There's something fishy going on in Florida, a former Arkansas police chief had a pain pill issue, and a veteran Philly cop lets family ties get the best of him. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Brooksville, Florida, two members of the Hernando County sheriff's drug and vice unit were put on leave last Wednesday after the sheriff's office opened a criminal investigation into unspecified activities in the unit. The department is being tight-lipped; it will not release the names of the two under suspicion, nor will it release any further information until the investigation is completed.
In Harrisburg, Arkansas, the former Trumann police chief pleaded guilty last Wednesday to seeking pain pills from an officer in the department who is charged with stealing them from the evidence room. Former Chief Tony Rusher copped to one count of obtained a controlled substance by fraud in a plea deal that spares him prison time if he testifies against former Detective Erik Willbanks in the case. Willbanks has pleaded innocent and said that Rusher asked him for pain pills that were set to be destroyed.
In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was found guilty Monday of passing information about an ongoing drug investigation to his half-brother, an alleged member of a drug trafficking organization. Rafael Cordero, 52, a 23-year veteran of the department, tipped off his half-brother to a DEA surveillance camera monitoring drug activities at a Philadelphia garage, showed up at FBI and DEA drug raids and reported back to his half-brother, and stored drug money for him. He was convicted of obstructing justice and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Cops in the drug war this week are accused of stealing snitch money, lying to get search warrants, growing and peddling pot, and engaging in a little coke-smuggling. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Miami, a former TSA supervisor was indicted last Wednesday for helping to smuggle at least 11 pounds of cocaine through the Virgin Islands. Dwight Durant, 44, is accused of conspiring with another Virgin Islands resident to traffic cocaine during the first eight months of 2012. He is charged with participating in a trafficking conspiracy and is looking at 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
In Buffalo, New York, a Buffalo police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was growing and selling marijuana. James Hamilton, Jr., went down after he sold $1,100 worth of weed to a snitch. He was then arrested, and a subsequent search of his home revealed a grow op with 82 plants and four pounds of processed weed. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana; manufacturing and possession with intent to distribute 50 or more marijuana plants; maintaining a premises for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing marijuana; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He's looking at between five years and life in prison.
In New Orleans, two New Orleans police detectives were indicted last Friday on charges they conspired to steal thousands of dollars in funds that were earmarked for paying confidential informants. Rafael Dobard, 39, and Quincy Jones, 33, had been assigned to the Fourth District Narcotics Unit. They also got nailed for falsifying time sheets, and Dobard is also charged with paying bribes to other detectives in the unit. They are both on emergency suspension.
In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested last Friday for lying to obtain a search warrant in a drugs and guns case. Thomas Wilson III, a 19-year veteran, is accused of lying when he said he saw a suspect leaving a home carrying a black bag. Wilson also had earlier problems with truthfulness; in 2003, a federal judge said an affidavit he filed in a case was packed with "knowing lies" and threw the case out. Then, he got a short suspension; now, he is charged with perjury and official misconduct.
A quiet week on the corrupt cops front this week. We've got a pill-poppin' New England trooper stealing from the dead and a former New Orleans cop caught trying to peddle dope. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a former state trooper rejected a plea bargain and will instead face trial on charges he stole money and property from a motorcyclist killed in a traffic accident. Former Trooper Aaron Huntsman turned down a plea bargain that would have seen him do a year in jail, but now faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Huntsman claimed he was strung out on prescription pain pills when he committed the theft, which was caught on his cruiser's camera, and he went into treatment after his arrest.
In New Orleans, a former New Orleans police officer pleaded not guilty Wednesday to violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. Jason Cross was arrested November 1 on charges he conspired to sell drugs in January. Federal prosecutors filed a bill of information rather than an indictment against Cross, suggesting that he is cooperating with prosecutors. He is looking at up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted on the current charges.
