Bush Nominates Minnesotan as No. 2 Fed. Drug Cop

Bush Nominates Minnesotan as No. 2 Fed. Drug Cop
Posted by CN Staff on August 16, 2003 at 08:47:42 PT
By Kevin Diaz
Source: Star-Tribune 
Washington, D.C. -- When she was growing up in St. Paul, Michele Leonhart's bike was stolen -- a blue Huffy with a white basket and pink streamers. She scoured her Selby Avenue neighborhood and got it back. It was her first case in what has become a lifetime of law enforcement.Along the way, she hit a few roadblocks. She had trouble passing the police strength test in St. Paul, and Los Angeles thought she was too short. But Baltimore eventually hired her, and before long she moved from street patrols to the murky world of undercover narcotics investigations.
Now Leonhart has been nominated by President Bush to be the deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which would make her the nation's No. 2 drug cop.It also makes her one of a handful of Minnesotans to win high-level appointments in the Bush administration.If Leonhart is confirmed by the Senate, as expected, the former Minneapolis DEA agent will serve under Karen Tandy, a former federal prosecutor and the first woman to run the DEA.While Tandy rose to the top through courtrooms and the Justice Department, Leonhart came up from the drug netherworld. Over a 23-year career, Leonhart has busted drug dealers from Guadalajara to the Canadian border.It was hardly an easy progression for a girl who grew up going to Catholic school in St. Paul, and later moved to the relatively safe cities of Mankato and White Bear Lake."The way I grew up, I should have had no street smarts," Leonhart, now 47, said in an interview this week. "Going to downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis was really going to the big city back then."Her appointment will move her to Washington from her current post in charge of the DEA's Los Angeles field office. Earlier she worked out of DEA offices in San Francisco, San Diego and St. Louis, and at the agency's D.C. area headquarters. At each stop, she burnished a reputation that began in the Twin Cities."You could tell early on that she had all the talents and gifts to be a great leader," said Michael Campion, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). "She was guided by her intelligence and her ability to deal with people." The wild side Although Baltimore gave Leonhart her first crack at police work, her DEA career began on familiar turf: in Minnesota, where she had gone to Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake and Bemidji State University. As the top rookie in her DEA class, she got to choose her first post. Tempted by action-packed Miami, she instead chose the Minneapolis field office, becoming its first female agent."I thought it would be my chance to do something good for my hometown," she said. "It was just as hokey as it sounds."That was in 1980, after she left the Baltimore police force, where she was known alternately as "Mikey" or "Alice," as in Alice in Wonderland -- a joke on her sheltered Midwestern upbringing.In Baltimore, she also had finished number one in her rookie class and had patrolled the town's toughest precinct. In Minneapolis, Leonhart went to work for Jim Braseth, a legendary DEA supervisor who mentored a generation of drug agents in the Twin Cities. Under his tutelage, Leonhart quickly developed street credibility.Braseth, who died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2000, once said of Leonhart, "If you could look in the dictionary for the definition of a federal drug agent, you'd find Michele's picture."Cops aren't the only ones who pay her respect. Dan Scott, a federal public defender in Minneapolis who represented many of the defendants Leonhart arrested, said that though she left Minneapolis 17 years ago, she's still talked about in the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis."She was a real pro," he said. "She was able to do the cowboy undercover part of the job, without falling into the pitfalls of the wild side. She could come back and write an accurate report on the case." Mysterious millionaire Leonhart's first drug case was one of her biggest.It started her first day on the job, when Braseth asked, "Would you like to meet a millionaire?"The mysterious millionaire was Casey Ramirez. A civic philanthropist in his adopted home town of Princeton, Minn., Ramirez paid for high school football uniforms and financed the town's $500,000 hockey arena.It turned out that he also made most of his money as a big-time drug dealer in south Florida.Braseth tried to infiltrate Leonhart into Ramirez's operation by arranging for the two to meet at a civic function in Princeton. Ramirez took the bait, inviting her back for a visit.But the plan nearly fell apart later when Ramirez and Leonhart happened to meet by chance at the federal building in Minneapolis. Thinking on her feet, she explained her presence by saying she was on federal probation.Ramirez apparently bought the alibi, and Leonhart stayed on the case, helping piece together evidence of an operation that brought hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Colombia to Florida with a fleet of small planes. Ramirez served 13 years in prison.Also among Leonhart's cases was Clyde Bellecourt, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who