gagnon said the deputy
sheriff's action may hurt the reputation of fellow state law enforcement

Sixteen of the 20 people were convicted in federal court, while the other
four were convicted in state courts.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Don Beck