In 2003, I wrote a feature on the then Drug Enforcement Administration Deputy Director nominee: DEA Bad Girl Michele Leonhart.
In it, I talked about her horrendous lack of ethical standards in her work with super-snitch Andrew Chambers:
When Michele Leonhart moved to St. Louis, she hooked up with the most prolific snitch of all time — Andrew Chambers.
The details of Andrew Chambers’ career as a super-snitch are mostly hidden (partly to protect him, and partly to protect the DEA). Much of what we know about Chambers comes from an excellent investigative report by Michael D. Sorkin And Phyllis Brasch Librach for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 16, 2000 and several follow-up reports later that year.
Here are some of the facts:
- Chambers’ career as a snitch spanned an amazing 16 years, from 1984 until 2000, and he was credited with 291 investigations, including 76 the DEA considers “significant.”
- He traveled all over the world for the DEA, but his home was St. Louis, and his second home Los Angeles.
- For his snitch work with the DEA, he was paid over $2.2 million. DEA regulations limit informants to a career total of $200,000, but those regulations can be waived. The DEA says its second-highest paid informant has received about $500,000.
- Since he also worked for the FBI, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. postal inspectors, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service and state and local police, his total take may have been much more.
- He lied. He lied under oath on the stand. He lied on the stand repeatedly, beginning the year after his recruitment in 1984.
- For years, some prosecutors and many defense attorneys had expressed concerns about Chambers’ perjury. In 1993 in California, a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling agreed that Chambers lied on the stand. In 1995, the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis added its voice: “The record, however, clearly demonstrates that Chambers did in fact perjure himself . . .”
The DEA protected Chambers repeatedly, and avoided notifying prosecutors and defense attorneys about Chambers’ past. At one point, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Justice Department lawyers stonewalled for 17 months, fighting a public defender who was trying to examine the contents of DEA’s background check on Chambers.
Later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Wolf stated that it was clear that the drug agents never put any damaging reports into Chambers’ file — even though DEA regulations require it.
Finally, the DEA conducted an internal review of Chambers’ career, and although there was some talk of reprimanding DEA supervisors, the report was never made completely public, and the DEA refused to agree to stop using Chambers. Janet Reno finally intervened in 2000 and Chambers was deactivated as an informant.
During all this time, Chambers’ biggest fan was Michele Leonhart.
At one point, she was asked whether it was time to stop using Chambers given all the problems with his credibility. “That would be a sad day for DEA,” she said. “And a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world… He’s one in a million. In my career, I’ll probably never come across another Andrew.” [...]
The most startling statement in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation of Andrew Chambers was from Michele Leonhart:
“The only criticism (of Chambers) I’ve ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand.”
She continued by saying that once prosecutors check him out, they’ll agree with his admirers in DEA that he’s “an outstanding testifier.”
That’s the key. To an agent like Leonhart, getting the bust and getting the conviction is all that matters. The testimony is good if it leads to a successful conclusion (from her perspective). Why nitpick about the truth?
I thought that was the end of it, unti I read today: DEA reactivates controversial fired informant
PHOENIX — A government informant who was terminated by the Justice Department years ago amid accusations of serial perjury has been reactivated and is working an undercover drug case with DEA agents in Phoenix, prompting allegations of government misconduct by a defense lawyer in a pending case. [...]
The DEA conducted an internal probe in 2000 documenting Chambers’ dishonesty after defense lawyers and the media criticized the pattern of perjury and a lack of federal oversight. The Republic has obtained a copy of the 157-page Management Review, which says the DEA deactivated Chambers indefinitely as a confidential source on Feb. 2, 2000.
Yet, somehow, he resurrected his career and surfaced in Phoenix about three years ago in a sting that targeted defendant Luis Alberto Hernandez-Flores, accused as the kingpin in a major drug-trafficking organization.
Cameron Morgan, an attorney for Hernandez-Flores, filed a motion to dismiss charges or suppress testimony after uncovering the informant’s background.
“The DEA rehired Mr. Chambers, is using him in investigations all over the country, is again paying him exorbitant amounts of money and refuses to provide discovery about what he’s up to,” Morgan wrote in a petition under consideration by U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee. “If Chambers were nothing more than a run-of-the-mill criminal, that would be one thing. But both Chambers and his defenders in the DEA brag that he is a con man extraordinaire.”
This is the state of justice in our country.
Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests is Worse Than You Thought
In six states, plus the District of Columbia, blacks are over five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites are. The national average? Black Americans are arrested nearly four times as much. And it’s not because of increased use of the drug: according to the New York Times’s report, black and white Americans have about the same rates of marijuana use overall. So what’s going on?