A dirty cop in Philly costs convictions, two abusive Border Patrol agents get sent away, and we have a trifecta of crooked jail guards. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Philadelphia, a state court judge threw out 53 convictions tainted by a corrupt cop last Friday. Common Pleas Supervising Court Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper threw out the convictions, which involved former Philadelphia police officer Jeffrey Walker, who was arrested by the FBI in May on charges he plotted with a government informant to rob drug dealers. In at least one incident, Walker stopped a suspect's vehicle, planted drugs, and then arrested the suspect. He and a confederate then stole $15,000 from the man's house. The city is also paying out massive settlements in lawsuits bought by Walker's victims, including many who served prison time after being framed in court, they claimed.
In Donaldsonville, Louisiana, an Elayne Hunt Correctional Center guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he was trying to smuggle drugs into the jail. Daron Toussant, Sr. was the object of an internal investigation at the jail, which led to a search of his home, which in turn led to the seizure of marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, and a handgun. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoid, illegal carrying of a weapon, and conspiracy to introduce contraband to a penal facility.
In Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, a Blair County Prison guard was arrested last Saturday after being caught bringing drugs to work. Fred Zigler, 27, went down after showing up with Oxycontin, Oxycodone, and acetaminophen tablets. He is charged with possession with intent to deliver and other drug charges.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, a Charlotte Correctional Institution guard was arrested Tuesday after investigators in an unrelated case saw him selling pain pills to another man. Brian Paul McAvoy, 28, was arrested at work, where he was found to be carrying a pain pill. He is charged with sale an delivery of a controlled substance, introduction of contraband into a correctional facility, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
In Tucson, Arizona, two former Border Patrol agents were sentenced Wednesday to serve two years each in federal prison for mistreating suspected marijuana smugglers. Former agents Dario Costillo, 25, and Ramon Zuniga, 31, went down for a 2008 incident in which they descended on a smugglers' encampment in the desert, but only managed to capture four of 20 smugglers. They forced the unlucky men to chew handfuls of marijuana and flee shoeless into the chilly desert. They were convicted of violating the four men's civil rights. Castillo was looking at up to 40 years and Zuniga, who was convicted of misdemeanors, was looking at up to four years.
Special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, email@example.com. This is Part 8 in his continuing series of stories about prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption in the drug war.
In an unusual recent case, the US 4th Circuit Appeals Court overturned a conviction in a crack cocaine case despite the defendant having pleaded guilty. The case involving Baltimore drug dealer Cortez Leon Fisher was not overturned because the plea agreement was coerced or not voluntary -- the usual standard -- but because it was based on the lies of a corrupt police officer.
[image:1 align:left]The case -- but not this tale -- began with an October 29, 2007 raid on Fisher's home executed by Baltimore police officer and DEA drug task force member Mark Lunsford. The search turned up crack cocaine and a loaded weapon. To avoid a decades-long stretch behind bars, Fisher copped a plea to one count of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Federal District Court Judge Frederick Motz then sentenced Fisher to 10 years in federal prison.
Fisher subsequently appealed to overturn his plea agreement after Lunsford was indicted on theft and perjury charges involving his use of bogus informants to falsely arrest and rip off drug dealers. In July 2010, the crooked cop got 20 months in federal prison for his crimes.
Lunsford's arrest and conviction uncovered a pattern of fabricating evidence to enrich police officers and selected informants, who received payments in cases in which they had not provided information. Reward money was fraudulently awarded to undeserving informants, and the proceeds were split between Lunsford and the snitches.
A search of Lunsford's home turned up jewelry belonging to alleged drug dealers and $46,000 in cash stolen from them. Federal prosecutors made no effort to return the stolen money to its rightful owners, but instead seized it for their own coffers.
But it gets worse. Lunsford also had a long history with Fisher and some of his family members, whom he had previously arrested on drug charges, some of which had been dismissed. In this light, Lunsford's pursuit of Fisher takes on the appearance of a personal vendetta.
