Tainted Search Warrants Put Drug Case in Jeopardy

Tainted Search Warrants Put Drug Case in Jeopardy
Posted by FoM on November 22, 1999 at 07:13:28 PT
By William R. Levesque
Source: St. Petersburg Times
Pinellas County sheriff's detectives raided Randy Heine's home and business in January 1998 and discovered exactly what their search warrants predicted. 
In Heine's home, they said, they found marijuana growing. In Heine's store and factory, they found what they called drug paraphernalia. But now much of the criminal case against Heine may be jeopardized by search warrants that two detectives persuaded a judge to sign that authorized them to raid Heine's property. The warrants, a judge recently ruled, contain "a reckless disregard for the truth . . . (and) a gross, material misrepresentation of fact." "Let's get this straight," said Heine, who owns the Tobacco Emporium. "A gross misrepresentation of fact is a whole bunch of rhetoric for saying they lied." Detectives failed to tell the judge who signed the warrants that informants said Heine no longer was growing marijuana, Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin ruled Oct. 19. As it turned out, police said, Heine was growing marijuana. But it didn't matter. Police, the judge said, cannot raid a home on a hunch that a suspect is breaking the law simply because he may have done so in the past. So the judge has suppressed much of the evidence seized in the raid on Heine's property, including two pounds of marijuana found growing in his Pinellas Park home. A raid that appeared to shut down forever the man the Sheriff's Office calls the leading seller and manufacturer of drug paraphernalia in Pinellas County instead has police explaining the flawed warrants. And that explanation begins with former sheriff's Detective Ken McLean, who quit last year after his supervisor discovered something in another search warrant written by McLean. His boss discovered a lie. McLean, 34, his former supervisor says, was a good cop who got too aggressive. A month before police raided Heine's property, McLean prepared an affidavit to obtain a search warrant in an unrelated drug case. McLean swore under oath that he found marijuana in a trash can belonging to a drug suspect. As is required before seizing evidence from trash, the garbage must be on the street awaiting pickup. In this case, McLean said, it was. He lied. Confronted, McLean admitted the lie and resigned. Late last year, he received two years' probation after pleading no contest to a perjury charge. "This is a tough business we're in," said sheriff's Lt. Bill Queen, McLean's supervisor. "We need people to be on the straight and narrow. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God. You can't color these things." As it turned out, McLean worked another case not long after he prepared the untruthful search warrant that ended his career. He and sheriff's Detective David Antolini prepared three search warrants for Heine's property. Heine, 48, is well-known to the law. He has been selling and making what police call drug paraphernalia for 20 years, mostly pipes that can be used to smoke pot, cocaine or, for that matter, tobacco. In the early 1990s, he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of selling drug paraphernalia across state lines and was sentenced to six months of house arrest. Heine says he doesn't know, or want to know, how a customer is going to use a pipe he sells. "It's not my business what a customer is going to use it for," he said. "I don't care. I make a product intended for a legal use. If somebody else uses it to break the law, I can't be held accountable." But police say Heine knows full well that his pipes are being used for illegal drugs. Heine said police are simply targeting him because he has run for political office, including an unsuccessful bid for sheriff in 1984. "That's absurd," said Queen. By 1997, police said, two of Heine's former employees told them Heine was selling illegal drug paraphernalia and growing marijuana in his house. Detectives McLean and Antolini began gathering information to obtain search warrants. The detectives told Circuit Judge David Seth Walker that two informants who were former employees said Heine was growing marijuana, in addition to selling and making drug paraphernalia. They told the judge Heine was using far more electricity than homes of similar size, suggesting a marijuana operation. They said thermal images showed his home producing abnormal heat, also suggesting he was growing marijuana. The judge signed three search warrants, one each for Heine's home, Tobacco Emporium and a factory where he made pipes and other items. After the raids, Heine was charged with several felonies, including marijuana possession and the sale and manufacture of drug paraphernalia. "They seized everything in my store and factory," Heine said. "They put me out of business." Paul Chinard is one of the former employees who McLean and Antolini said in the warrants told them Heine was growing marijuana in his house. He said Heine had been growing marijuana in his house. But when officers asked him whether Heine was still doing so, Chinard told them, "No way." Chinard said Heine undoubtedly took the growing operation down after firing several employees, including Chinard, in late 1996 for fear he would be reported to police. "I knew he wouldn't take any chances," he said. Another former employee, according to the judge's order, also told detectives that Heine had taken down the growing operation. Fred Busch, a sheriff's official who also worked the case but did not prepare the warrants, said in pretrial testimony that officers assumed that Heine had put the operation back up. That was a guess, Heine's lawyers said. "I just think it's clear somebody went a little too far," said lawyer Robert Vaughn. After Laughlin heard testimony earlier this year, she brought the hammer down on the detectives in a ruling rare for its strong language against law enforcement. The detectives, she said, kept from Walker their knowledge that informants told police the marijuana growing operation had been taken down. Police "had no credible evidence" he was still growing marijuana, Laughlin said. Police, the judge also said, should have said in search warrants the informants, as fired employees, may have had an ax to grind with Heine. In addition, the judge said the detectives' electricity comparisons were flawed because officers compared his usage with homes that were far smaller. "Law enforcement systematically misrepresented information and skewed the evidence by omitting pertinent information (from search warrant affidavits)," the judge said. "Mere suspicion was improperly puffed up and presented as probable cause." The judge suppressed evidence seized from Heine's home and a Pinellas factory where he made pipes and other items. Though she found fault in a search warrant for the Tobacco Emporium, she did not suppress evidence there because detectives found marijuana residue in a pipe recovered legally from the trash. What went wrong? Queen, who supervised the investigation, laid much of the blame on McLean. Antolini, who signed the warrants, did nothing improper, Queen said. "I think (McLean) made poor decisions in some of the things he did," Queen said, noting particularly the electricity comparisons. But Queen refused to acknowledge outright that McLean lied. "McLean was trying to let the ends justify the means," Queen said. "He just got carried away trying to put people in jail doing narcotic activity and he started bending the rules his own way." But Queen said he couldn't discuss specifics about Heine's case because charges are still pending. McLean, who is now working as a carpenter, did not return calls or a message left at his door by a reporter. Prosecutors handling the case did not return calls for comment on whether some charges would be dropped in light of the judge's ruling. "They're trying to make me responsible because they're losing the war on drugs," Heine said. Published November 22, 1999  Copyright 1999 St. Petersburg Times. 
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