Friday, January 29, 2010

Questions surround nominee to head DEA, Michele Leonhart

The Obama Administration is nominating Michele Leonhart to be the next Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the U.S. Justice Department. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee must not rubberstamp this nomination! The Obama Administration does not have a record of adequate vetting its nominations. As explained below, Leonhart's career is linked to the career of perjury by the DEA's singular informant, Andrew Chambers, who is estimated to have taken home $ 4 million in payout for his undercover work!

Leonhart has been with DEA about 30 years. DEA's publicists have planted a laudatory story in her old hometown paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

However, back in 2003 DrugWarRant painted a very disturbing portrait of her career to that point, relying upon a 5000 word investigative report by Michael D. Sorkin And Phyllis Brasch Librach in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published January 16, 2000, republished here, into the widespread use by DEA agents of a super-informant named Andrew Chambers who, many courts and prosecutors, found committed perjury throughout his career. DEA regulations require that reports of informant misconduct be included in files on informants, but such records were never kept, and prosecutors were misled about Chambers's record for arrests and convictions. The chronology of the the careers of informant Chambers and agent Leonhart were closely entwined in St. Louis and Los Angeles. It stretches imagination that Leonhart, the supervisory DEA agent, was not closely following the activities of the DEA's single most valuable informant, ever! Is it mere coincidence that they both moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles at about the same time?

Leonhart's impassioned defense of Chambers is quite strikingly the conclusion of the Post-Dispatch story about Chambers $4 million estimated payout for his informant career. It follows the dramatic, pathetic transcript of an argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit at which Chambers's perjury is being conceded by a Federal prosecutor, and at which the prosecutor suggests that no one in the Department of Justice has the power to stop similar miscarriages of justice by informant perjury:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Wolfe was having a rough day. He was trying to explain to a panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., why the government had failed to tell the defense in a murder-for-hire case about Chambers' arrests and convictions.

Once again, as he had been hundreds of times before, Chambers was the paid informant. Once again, the government had depended upon his information, this time to convince a judge to issue an order for a wiretap.

Wolfe never told the trial judge about Chambers' background because, the prosecutor said, he hadn't known about it.

Addressing the appellate judges on Dec. 6, Wolfe sounded more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor. He began, . . . "What's not at issue is that the failure to disclose Chambers' background was a shameful dereliction of government duty. . . ."

Appellate Judge Alex Kozinski asked whether the wiretap would have been issued, "if the CI (confidential informant) is made out to be a total liar, as he has, and as you say he should have been."

Wolfe said it was clear that the drug agents never put any damaging reports into Chambers' file -- even though DEA regulations require it.

Kozinski: "So maybe we should just vacate the conviction here, just to give them a sense to do better the next time."

Wolfe: ". . . I'm not here to defend for a moment the past carelessness and recklessness and probably deliberate failure to put the bad news about Andrew Chambers into the informant file. . . .
". . . I'm not defending him. He's undefendable."
The judges asked how such abuses could be prevented in the future. Could they depend upon the head of the Justice Department's criminal division?
Wolfe: "No, I don't imagine. . . ."
Maybe the deputy attorney general then?
Wolfe: "I don't imagine that even she is."
Well, then, what about the attorney general herself?
Wolfe: "I don't imagine that Attorney General (Janet) Reno is capable of guaranteeing no repetition. . . ."
Soon after the hearing, lawyers at Justice agreed, belatedly, to open up all the damaging information the government has collected about Chambers.

Is it time to stop using Chambers?
"That would be a sad day for DEA," said Leonhart, the head of DEA's Los Angeles office. "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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will consider her nomination.
They must inquire into whether Leonhart knew about Chambers perjury and tolerated it. They must inquire into whether Leonhart's street reputation was that she, or the agents who reported to her, tolerated perjury by witnesses.

Under federal law, the longest sentences that are routinely imposed in criminal cases are for drug offenses. The consequences of perjury in drug cases are devastating to the accused. Half of the prisoners in the Federal prison system are there serving sentences for drug offenses, and informants affidavits and testimony are the key to the investigation and prosecution of those individuals.

The Senate must not signal to DEA agents, and its witnesses around the nation, that it tolerates perjury by not thoroughly investigation this nominee.

The Obama Administration, unfortunately, cannot be assumed to have carefully vetted this nomination any more carefully than it did for higher profile nominations in 2009 in which failures to pay taxes, for example, were undiscovered.

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Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Anonymous said...

Discovered you through Dean Becker when you so kindly interviewed with him on 31 January 10 on his radio show Cultural Baggage.
Fascinating Mr. Sterling and now maybe I can truly start to understand all the political jargon out there through the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation web site and this blog.

In particular, I am most curious with who will head the committee on Senator Jim Webbs bill and the outcome.

Thanks so much, Lea