HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html DEA Won't Punish Agents Who Failed To Disclose Lying
Pubdate: Sun, 30 Sep 2001
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Michael D. Sorkin, The Post-Dispatch


Nobody will be disciplined for letting St. Louis-based drug snitch Andrew 
Chambers lie under oath throughout 16 years of government testimony, Asa 
Hutchinson, the new head of the DEA, disclosed in an interview with the 

But he vowed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration would never 
again give informers the free rein that Chambers abused.

". . . It hurts the agency," Hutchinson said, referring to Chambers' lying 
in testimony about his background and arrest record. The testimony has 
compromised dozens of DEA investigations.

Hutchinson said no agents have been punished because an investigation 
determined that it was the DEA's own policies that failed.

Chambers, 44, grew up in University City. Before his suspension last year, 
he was the most active -- and one of the highest paid -- undercover 
operatives in the DEA's history.

"Chambers abused his position with us, and we didn't have the systems in 
place to keep the checks and balances on that," Hutchinson said last week.

He said he's confident the right checks are now in place:

* The DEA has set up a central registry to keep track of informers who 
testify in more than one place. Beginning in 1984, when Chambers was 
recruited at the agency's Clayton 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.

* All agents have been ordered to turn over the complete records of their 
snitches to prosecutors and defense attorneys. Some agents were in 
courtrooms when Chambers lied but never reported it. Others did, but the 
agency kept a lid on it.

How could no one be punished after years of courtroom lying?

The DEA's own records show that senior officials at headquarters fought a 
two-year court fight to keep secret Chambers records: that he repeatedly 
lied in court when he claimed he had never been arrested or convicted, 
inflated his educational background and claimed he paid taxes on his DEA 
earnings - more than $1.8 million.

The DEA spent months investigating itself. The report of that 
investigation, obtained by the Post-Dispatch in May, concluded that at 
least one DEA supervisor in the field should have done more to report 
Chambers' courtroom lying.

In July, a DEA spokesman said two employees were under investigation. They 
are now identified only as an agent and a supervisor.

"A thorough investigation was done, and there was no finding that would 
result in a disciplinary action," DEA spokesman Michael Chapman said Friday.

Critics see a cover-up

"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 

"Had this been a major corporation, heads would roll," Steward added.

Hutchinson acknowledged that the scandal had hurt the DEA: "Whenever you 
lose the credibility of an informant . . . it hurts the agency."

But in the end, he said, it appeared to be "a failure of policy versus a 
failure of personnel."

He said he wasn't familiar with all of the details because he became DEA 
administrator just over a month ago. He reports to Attorney General John 
Ashcroft, who also took office months after Chambers was suspended, after 
disclosures in the Post-Dispatch.

Hutchinson said undercover snitches are crucial, both to his agency in the 
war on drugs, as well as to the country's new war on terrorism.

"You've got to use informants. . . . Otherwise, you can't get the job done."

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."

The DEA chief disagreed with those who say Chambers is too valuable to lose.

"You don't lose anything by cutting that out," Hutchinson said. "You want 
to balance proper accountability and checks and balances with getting the 
job done."
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