DEA Fails, But Can Jamie Hunt Be Trusted To Fix It?

They can’t be pleased when Mike Horowitz stops by.  He’s no fun to hang out with. He’s not much of a raconteur. And he’s not on their team. Hell, the FBI won’t even let him in the door. Horowitz is the Inspector General of the Department of Justice and, I must say, it’s a good thing he is, even if nobody wants to have a beer with Mike.

And when it comes to shit the DEA pulls, Horowitz isn’t shy.

When a DEA task force cop hung himself in his jail cell, it focused attention on how it was possible that our highly respected, very official Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t know that he was scarfing drugs off the top of seizures so he could sell them on the side for some walking around money. Tim Cushing writes:

Let’s start out with this story, which is graphically (and tragically) illustrative of the problem discussed later in this post.

A former police detective and Drug Enforcement Agency task force member committed suicide after being arrested for allegedly setting up drug sales involving substances seized by his department, WBNS-TV reported.

Authorities said 43-year-old Tye Downard hung himself inside his cell on Monday morning. The 20-year veteran officer for the Reynoldsburg Police Department had been arrested on Feb. 18 and charged with possession of drugs with the intent to distribute.

WSYX-TV reported that Downard made nearly $35,000 from the transactions leading up to his arrest. He faced up to 20 years in prison as a result of the charges against him, and nearly 50 cases in which he was involved will be reviewed.

The DEA seems very concerned about controlled substances. Internal control of these substances? Not so much.

Schadenfreude aside, this sort of corruption isn’t supposed to happen. Not by a local-yokel dirty cop. Certainly not by a DEA task force cop. They’re given enormous latitude in the performance of their duties to save us from the plague of drugs. For the children. Their word alone, “his hand moved toward his waist,” is good enough to execute a human being. Certainly, we can trust them.

Horowitz doesn’t trust them.

A recent Inspector General’s audit found multiple problems with the DEA’s handling of seized drugs, the most egregious of which appears to be this particular aspect.

We reviewed the DEA-6s for 250 exhibits to determine whether the gross weight of the exhibit was documented as required by the DEA Agents Manual. We found the gross weight was not listed on the DEA-6 for 128 of the 250 exhibits.

Over 50% of those audited had no weight listed. The New York office was the worst of those sampled, with 80% of its seized evidence paperwork missing this crucial element.

Oh my, the New York office was the worst?  I’m shocked. Shocked! It’s unavoidable that one looks to the guy running the joint for explanation.  In New York, it happens to be this mutt.

Hunt

We had a special nickname for Jamie Hunt back when he was in DEA Group 33. It rhymed. With his last name.  And now he’s Special Agent in Charge.  Special indeed, given what happened in United States v. Lara, before now retired Judge Kenneth Conboy, who was no slouch when it came to being tough on defendants.

Yet, it wasn’t the defendants who got burned in that case, but Group 33 and Hunt in particular for being dirty.  The group was disbanded, not that it apparently mattered, given that Jamie Hunt, instead of a life picking up litter on the side of interstates, has been put in charge.

Now Mike Horowitz, who ironically was a Southern District of New York prosecutor back at the time this scandal happened, is Inspector General.  And the New York DEA keeps forgetting to log in the gross weight of seized drugs.

The OIG spoke to DEA supervisors about this missing info and received a shrug, a post facto promise to fix, and a statement almost too stupid to be believed.

One manager provided no explanation, another stated that the missing weights were an oversight that would be corrected, and the third manager informed us that he was not aware of the requirement to document the gross weight of the exhibit.

Oopsie. We bad.  There’s a reason why drugs are supposed to get logged in with the gross weight documented.  It prevents a dirty agent or cop from skimming drugs off the top for, you know, research projects.

Recording the weight is incredibly important. The above case — where an untold amount of drugs simply “walked out” of DEA evidence rooms — illustrates why the DEA must not only record this weight, but verify it periodically. But those in charge of maintaining the chain of custody seem less than concerned about their underlings’ failure to do so. It’s because of that attitude that a task force member was able to personally profit from the illegal sale of seized evidence.

