Drug Agency Looks Again At An Informer's Career

  Drug Agency Looks Again At An Informer's Career

Posted by FoM on June 28, 2000 at 11:33:48 PT
By Jo Thomas 
Source: New York Times  

Andrew Chambers has the easy manner of a friend you can trust. Federal agents trusted him, and so did drug dealers. Over a 16-year career as an undercover informer, Mr. Chambers helped send 445 drug dealers to prison. Now, in a reversal of fortune, the Drug Enforcement Administration has suspended Mr. Chambers and is re-examining the 295 cases in which he was involved. 
For reasons that are not clear, Mr. Chambers, who is one of the agency's top informers, has been caught lying on the witness stand. "Our investigation shows he has lied 17 times about his personal history," said Michael McManus, a public information officer for the agency. "D.E.A. is concerned about any lies, but there is no evidence he has ever lied about the facts of a case. There are lies about his college education, payment of taxes to the I.R.S. and his arrest records. It appears his motivation was that he was embarrassed." H. Dean Steward, a former federal public defender in California who has spent three years trying to get information about Mr. Chambers on behalf of a client, Daniel Bennett, who pleaded guilty in a murder-for-hire case, said he was outraged about Mr. Chamber's lying. "There are no such things as little lies in federal court," said Mr. Steward, who has sued the agency in federal court in Washington, D.C., to get information on Mr. Chambers. "D.E.A. has put this guy on the stand many times, knowing he was a perjurer." "I took him down," Mr. Steward said. Mr. Chambers sees things differently, saying the arrests were minor. He admits he should have told the complete truth about himself, but he insists he has always told the truth about drug dealers. He said he doubted that the new turn of events would affect many cases, saying, "Ninety-five percent of my cases pleaded out." He said he had not helped send an innocent man to jail. While out of action, he has gone on something of a public relations campaign, granting interviews and planning a book and a movie. But his heart is on the street. "I'd go back to work tomorrow if I could," he said. Mr. Chambers is 43, and as he arrived for dinner at a local restaurant, the only thing exceptional about his appearance were his fingernails, which were manicured and very, very long. "They're real," he said, holding them up to the light. "I don't look like no cop. I look like somebody that could be a player. I'm not working, I don't have no 8 to 5, but I'm doing something." In the years since he first walked into the drug enforcement office in Clayton, Mo., to inquire about becoming an agent, Mr. Chambers has been a player, on the government's side. He did not have the college degree required to be an agent, so he became an informer. He was valued, several agency officials said, because he had a clean record, did not drink, smoke or use drugs, and always tried to keep himself, the agents and the drug dealers safe. In 16 years, he said, no one ever pulled a gun on him or robbed him. Mr. McManus said that the agency had some 4,500 informers. Some, like Mr. Chambers, are mercenaries and are hired by the job. Others have jobs, ranging from baggage handlers to taxi drivers, who serve the agency as eyes and ears on the street. Many are criminals seeking reductions in sentences. He had attended parochial schools, was an altar boy and a Cub Scout, and played sports. But he dropped out of high school after two years and joined the Marines. Three years later, he returned home to try college but lasted one semester. Then he decided on a career in law enforcement and chose D.E.A. because he would not have to wear a uniform. Jeff McCaskill, a retired drug enforcement agent, worked with Mr. Chamber in 1987 on a Long Beach, Calif., case that he said involved "the first and largest crack cocaine organization taken down in the United States." That case began when Mr. Chambers met Cecil Fuller, the owner of a Long Beach nightclub, on a flight from Los Angeles to St. Louis, where Mr. Fuller was attending a family reunion. Mr. Chambers ingratiated himself with Mr. Fuller and set up a sting operation. Everyone in the organization ended up in prison. Over the years, Mr. Chambers has worked for other federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, and for police in many major cities, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, New York and Newark. In all, Mr. Chambers has been paid some $2.2 million, including $300,000 for expenses. He now concedes that he mismanaged his money and neglected to pay federal income tax, which he now owes $64,000. His credibility problems began with a 1996 case involving Edward Stanley, a Los Angeles restaurant owner. Mr. Chambers had given federal agents Mr. Stanley's cell phone number, and on the resulting wiretap they overhead Mr. Stanley hiring Mr. Bennett as a hit man. In an effort to overturn his client's plea-bargained murder conviction, Mr. Steward challenged the search warrant for the wiretap. Mr. Steward learned that Mr. Chambers had lied on the stand in earlier cases, saying he had never been arrested. In fact, he had been arrested 10 times from 1984 to 1998, with one conviction. Mr. Chambers was twice arrested for soliciting sex and pleaded guilty in one case, in Denver, to a misdemeanor and paid a fine. He now says he had hoped that the prostitute, an undercover policewoman, would help him find a drug dealer. Mr. McManus, the D.E.A. public information officer, said senior agency management learned of Mr. Chambers' problems in August 1999, and put him on restricted use. In January, Mr. Chambers' hometown newspaper in St. Louis, The Post-Dispatch, published a front page article proclaiming, "Top U.S. Drug Snitch Is a Legend and a Liar," and in February, the agency suspended Mr. Chambers. Since then, cases in which he was involved, have been dismissed before trial in Miami and Tampa, Fla., and in Columbia, S.C. "Are the floodgates going to open and hundreds of defendants get out of jail?" Mr. Steward asked. "No, but each case he worked on has to be looked at." Urbana, Ill. Published: June 28, 2000Copyright: 2000 The New York Times CompanyRelated Articles:Drug Agency Investigates Its Own Cover-Up DEA Archives:

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Comment #1 posted by CD1 on June 28, 2000 at 12:07:17 PT


It does not surprise me that the top informer is also a huge liar. It doesn't take a lot of intelligence to figure out if one is getting paid for information, that one should make up information if real information can not be found.I'm disgusted at how the DEA operates. The Agency tries to convince everyone that it is only doing the public good, when DEA tactics prove otherwise. I hope this guy ends up in prison, and some of the drug war prisoners of war give this scumbag what he deserves.
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