HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Fake Drugs Force An End To 24 Cases In Dallas
Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jan 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Section: National
Author: Ross E. Milloy


DALLAS, Jan. 15 -- Nearly half of the cocaine and nearly a quarter of the 
methamphetamine that the Dallas police seized last year have turned out to 
be gypsum from wallboard, a discovery that has led to the suspension of two 
dozen criminal cases, local officials say.

All the cases involve a single unidentified informer who has received at 
least $200,000 from the Dallas Police Department over the last two years, 
officials confirmed last week. The supposed drugs tested positive in field 
tests after the arrests, they said, but more sophisticated testing done 
later in preparation for trial found no more than traces of drugs.

The Dallas Morning News, which disclosed the situation, reported this 
morning that in at least four cases suspects had little money on them when 
they were arrested.

The Dallas police and the district attorney's office have opened 
investigations to determine exactly what happened. Among their questions 
are these: Did the informer fake the drug purchases to obtain money from 
the police? Was there tampering with the evidence, either by the informer 
or the police? Was there a problem with the testing process used at the 
time of the arrests?

Two lawyers involved in the matter said the Federal Bureau of Investigation 
had made inquiries about the case, but Lori Bailey, a spokeswoman for the 
agency, said no formal investigation had yet begun.

"It's just a real touchy situation right now," Ms. Bailey said. "The Dallas 
Police Department has started its own investigation, and we're currently 
accepting information and looking into the possibility that there may be 
violations that would fall under our investigative jurisdiction. At this 
time, we do not have a formal investigation under way."

Janice Houston, a spokeswoman for the police department, said today that at 
least 70 drug purchases associated with the unnamed informer over the past 
two years would be reviewed. But Ms. Houston would not comment on the 
possibility that the evidence in question might have been tampered with 
while under police custody.

"We have an investigation under way," she said, "and it's just too early to 
speculate on where the problem might be."

Brady Wyatt, a Dallas lawyer representing a person accused of drug dealing 
whose case has been dismissed, said he doubted that the police had acted 

"It sounds to me like they've got a bad informant," Mr. Wyatt said.

District Attorney Bill Hill of Dallas County refused to discuss the case 
today, and his spokesman referred a reporter to a statement last week in 
which Mr. Hill acknowledged problems with evidence in the disputed cases 
and said he would review arrests involving the informer.

Investigators have found more than 660 pounds of fake cocaine and at least 
22 pounds of fake methamphetamine. Some of those arrested have already 
spent up to six months in jail and at least four have been deported on 
charges that could have resulted in sentences from five years to life in 

All 18 people named in the two dozen suspended prosecutions have Hispanic 
surnames, prompting accusations of racial profiling from the Mexican 
Consulate here and Hispanic organizations.

At least three of the people were arrested under similar circumstances, 
said Bill Stovall, a former Dallas County district attorney who represents 
some of the men.

While waiting to be hired at an informal gathering spot for day laborers, 
Mr. Stovall said, the men were approached by strangers asking if they knew 
how to drive. The men were then taken to a second car and led to a nearby 
convenience store to wait for a man who they were told would give them 
painting supplies. That person, thought to be the informer, then put a 
black bag in the car's trunk and, while following him to another place, the 
men were stopped and arrested, Mr. Stovall said.

Lawyers involved in the cases said the defendants were mainly poor, illegal 
Mexican immigrants.

"They are picking on the poorest of the poor, people just struggling to 
make a buck to survive," Mr. Wyatt said.

Last year, a new state law reined in the use of unsupervised informers in 
drug prosecutions after a case in which 12 percent of the black population 
of Tulia, Tex., was arrested, mainly on the word of an undercover agent. 
Since last September, informers' testimony must be corroborated by a police 
officer. But enforcement of that law by the courts is spotty, said Richard 
Carrizales, another Dallas defense lawyer.

"There's a big problem here with the way the police are conducting 
oversight of their informants," Mr. Carrizales said, "and it's getting 
bigger. The informants are leading the narcotics officers around by the 
nose, setting up people to be busted, so that they can collect bonuses for 
the number of arrests they get."
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