When Fisher discovered that Lunsford had been indicted for perjury and theft in 2009, he wrote a pro se appeal to the judge who sentenced him, requesting that his guilty plea be vacated. But Judge Motz demurred.
Judge Fredrik Motz "Unquestionably if the defendant had known of Lunsford's misconduct he would have filed a motion to suppress, and the motion may well have been successful," Motz wrote in denying the appeal. Nevertheless, "the defendant does not deny he was in possession of a firearm (as he admitted under oath during his Rule 11).Under these circumstances, I cannot find that a failure to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea would result in a 'miscarriage of justice.'"
Fisher appealed that decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his appeal, Fisher wrote that Lunsford "set me up and arrested me unlawfully." The informant in the case, Fisher said in the appeal, "never gave Lunsford information concerning drug activities at Fisher's home." Citing prior arrests of Fisher by Lunsford years ago, the appeal went on to say that after Lunsford arrested Fisher in 2007 in the current case, "the officer returned to my apartment later, stole a safe containing all my jewelry specifically numerous diamonds with blue and red design, including a diamond watch."
The 4th Circuit overturned the trial judge. The key question for the court was whether a police officer's misrepresentations of facts invalidated a guilty plea under the due process clause. The court noted that in order to invalidate a plea, the defendant must show that egregious impermissible conduct preceded the entry of the plea and that the misconduct influenced the defendant's decision to plead guilty.
While one member of the three-judge panel voted to dismiss Fisher's appeal, arguing that "natural reaction of extreme distaste to Lunsford's criminal act does not instantaneously transform Fisher's guilty plea into some form of due process violation that permits him now to withdraw his plea," his was a dissenting opinion.
Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd disagreed. Lunsford's lies influenced Fisher to cop a plea and his perjury "undermined the entire proceedings, thus rendering the defendant's pleas involuntary, and violated his due process rights," they wrote. "A plea based on law enforcement fraud is invalid even if the person is guilty," the court held in its ruling in the case.
Cortez Fisher is still behind bars, waiting to see if the US Attorney's Office in Maryland will dismiss his case. Meanwhile, Lunford, the dirty cop, has already been released from prison, as have other defendants caught up in Lunsford's perjury and bogus search warrants.
Fisher was scheduled to appear in court on October 25th to resolve the matter, but a court clerk told the Chronicle a new date has not been announced yet. Fisher's attorney, Marta Khan, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment about the matter.
"I was supposed to be home like the other people that they let go behind Lunsford's lies but I believe the feds will try to recharge me," Fisher told the Chronicle in a letter from prison."But I am ready for a new trial since I have all this new evidence."
Cop v. Drug Dealer
Baltimore police officer Mark Lunsford despised drug dealer Cortez Fisher. Their adversarial history stretches years to when Lunsford rode patrol near Baltimore's notorious Murphy Homes Project, where Fisher and his brother called "Midget" sold drugs, according to court documents.
Between 1993 and 2004, Lunsford's aggressive efforts to rid the crime-ridden community of drug dealers helped fellow narcotics officers make some of the cases against Fisher, including one particular case in 1999 when Fisher faced charges for armed marijuana trafficking.
In 2001, Fisher picked up another drug case, but was never convicted. Doggedly pursuing Fisher, Lunsford finally nailed him in 2004 on drug trafficking and a weapons charge filed in federal court. Fisher immediately copped a plea to serve 36 months in prison.
After finishing serving the 36 months, Fisher got nailed again on drug charges by Lunsford, this time costing him another 12 months behind bars. But Lunsford wasn't through yet.
In a search warrant affidavit dated October 29, 2007, Lunsford wrote that he received reliable information from a snitch that Fisher was selling drugs out of his house. Then, based on that false report, Lunsford claimed he personally saw Fisher sell drugs from his car. It was all a lie.