Essentially, the Times explains, it’s probably one of a handful of biases written into the system of local law enforcement nationwide. The data they’re using is from 2010, and was also used by the ACLU for a new report. The ACLU cites the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program as one possible reason for the disparity. That’s because, they explain, the program incentivizes increasing drug arrest numbers by tying the statistics to funding. Law enforcement officials then concentrate on lower income neighborhoods to keep those numbers up, finding the lowest hanging fruit of crimes to enforce.
Good to see this getting some play in the media. People should be outraged by this.
I’m on the road again. Hosting our annual community New York Theatre trip. This time, I have a record-breaking 95 people on this trip, seeing 6 shows as a group, and I’ll be conducting walking tours of the city as usual.
Needless to say, this is likely to keep me pretty busy, and I may not have time for much blogging, but be sure to check out the excellent discussions and links in the comments, and I’ll add a new Open Thread every now and then.
We’ll be seeing “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” with David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver, “Matilda” – the musical based on the Roald Dahl book, the revival of the musical “Pippin,” a new play directed by David Cromer at Lincoln Center: “Nikolai and the Others,” “Kinky Boots” – the musical with music by Cindy Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, and “The Assembled Parties” with Judith Light and Jessica Hecht. I’m’ also going to see “Annie” so I can say Hi to one of our former students, Jane Lynch.
Should be a great week, and I do plan on taking advantage of the restaurants as usual.
Just in case anyone has forgotten, that is the position of Drug WarRant — legalize and regulate all drugs. Sometimes we end up talking a lot about marijuana, because it’s in the news so much now, but it’s good to remember that the end goal is legalization and regulation. Period.
And that’s the point in an excellent article at LadyBud (back in April that I missed at the time) by Angela Bacca: It’s Time To Legalize All Drugs, Not Just Marijuana
However, for all the reasons marijuana should be legal, almost all of them apply to every illicit substance classified and prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act, all drugs should be legal, all of them. [...]
The same arguments used against marijuana prohibition apply to all drugs because the same legislators, government bureaus, private industries and law enforcement organizations profit off them.
Prohibition is the deadliest drug of them all. Yes, Prohibition is a drug. So many layers of society and industry shoot up Drug War cash like smack, they have literally become addicted to the money enforcing arbitrary drug laws generates. Their addiction has incentivized them to turn every American who gets their drugs off the street instead of in a pharmacy as ATMs. [...]
In a legal market, more people would survive drug abuse. If all drugs, like food tested by the FDA or tap water monitored for cleanliness and safety, were subject to some sort of oversight, even the incompetent governmental kind, street drugs would be cleaner. Consumers would have legal recourse, like with pharmaceutical companies, to sue producers for selling faulty products. In a legal market, we have the ability to regulate drugs the way we do alcohol, tobacco and in some states, marijuana. With straightforward education, not D.A.R.E., and a legal market we could take the counterculture edge off of drug use and prevent some abusers from ever using. [...]
It’s time to push this conversation, the Drug War is not just a war on some people, it’s a war on all people.
A lot of people are now talking about Jamen Shively – a name I had not heard before Thursday. Here’s the basics:
A former Microsoft executive plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand, with cannabis he hopes to eventually import legally from Mexico, and said he was kicking off his business by acquiring medical pot dispensaries in three U.S. states.
Well, isn’t that special.
It’s an incredible attention getter and has managed to launch him into the spotlight, but as a business plan it makes about as much sense as selling mineral rights on Mars.
If it’s legit, then I see it mostly as a distraction and have very little interest.
The one glimmer in it is the participation of Vicente Fox.
Joining him was former Mexican President Vicente Fox, a longtime Shively acquaintance who has been an advocate of decriminalizing marijuana. Fox said he was there to show his support for Shively’s company but has no financial stake in it.
“What a difference it makes to have Jamen here sitting at my side instead of Chapo Guzman,” said Fox, referring to the fact he would rather see Shively selling marijuana legally than the Mexican drug kingpin selling it illegally. “This is the story that has begun to be written here.”
Now that’s a powerful message.
If that’s Shively’s game (and I certainly have no information that it is), then I could see a very interesting time with him dancing circles around the feds, openly talking about creating big international marijuana business and organizing his “company,” but without actually doing anything, or owning anything, illegal under federal law.
It would leave the feds looking weak, and help the public realize that even big business marijuana is better than big business illegal marijuana that we have now.
