Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dallas fake-drug informant shows how 'cooperation' benefits can promote crime

The main informant involved in the Dallas fake-drug scandal, Enrique Martinez Alonso, served five years for his role collaborating with Dallas narcotics officers to set up two-dozen innocent people, then was deported in 2007. Now, reports Jason Trahan in the Dallas News ("Police informant in Dallas' fake-drug scandal faces prison time for counterfeiting," Nov. 29), he's been arrested again in the Dallas area on charges of distributing counterfeit money to undercover federal agents:

A crooked former Dallas police narcotics informant has moved from fake drugs to fake dollars.

In 2001, Enrique Martinez Alonso was among a group of Dallas police snitches who bought pool chalk in bulk, packaged it to look like cocaine and planted it on Hispanic immigrants who were then arrested by narcotics officers.

The scandal was among the most damaging in Dallas police history. It led to firings, demotions and jail time for one of the detectives involved. The city paid millions in settlements to wrongly accused Hispanic immigrants.

After serving about five years in custody for state and federal convictions, Alonso was deported in 2007. The next year, he was back in North Texas, selling fake cash to undercover federal agents.

Alonso has pleaded guilty to counterfeiting and immigration charges. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay could sentence him to 20 years during a hearing Monday.

"It's sad," said Dan Hagood, the special prosecutor who investigated the fake-drug scandal. "He had many opportunities to learn his lesson. And, frankly, his sentences in his earlier convictions were much less because of his cooperation with the federal government. Taking this second opportunity to commit more crimes of a similar nature is unfortunate."

Unfortunate, to say the least. Snitching kept this crook in business. He was allegedly paid more than $200,000 in informant fees as part of the fake-drug stings (though it's been speculated Alonso didn't receive all that money and Dallas police officers may have been skimming).

Dallas police tolerated Alonso's crimes, including involvement in the drug trade, while he set up 24 innocent people over period of many months. Then he received a sentence from the feds that was "much less" than federal sentencing guidelines in exchange for "cooperation." By contrast:
His brother, Daniel, who worked with him as an informant [in the fake-drug cases], received 20 years. In all, officials say, former Dallas narcotics Detective Mark Delapaz paid six crooked informants $440,000 in police funds for their fake drug tips.
Enrique was always portrayed by the media and officialdom as the main informant working with Delapaz (and the seven other officers who allegedly faked field tests claiming Alonso's drugs were real), so it's somewhat shocking to learn he received a sentence only 25% of his brother's. That's a steep discount for his second stint as an informant - this time against his co-conspirators and police "handlers." This fellow keeps being compensated for snitching on others - by Dallas police, by the feds - even when he appears to be at the center of the criminal activity in question. Indeed, who thinks that, if there's anybody available to roll on, Alonso won't again seek cooperation benefits in his current federal case, either now or once he's in prison?

Alexandra Natapoff has argued that snitching promotes crime, either because it's knowingly tolerated by authorities (in one notorious, recent instance Dallas Sheriff's deputies allowed an informant to help pull off an armed robbery without intervening) or by reducing sentences for criminals who inform. Mr. Alonso's case is a prime example. Counterfeiting is a major crime. It's not that easy to print fake money and he put together this scheme just two short years after his deportation. He seems to be a much bigger crook than anybody Dallas PD ever used him to target.


Anonymous said...

The no-snitchin message has been delivered by rap songs and by the actions of celebrities; 50 witnesses to the murder of a bodyguard for rapper Busta Rhymes have refused to cooperate with police, including Rhymes himself. The murders of rappers Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Run DMC's Jam Master Jay have all gone unsolved for similar reasons.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:34: I'm not a fan of the "stop snitching" meme because it too often conflates "snitch" with "witness." To me a snitch is somebody who, either for pay or reduced culpability for their own crimes, becomes an active agent of the police or prosecution. They provide information in exchange for avoiding arrest or a reduced sentence, not out of some sense of civic duty. By contrast, the "stop snitching" folks and the Hip Hop crowd have sometimes used the slogan as a means of intimidating uninvolved witnesses who were not accomplices.(See past Grits posts on the 'stop snitching' phenomenon.)

The issues raised in this post speak more to the consequences of police decisions to ignore criminal behavior in exchange for (frequently unreliable) information. Accomplices who are "incentivized" to give testimony (whether through pay or prosecutorial leniency) raise a different set of thorny issues compared to victims and uninvolved witnesses. The stop snitching "movement" is a dumb idea, but so too is the notion that paying a sleazebag criminal $200K to make drug cases won't inevitably turn out disastrously badly.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you said:
"First, three years ago after I began writing about this topic, a friend bought me a "Stop Snitching" t-shirt from a vendor here in Austin. I don't wear it much..."

You don't wear it much? How often - once a week, once a month or just to political events?

Anonymous said...

Grits can't be bothered with little things like consistency.

Anonymous said...

The press coverage of the fake drug scandal was terribly censored. I did some searching for it a few months ago and found, surprisingly, that the incident has been largely sanitized on the web. The only sources that come up easily seem to suggest the entire affair was due solely to the informant, when the facts are that one of the cops was even convicted and the fact that more were involved was obvious. The missing money is never mentioned.

