Drug Agency Investigates Its Own Cover-Up

Drug Agency Investigates Its Own Cover-Up
Posted by FoM on May 28, 2000 at 12:54:42 PT
By Michael D. Sorkin & Phyllis Brasch Librach 
Source: Post-Dispatch
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating itself -- saying it wants to know why agents allowed supersnitch Andrew Chambers to tell lies during 15 years of trial testimony that sent hundreds of people to prison.As many as two dozen of the agents who worked with Chambers in St. Louis and elsewhere are under scrutiny for a possible cover-up. 
The big question: Did they know that their star undercover informer was perjuring himself when they watched him swear again and again in court that he had never been arrested or convicted?Agents could face discipline -- in the extreme, even criminal prosecution -- according to Richard A. Fiano, the DEA's chief of operations.Some agents clearly knew Chambers was lying -- they rescued him three times after police arrested him on suspicion of forgery, soliciting an undercover officer for prostitution and claiming to be a federal agent.Fiano promises that if mistakes are found, they will be punished. "It can't be a win-at-all costs (attitude) on this side of the fence," he said in an interview at DEA headquarters outside Washington.He and other senior DEA officials insist that they didn't know about Chambers' well-documented lies until August. But the agency's own records show that the DEA chief counsel's office knew no later than May of last year.That is when it sent a memo to field agents, warning that Chambers' credibility "has been thoroughly impeached." It cited court rulings critical of Chambers dating to 1993.The DEA also had to know about Chambers because it fought a two-year court fight to keep information about him secret.In June, Dean Steward, then a federal public defender in California, won a lawsuit forcing the DEA to divulge that it had paid more than $2.2 million to Chambers -- much of it in cash -- plus a history of arrests the government had kept from defense lawyers.This month, Steward told a federal judge in Washington that the DEA "continues to stonewall, cover up, and otherwise resist this court's order. . . . The growing scandal surrounding the use of this informant has clearly put this agency on the defensive, trying to minimize the impact of their egregious actions . . ."Four Key False Statements:An investigation by the Post-Dispatch found that the DEA has tried to cover up an agency cover-up of dealings with Chambers. An internal report, written in February, contains at least four key false statements:In 1995, a federal judge in Denver dismissed indictments against 10 defendants after finding that Chambers got a percentage of whatever his investigations turned up, an incentive to lie. The DEA report denies any such agreement with Chambers. But an internal document dated November 1995 says the agency indeed agreed to pay Chambers a percentage of the value of drugs and money agents seized. A DEA agent's testimony confirmed the arrangement. The report says the DEA's St. Louis field office was never "officially notified" that the U.S. attorney's office here was rejecting any investigations relying on Chambers. The Post-Dispatch has verified that then-U.S. Attorney Ed Dowd called the special agent in charge of the DEA's St. Louis office in 1998 and bluntly told him not to bring any more cases if Chambers was to be a witness. Dowd recommended that use of Chambers be barred nationwide. The report denies that Dean Hoag, a career federal prosecutor in St. Louis, dropped charges against a defendant because of Chambers' lies. But federal court records substantiate Hoag's statement to a reporter that he dropped charges against a woman on Oct. 26, 1998; Hoag feared Chambers had enticed the woman into a drug deal. Hoag called Chambers "a flimflam man," and said the DEA needed stronger control of him. Hoag now says he can no longer discuss Chambers. The report says Chambers lied four times while testifying under oath for the DEA.But according to available court records, Chambers lied a lot more than that. They show he lied in at least 16 trials -- and probably many more -- when he told judges and juries that he had never been arrested or convicted, inflated his educational background and claimed he had paid taxes on his DEA earnings.In response to the Post-Dispatch's findings, the DEA said its report on Chambers was constantly being revised. Fiano and other officials would not provide a copy of any updated report, but the agency now admits verifying Chambers' lies in 13 trials.So far, no outside agency is investigating the DEA's use of Chambers.Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for acting DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall without raising the question of what he or his subordinates knew about Chambers.Government Misconduct:In April 1993, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., wrote that "the record clearly demonstrates" that Chambers had perjured himself repeatedly.In March 1995, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reached the same conclusion, adding a condemnation of what it called the government's "haphazard approach" to uncovering the truth.In November 1996, Chambers was again a DEA witness, this time in federal court in New Orleans. A defense attorney asked how the government could continue to use someone who had a record of arrests but repeatedly swore he didn't.Replied Chambers: "I think I'm about the best . . ."Much later, after Chambers had became a hot potato, the DEA credited him with being the most active informer in the agency's history, participating in nearly 300 investigations leading to 445 arrests.In March 1997, DEA Special Agent Michael Stanfill testified in a Colorado state court that Chambers was to have been paid $19,000 for his work in Minnesota but forfeited $5,000 as punishment for lying in court about his record.Still, Chambers continued to testify for the DEA -- and to lie. In a recent case, he lied in Tampa, Fla., about his arrests.In June, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington noted Chambers' continued perjury for the DEA. She wrote that the evidence of extensive government misconduct was "very compelling.""We didn't know"None of these or other warnings from judges, defense attorneys or prosecutors seemed to register at the agency's headquarters, two black towers in Arlington, Va.How could the DEA's leaders not know a federal appellate court had labeled their most active informer a "perjurer"?The answer, senior DEA operations officials insist, is that only rulings that overturn convictions come to their attention -- and no defendant in a Chambers case has won an appeal."It just would never come to us," said Fiano, the chief of operations.But if Fiano and his predecessor did not know, lawyers in their chief counsel's office at headquarters did. On May 20, about three months before Fiano says he knew, Gregory Mitchell, acting chief of the DEA's domestic law section, issued a two-page legal memo."The witness has been thoroughly impeached throughout federal case law, and the print media," Mitchell wrote. He quoted from three court rulings and two newspaper articles.Records show the memo went to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, where Chambers was to be a witness, plus eight DEA field offices, including St. Louis.The special agents in charge of each of those field offices report to Fiano, as they did to his predecessor.Fiano became chief of domestic operations in April 1998 and worldwide operations in July 1999. He has charge of all 4,500 DEA special agents and about 4,500 confidential informers, including Chambers.In August, Fiano said, Terry Parham, the DEA's chief spokesman, alerted him of allegations of Chambers' lying. Fiano said he immediately "put a hold on using him."Actually, DEA records show, the order allowed agents to continue using Chambers with approval from the special agent in charge at one of the 21 domestic offices.Fiano said he didn't know if the allegations were true. He said Chambers may have been involved in ongoing investigations "that we couldn't stop unless we had firm concrete evidence that he did, in fact, perjure himself -- which we hadn't at that time."Not until February, six months later, did the DEA "deactivate" Chambers, pending the results of its still unfinished internal investigation.Chambers' suspension came two weeks after the Post-Dispatch published on Jan. 16 the results of a four-month investigation. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno read it, and a few days later Chambers was out.But not all the way out; a DEA spokesman said Chambers could continue to work on existing cases.The scandal has grown since then, as prosecutors in Florida and other states dropped charges against 14 defendants rather than call Chambers to testify.Early in April, Fiano said, the DEA began an investigation to determine whether Chambers should remain on the payroll and to find out what the agents knew. The scope includes interviews with prosecutors, he added.The inquiry began two years after Steward, the public defender from California, first warned the DEA about Chambers."This will never happen again"The DEA now is distancing itself from its former star, and Fiano says it is unlikely Chambers will return to work.The agency says it is adopting new regulations requiring field offices to keep records of any allegations that an informer lied. Similar regulations already were on the books but, for a variety of reasons, fell through the cracks, the DEA says.Because many informers are criminals, Fiano said his agency has the toughest restrictions on them of any federal police agency. "You can't live with them; you can't live without them," he suggested.Chambers may be unique, Fiano says, providing reliable information about drug dealers in exchange for money. His ability to make quick deals helps agents look good, and some reciprocate by treating him as an equal.Fiano says it has never been proved that Chambers lied about any material facts -- other than about himself. He says he doubts whether agents intentionally violated any laws to protect him."This will never happen again," Fiano said. "If somebody needs their head slapped or their hand slapped, we will do that. We'll fix it and go on with business -- under the new guidelines."Case of the Disappearing Files:Critics, pointing to Chambers' many in-house defenders, are dubious. They point to the case of the disappearing DEA files on Chambers in California.In 1988, Ellyn Marcus Lindsay, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, told a judge that she had the DEA's file on Chambers and that it included his arrest records.But by December 1999, another assistant U.S. attorney, Stephen