Court records filed in Fisher's case include a redacted FBI document dated October 23, 2009, where Lunsford admits that he fabricated source information in Fisher's and numerous other narcotics cases that sent citizens to prison. Lunsford told FBI agent that, fully aware of Fisher's involvement in the drug trade, he had lied when he said the informant he had named in the affidavit was the source of his information about Fisher.
Fisher may well have had a career as a drug dealer, but as the 4th Circuit noted, "even the guilty can suffer a miscarriage of justice."
Cortez Fisher remains imprisoned as he awaits word on what prosecutors will do. In the worst case, he will stay there until 2017. Meanwhile, the crooked cop whose perjurious information led to Fisher's arrest and subsequent plea bargain is a free man, not on parole, and not in the clutches of the criminal justice system.
For the guy from the mean streets of Baltimore, there is nothing left to do except to start over -- again.
"They took everything I had," he explained.
We took a week off from the Corrupt Cops stories, but the corrupt cops sure didn't. Here's a rather lengthy list of backlogged law enforcement miscreants. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Philadelphia, five Philadelphia police narcotics officers are under investigation for allegedly breaking into a woman's home and stealing valuables. The officers from the 24th District Narcotics Unit are being investigated by Internal Affairs. Witnesses saw the officers breaking in the home, they didn't have a warrant, and the homeowner filed a report the next morning. Some items stolen from the home were found at 24th District headquarters. The unnamed officers have been put on administrative leave pending investigation results.
In Fort Worth, Texas, a Fort Worth narcotics supervisor was arrested October 23 for allegedly stealing a pair of Air Jordan shoe during a failed drug raid the week before. Sgt. Antoine Williams was seen carrying the shoes out of the home that was raided, and his home was then raided by the department's Special Investigations Section the following days. The Air Jordans were recovered, and Williams is now on restricted duty. The raid victim, Marquis Green, said, "They didn't find no drugs in the house at all. They just took shoes that I ain't never wore. They is the bad guys, really. They just got a badge on their side; that's the only thing."
In New York City, an NYPD narcotics detective was arrested last Tuesday for giving two different sworn accounts of arresting an accused PCP dealer in East Harlem. Detective Abel Joseph, 39, first testified that he and his team had never lost sight of their target, but later testified that they had. He also claimed first that he was unable to find the alleged drug buyers, then later claimed that he had stopped and searched them, but found no drugs. The charges against the alleged dealer have been dismissed. Joseph is charged with felony perjury.
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, a former La Crosse police officer was formally charged last Wednesday in an August drug sting that led to his arrest and resignation. Former Lt. Brian Thompson is charged with possession of narcotics without a prescription. He went down after superiors noticed he was spending time in the evidence room outside the course of his normal duties and stung him by giving him a duffel bag containing fake Oxycontin pills and telling him to book it into evidence. He did, but the fake pills were missing. He later admitted taking and consuming them. He's looking at up to 3 ½ years in prison.
In Winthrop, Massachusetts, a Winthrop auxiliary police officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly dealing drugs in uniform and from his Auxiliary Police cruiser on several occasions. Officer Bledar Naco was arrested by the FBI, Winthrop and Revere police and faces currently unspecified charges.
In Cumberland, Maryland, an Allegheny County jail guard was arrested last Thursday after buying Oxycontin in a drug sting. William Smith, 26, went down after jail administrators received information he was involved in smuggling drugs into the jail. He is charged with conspiracy of a controlled dangerous substance possession with intent to distribute, conspiracy of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to deliver in a place of confinement, and other offenses.
In New Orleans, a New Orleans police officer was arrested last Friday for getting involved in the cocaine trade. Officer Jason Cross is charged in federal court with possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. The incident allegedly took place January 10 in Jefferson Parish. Cross resigned from the department the day of his arrest.