The requirements established in the Agents Manual helps ensure the integrity of the exhibit for prosecution, minimize suspicions regarding the theft or loss of drugs during the seizure process, and provide a benchmark for future weight calculations.

It’s not that the government doesn’t trust its agents. It does. With a vengeance. And they still aren’t going to trust you, so get over it.  But all the officiousness that shows up in press conferences, congressional hearings and courtrooms, is belied by the fact that this is a keystone cops episode.

The OIG recommends the DEA start doing the thing it should have been doing 100% of the time already. The DEA concurs and will presumably correct it at the speed of bureaucracy. The problem is that this is obviously a systemic issue that has gone unaddressed for years. This lax handling of evidence should call into question the amounts cited during prosecution, not to mention any statements in court regarding the integrity of the evidence it supplies.

It’s nice of Horowitz to do his job and reveal publicly that the DEA isn’t doing its job.  Since the limit of his authority is to “recommend” that the DEA not fail miserably, that’s about all Mike can do.  And no doubt a promise by Jamie Hunt to stop being a screwup is a reliable solution.  After all, it’s not like he’s got history.

12 comments on “DEA Fails, But Can Jamie Hunt Be Trusted To Fix It?

  1. Patrick Maupin

    This seems like yet another of those things that is within the power of judges to fix.
    Sure, it’s too much to expect judges to man up and completely toss the evidence, but how many reductions from 2 kilos to 1/2 ounce would it take?

    1. SHG Post author

      The judge will never know that the seized weight was, in fact, X. He will only know what the witness says.

  2. PDB

    Shouldn’t there be some sort of exclusionary rule, like chain of custody, if everything is not documented 100% accurately?

    1. SHG Post author

      Chain of custody isn’t nearly as big a deal as people tend to think it is. Cop sends sealed Bag 102980453209 to lab. Lab pretends to analyze, then sends it back in new sealed bag with tag. Tag numbers match. Boom.

      1. macleod

        Oh, chain of custody is a very big deal. If the defense can prove a break in the link, that goes to credibility and has resulted in many dismissals. I’ve seen otherwise tight cases tossed because a piece of evidence wasn’t initialed, or because a tag wasn’t signed..perhaps federal prosecutors can push past that, but on the local level, it’s the kiss of death to a case..

          1. macleod

            You may have, and I missed it. Sorry. In every case in which I’ve testified, 200 or so, the prosecution has walked me through the entire chain of custody, on every exhibit, as does the defense, unless the defense is willing to stipulate. I’ve never seen that happen. That much time and attention to exhibits points to the importance of the chain of custody. I assume the agent’s manual of rules requires weights, as that is anticipated, for good reason, as a way to invalidate the arrest, and all subsequent events.
            Your blogpost doesn’t mention whether the failure to weigh has resulted in lost prosecutions. It may be that because plea bargains, immunity deals, and agreements to testify are so common at the federal level that the prosecutions haven’t been impacted.

  3. John Neff

    In addition to stealing the drugs to sell them are they also accepting bribes to disappear the evidence?

  4. maz

    It’s simply a case of placing the emphasis on the second part of ‘to protect and serve’ — because, while I can’t speak for the DEA’s product, the stuff we used to buy off the Oakland PD was always da bomb.

  5. macleod

    I always tell people that the DEA is just another ineffective bureaucracy that has law enforcement as an excuse for its existence. It’s all about climbing the career ladder, which in turn is about claiming credit, and avoiding blame. Oh, and getting more from congress every year, which is why every bust is gigantic and well publicized. The DEA isn’t interested in anything that weighs less than 100 lbs. This is particularly frustrating on the diversion side, where doctors write piles od opioid prescriptions, with no attention from DEA. Look how long it took for them to do anything about the pill mills in Florida. Florida, and Broward County had already done most of the work on dismantling them, when DEA came in and “bigfooted” them..

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