Wolfe, was in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California explaining why he had not disclosed the evidence that Chambers had lied.By law, prosecutors are required to provide full information about their witnesses, so defense lawyers can use anything negative to raise questions with jurors about the credibility of the testimony.Wolfe told the court that he personally had inspected the file and that there was nothing there. "It's clear they never put anything bad about an informant into these type of files . . . never," the prosecutor told the judges.Other prosecutors across the country may have some explaining to do if it turns out that agents withheld information from them.In Tampa, the U.S. attorney's office is being accused of prosecutorial misconduct by a defense lawyer for failing to disclose evidence of Chambers' past lies. It's one of a growing number of appeals of Chambers' cases."For somebody to testify falsely, then admit that under oath and be paid for it -- that's wrong," says the defense attorney, Marcia Shein of Atlanta. "How much are we willing to be in bed with these people?"Who is Andrew Chambers?Occupation: Former star snitch for the DEA.Biggest achievement: His informer work is credited with leading to the arrests of 445 suspected drug dealers.Biggest failure: He lied under oath as a government witness when he repeatedly denied ever being arrested. Three federal courts called him a perjurer, but he was never charged with it. The DEA suspended him in February.Biggest problems for government: Prosecutors have dropped charges against 14 defendants on whom he informed, and dozens more behind bars are trying to get convictions overturned. Now, as many as 24 DEA agents are being questioned to see if they knew he was lying. Prosecutors are being questioned to see if DEA agents lied to them.Personal: 43. Reared in University City. Dropped out of old Mercy High School. Police in University City steered him to the DEA, and he signed up as a free-lance informer at the agency's Clayton office.Pay: More than $2.2 million. NewsHawk: Jeff Christen-Mitchell  Web Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000  2000 St. Louis Post-DispatchCannabisNews Articles and Archives On The DEA:
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on May 28, 2000 at 21:06:43 PT
 This article should make all America gasp in disbelief and chagrin. Like the recent LAPD scandal,the absence of any outside oversight of these gang-like law enforcement factions is absurd. One of the main basic concerns of the founders of our democracy,was a system of checks and balances to keep power-crazed officials in check.This was a good plan,but it has obviously been steadily dimentinginto a "them",and"us" thing. This is bad,but it becomes much worse,when you realize that the law enforcement agencies that have been created,have more control over our freedom and rights,than those who created them. This is really bad,but it reaches a whole new level,when these enforcers are made to answer to nobody but themselves.The fox guarding the henhouse is too mild for this,,it's more like the wolf guarding thefreshly roasted chickens,and prime rib. This complete lack of accountability in these rogue-ish agencies,and the government in general is terrifying."Agents could face discipline -- in the extreme, even criminal prosecution -- according to Richard A. Fiano, theDEA's chief of operations."These are people who who are directly responsible for who knows how many people who are rotting in jail......disgusting...dddd
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on May 28, 2000 at 14:13:19 PT:
You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas
And given the DEA's propensity for this kind of thing, they would have to change their dog collars every day. If I remember this case correctly, this guy would blow into town, flash his ostensible wealth, and ask about where the 'action' was. He would then worm his way into the confidences of the users, leading to the dealers, and then to the supposedly bigger dealers. And then, of course, betray get a portion of the forfeited proceeds.Needless to say, the law of averages would lead one to realize that he would mainly meet - and turn in - just users and low level dealers; the really big shots would have nothing to do with this flashy loudmouth. That means that the vast majority of his targets were hardly more than 'chump change' in the eyes of his handlers. So he had to betray more and more of them to maintain his own lifestyle. Rather like a roving Judas Goat.And now, the DEA must once more cover it's own tracks in allowing this creep to further sully their already trashed reputation. Right from the git-go, within a year after its' inception, the DEA was mired in scandal, so they have plenty of experience at CYA.3 Million. A long way from 30 pieces of silver. Must be inflation, I guess.
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Comment #2 posted by freedom fighter on May 28, 2000 at 13:34:41 PT
Pay: More than $2.2 million
blood money and he has not paid his taxes on it!
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on May 28, 2000 at 13:04:52 PT
The Pulse of The Marijuana Movement 2000 C.E.
The Pulse of The Marijuana Movement 2000 C.E.Jeff Christen-Mitchell For A Libertarian Congress
Cannabis & Drug Policy Reform News
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