In Burlington, Vermont, a US Customs officer was arrested last Friday for stealing prescription drugs from vehicles he searched at the Canadian border. Christopher Vanzandt, 28, didn't get busted at work, but instead went to a house police were watching in a heroin investigation, broke into the garage, and stole some heroin hidden in WD-40 cans. That's when he was arrested. A subsequent search of his vehicle revealed the stolen pills. He was charged in state court with burglary and drug possession, but those charges will likely be dropped so he can be arraigned in federal court.
In Littleton, Colorado, a Littleton police officer pleaded guilty last Monday to planning to sell Ecstasy pills. Jeffrey Allan Johnston, 46, went down last summer after the FBI learned he was selling Ecstasy out of his home. He was arrested after buying 37 pills and 6.3 grams of powder Ecstasy from an undercover officer in July. Police also found cocaine, steroids, hundreds of prescription pills, and various weapons when they searched his home. He pleaded guilty to one count of possessing Ecstasy with intent to distribute and one count of being a prohibited person in possession of firearms. He is scheduled to be sentenced by US District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer in February and is looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.
In Montclair, New Jersey, a Montclair police officer was convicted October 10 of being involved in an interstate marijuana sales operation. Anes Hadziefejzovic was accused of accompanying loads of marijuana from Maryland to New Jersey and was convicted of conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana.
In Stillwater, Minnesota, a former Washington County sheriff's deputy was convicted Monday of stealing drugs from a locked pharmaceutical drop box in the county government building. Ricky Harry Gruber, 43, was found guilty of misconduct by a public employee and illegal possession of prescription drugs. He got caught on video removing the secure drug drum from the box and was arrested when he came back with it minutes later. He admitted having stolen the key to the secure area and taking the drugs.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Little Rock police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to nearly nine years in prison on drug trafficking charges. Mark Jones and fellow officer Randall Robinson were arrested in June and charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana. Jones went immediately from court to jail.
In Oxford, Mississippi, a former Water Valley police officer was sentenced last Thursday to one year in prison for taking money from a drug trafficker in return for information about law enforcement. John David Hernandez, 35, had pleaded guilty to one count of extortion under color of official right, one count of money laundering, and one count of obstruction of a federal investigation.
A hard-partying Colorado cop calls it a career, a DC cop launders a bit of drug money, a North Carolina narc gets caught with her fingers in the jar, and a retired cop uses his old badge and cop plates to sling dope. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Littleton, Colorado, a Littleton police officer resigned Monday as he prepared to plead guilty to charges related to his purchase of $1,300 worth of Ecstasy from a confidential informant in July. Jeffrey Allan Johnston, a 22-year veteran of the department, was also accused of holding parties in his home, where investigators found cocaine, steroids, prescription pills by the hundred, cash, and guns. He is expected to plead guilty to one count of prohibited person in possession of a firearm and one count of possession with intent to distribute. His court date is set for October 28.
In Washington, DC, a DC Metro police officer was arrested last Friday on charges she helped to launder drug money. Officer Stephanie Ellison, 49, went down for allegedly conspiring to buy high-end sports cars and a Harley Davidson motorcycle with drug proceeds in a bid to conceal the money. She's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison, but for now remains on administrative leave with pay.
In Greenville, North Carolina, a former Greenville narcotics detective pleaded guilty last Thursday to three counts related to stealing thousands of dollars in drug money seized during investigations she conducted. Rose Edmonds copped to three counts altering, destroying, or stealing evidence. She was fired after being arrested in February. She was sentenced to at least six months in prison on each count, with the sentences to run consecutively, but the judge suspended her sentence unless she misbehaves anew.
In Norristown, Pennsylvania, a retired Norristown police officer was sentenced last Thursday to at least 17 years in prison for selling meth and prescription pills and using his old police badge and license plate as cover. Jack Pennington, 68, had pleaded guilty to 16 of 21 drug-related felonies after becoming the subject of an investigation by the Montgomery County Narcotics Enforcement Team. He went down as he went to meet his supplier at a local mall. Although he had retired at the time of his offenses, in our view, his use of his old police badge and plates qualifies him for mention here.