That could be fun. But again, it’s too early to tell.
There was one totally gratuitous argument in the article that made absolutely no sense at all.
Washington state’s marijuana consultant, Mark Kleiman, said he was skeptical of Shively’s plans, and feared that the businessman is seeking to profit off others’ addiction.
Really? That’s where you needed to go? Does the consumer have no rights or responsibilities in your universe?
We’ve showcased the outstanding work of cartoonist Stuart McMillan before.
Well, Stuart has a new drug-war-related piece about the Rat Park experiments led by Professor Bruce Alexander who saw the flaw in the research that had seemed to suggest hopeless addiction was inevitable with easy access to drugs.
Particularly if you’re not familiar with the Rat Park story, or would like a refresher, this is a really good read.
Let’s stop wrecking lives over a bag of weed by Paul Zuckerberg in the Washington Post.
In a little office on the third floor of Metropolitan Police Headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW is a small window to the future — open to some, closed to many. This is where you get your D.C. “police clearance.”
If you have never been there, that’s because you have never applied for a job flipping burgers, mowing lawns or cleaning restrooms in the District. Room 3033 is the human resources department for the poor, the young and the disenfranchised. The piece of paper you get there — if you have no criminal record — is what you need to land a job. Without it, you’re out of luck.
For 29 years, I have defended clients facing marijuana charges in the District. At every initial appearance, without fail, the judge admonishes the defendant either to stay in school or to hold down a job. In the majority of cases, however, a job is not possible because most employers in this town will not hire entry-level workers who do not have a police clearance.
What crime is increasingly tripping up those looking for work? Possession of marijuana.
By the way, in case you missed it, Mike Riggs at Reason has been doing an outstanding job of demanding accountability from the ONDCP. After last week’s Drug Czar trumpeting of the link between drugs and crime (which was widely ridiculed), Riggs pointed out the conspicuous absence of alcohol data, resulting in an astounding series of dance steps by the ONDCP’s communications director on Twitter. Here’s the conclusion: Drug Czar’s Office Explains Why It Omitted Alcohol Data From Drug and Crime Report.
The Global Drug Prohibition Regime: Half a Century of Failed Policymaking?
This is a very good 16-minute video put together by the always excellent Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
The participants of the discussion forum were: Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director and Director, Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release, Martin Jelsma, TNI Drugs and Democracy Programme Coordinator, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of OSF Global Drug Policy Program, Wolfgang Reinicke, Dean, School of Public Policy, CEU
Very interesting to hear them talk about the implications of the marijuana legalization efforts in the U.S.
That’s the mantra we hear over and over from the apologists for bad policy like Kevin Sabet and Keith Humphreys.
Of course, this argument has so many holes in it you could drive a SWAT team through it.
- Most marijuana cases are handled at the
city or state level, not federal local level, so federal prison isn’t relevant [nor is state].
- Possession is an extremely imprecise term. If you possess enough so you don’t have to go to a criminal dealer every week, you’re considered a criminal dealer yourself, and if the small amount you posses happens to have roots attached to it, you’re a kingpin.
- The larger argument that this statement is part of (the status quo just needs some tweaking) assumes that the way to fix a bad law is to simply convince authorities to enforce it less stringently, which is bad policy and ends up turning our justice system into some kind of nationally sanctioned Russian roulette. (Who gets caught and has their life ruined and who gets to be President?)
Additionally, you don’t have to go to jail to have your life ruined, as thousands upon thousands can attest.
Harmandeep Singh Boparai has an outstanding article: America: What’s more harmful, pot use or incarceration? in the Alaska Dispatch.
In it, he talks about lots of real life people where a simple arrest with no jail time for marijuana possession has callously and thoughtlessly ruined lives.
Definitely worth reading. Preferably by those who mindlessly chant the title to this blog post.
A couple of days ago, I tweeted the following:
.@RafaelONDCP @ONDCP @KevinSabet What do you propose for majority of non-problematic marijuana users? Arrest? Mandatory treatment? Other?
Naturally, I got no response.
And this is one of the most glaring problems with the third-way-ers. Sure, the notion of treatment instead of jail for those who need treatment is a good one. But that doesn’t let you off the hook for the vast majority who don’t need treatment and who are damaged by arrest more than the drug use.
You seem to want us to believe that your policy talents are so limited that you are incapable of crafting policy and law that is narrowly tailored.
Well, then, step aside and let some people take over who can.
Note: Just as a reminder, this post is only talking about the demand side. The third-way-ers also have a huge blind spot when it comes to the supply-side devastation we face throughout the world.