was convicted in 1986 of selling undercover agents 500 hits of LSD. One of the agents was Leonhart, who met with Bellecourt in a laundry room at Little Earth of United Tribes, a south Minneapolis public housing development. Bellecourt pleaded guilty in federal court but went to prison insisting he had been "set up by the government." Suspected snitch Leonhart earned ready acceptance in the macho culture of federal drug agents, who often maintain scruffy appearances that hardly distinguish them from the bad guys.But her colleagues quickly noticed that she didn't fit in by playing the skirt or cussing and trying to act just like the guys.Nor did she need to."I never even had to think about playing any gender politics, from the first day with Jim Braseth," she said. "I worked very hard, and they all knew it. They said, 'You're good because you're you.' And I never forgot that."One of her partners, John Boulger, an ex-Minneapolis cop and DEA agent who now works with the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, said Leonhart succeeded by keeping her cool under pressure.Posing as a drug buyer, she once talked her way out of the back seat of a car driven by two Twin Cities drug dealers who realized they had a police surveillance vehicle behind them.Tearing out of a fast-food parking lot on University Avenue in St. Paul, they managed to lose the surveillance car. They also were becoming increasingly suspicious of Leonhart, who they had tagged as a snitch.She knew she had better start talking."You're stupid if you're going to be driving around with the dope," Leonhart told the two dealers. "Drop me off at the corner and I'll hook up with you later. If you get caught you won't have anything on you."Her spiel made sense to the dealers, who dropped her off and gave her their stash of cocaine."She was as good as anybody at what she did," Boulger said. "She was terrific. Outstanding. It's good for the DEA that they've got somebody up in that position know who knows the streets."Complete Title: Bush Nominates Minnesotan as No. 2 Federal Drug CopSource: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN) Author: Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondent Published: August 16, 2003 Copyright: 2003 Star Tribune Contact: opinion Website: CannabisNews -- DEA Archives
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Comment #5 posted by kaptinemo on August 18, 2003 at 13:42:53 PT:
It's political 'clay pidgeon' time
These two women, having been picked to lead the moribund DEA, may be able to continue to fool themselves into believeing that they are actually doing some good, but their self-deception will come crashing down when the first load of Afghan originated heroin finally makes it way to the States.On that day, the DEA may find itself desibanded as the final act of an agency proven to have no efficacy anymore. For, if a bag of heroin from the Golden Crescent finds its' way onto an American street and is intercepted and identified, the political fallout will be extensive and dirty.Tandy and Leonhart are nothing more than sheep being led by their Judas Goat 'colleagues' to the political slaughterhouse. Where their careers will be dispatched, despite their bleating of 'not my fault!' at the influx of heroin we may now expect in the US.They squeezed the balloon, and instead of it bulging, it popped in their faces. What is dripping from those faces will later be identified as corrosive to a Federal career.
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Comment #4 posted by E_Johnson on August 16, 2003 at 10:30:15 PT
How proud can a Christian be
of an ability to tell lies and be believed?
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Comment #3 posted by E_Johnson on August 16, 2003 at 10:28:34 PT
The commandments are history in the Drug War
These people in the DEA believe in lying as a way of life. They lie about who they are to do their job. They lie about what they do, what they believe in, what they like and don't like, whom they love and don't love.Can't people get a clue yet that if there is a mission in society that requires a constant breaking of the Ten Commandments every day and every night and requires people to get better and better at breaking Commandments with impunity -- that maybe that mission is not a righteous mission?
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Comment #2 posted by Kegan on August 16, 2003 at 10:19:30 PT
I wonder.......
The ONLY way you can get credibility in the drug trade is to actually do drugs with them.There IS no simulation. You have to snort, and toke and drink with these people to gain their confidence.I wonder if this NARC would let herself be hooked up to a polygraph and answer some questions...... "Have you ever used drugs while in the line of duty?""Yeah.....? Well, the machine says you did......"
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 16, 2003 at 10:01:14 PT
Here's an Article from The Washington Times
This is almost the same article that was in the New York Daily News and I thought some of you might want to write a letter to the editor so here is contact information.Source: Washington Times (DC)Contact: letters washingtontimes.comWebsite: Legalizing Drugs is Dopey Idea:
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