That case had far reaching implications because it capitalized on the fact that the "purity" of a controlled substance is not relevant under the law for purposes of computing possession quantities. What they planted on the victims was chalk -- it had no usable amount of cocaine in it. It wouldn't get anyone high. But the fact that it contained trace amounts that yielded positive test results made the full weight of the chalk into "cocaine" for legal possession purposes. This precedent is still in effect and is fertile ground for serious injustice. If you dump an ounce of a substance into a fifty gallon drum of water, then you are in possession of fifty gallons of the substance rather than the ounce. The law is totally blind to the facts of dilution and concentration, and the prosecutors capitalize on that. Whenever law chooses to ignore facts of physics, nothing but injustice can result.

I am not sure I buy into the "no snitch" philosophy in total. If we are a society based on laws, then we should be able to tell the truth to authorities. It shouldn't be a bad thing. The abuses would be addressed at the level at which they occur, such as cases like this. It was the police who did this. There was no real snitching involved.

If we take the attitude that it is wrong to tell the truth, then we are going down a blind alley. The result is to hand control of everything over to organized crime. I don't want gangs or the mob deciding what I can say and what I can't.

Hook Em Horns said...

No one in Texas justice is concerned with the truth, that's how we got to where we are.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, 3:09, a friend bought me one of those shirts after I'd been writing about the topic for a while. I didn't buy it myself and I assume it was given with the same sense of irony with which I accepted it. I've occasionally worn it around the house when I'm low on laundry. But it doesn't express a political view I support. If you want to know my actual views on the subject instead of just pulling quotes out of context, see here.

4:14: Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

5:00: I don't espouse any "no snitch" philosophy if by that you mean witnesses shouldn't come forward to report crimes. As you point out, that's not the same as what's going on when police tolerate criminality in exchange for information.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a large network of individuals who inflict an unrelenting verbal pounding upon police officers. We see this in the media, by bloggers and many others who promote a contemptuous attitude towards those who put their lives on the line to try to maintain a bit of order in our mean streets.

While bloggers by themselves are not responsible, could this unrelenting one sided anti-police cacophony be contribiting to the increasing number of assaults upon police officers? What happened in Washington state yesterday is a case in point.

Anonymous said...

"We see this in the media, by bloggers and many others who promote a contemptuous attitude towards those who put their lives on the line to try to maintain a bit of order in our mean streets."

No. What we see in the media is the press and bloggers pointing out instances where those who have taken an oath to uphold the law have, instead, decided that they are above it. And, too add insult to that injury, there's little desire among police and prosecutors to pursue cases against police and prosecutors who choose to cross the line.

I respect law enforcement officers and the fact that they're willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of justice. But that doesn't give them a free pass to bend and break the law.

Anonymous said...

Who says Grits is unrelenting? Who says Grits is one sided?

Anonymous said...

What We Have Become

Anonymous said...

8:41 - what does that have to do with anything? Was the Washington state shooter a police informant?

Anonymous said...

I agree that policing can and should be a respectable occupation, 07:28:00 PM, but I think you are using some rather dated and quite inaccurate arguments. First, as shown by earlier statistics on this blog, policing isn't -- as jobs go -- all that dangerous. Sure, there are isolated incidents like the one today, which the press blows up into "the norm". It is far from "the norm". It is highly unusual. How many other people were killed on the job today? I bet that would make this event look quite mild.

The argument that these people are risking life and limb more so than the rest of the working public on a daily basis, and thus should be protected from all criticism and heaped upon with unusual honors and unconditional respect, is just plain wrong. It is hype, and it is part of the authoritarian backlash hype that characterized the conservative movement. Police in our society are something of a necessary hazard. We are a people who by nature distrust and demand accountability of government authority, and there isn't much more raw form of government authority than police. As Americans, we have a right to question what police do and how they do it. Otherwise, we become a totalitarian police state. Stop with your worn-out shaming of Americans for doing what Americans are obliged to do by virtue of our Constitution. If you want to live in a place where government police rule, demand respect and reverence, and are beyond criticism, move to a dictatorship.

Second, your claim that the media trashes police is the same old "liberal media" argument that has been called out and discredited numerous times since the conservatives first started making that argument. There is no "liberal media". The mainstream media defers heavily to police authority, opting most often to tell only the official side of any story. They participate and encourage the public to do the same kind of blind-trust honor heaping that you say we should be doing. As usual, only liberal bloggers tell the other side. Since the police have enjoyed almost total and unlimited support by the mainstream media throughout the conservative movement, the only place the other side can be heard is on liberal blogs. If you want to hear only the police version, turn off your computer and turn on the TV.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

There is no "liberal media".

11/29/2009 10:06:00 PM
Yes, there is.

Anonymous said...

Boyness, please give us some directions to this liberal media. I'm starved for it.

Anonymous said...

"It's not that easy to print fake money and he put together this scheme just two short years after his deportation."

Deported? I thought illegal immigration and a porous border were not problems.

Anonymous said...

9:49 it has nothing to do with the article but more to do with another example of the violent country we have become, something too that "no snitching" promotes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:58, I've not only never said that, I've repeatedly said the opposite. Our immigration policy needs reform and border security is largely a failed endeavor. The old strategies haven't worked - this guy is evidence of that.

7:02: If it has nothing to do with the article, that's called "trolling."

Anonymous said...

I am the victim of Harris County Justice and an informant being used to entrap me. I proved this in pretrial hearings on a Criminal Solicitation For Capital Murder charge and still wrongfully went to prison. I am the only person in the history of this country to be granted entrapment by a judge in Houston,Texas.I know more about this law in this state and what it does to keep the people together thinking their way like a heard of sheep. That is all the people of Texas are, sheep being lead to a cage in the name of justice and protecting society. What fools we really are. If you understood the mind of a snitch you would never allow them to be in bed with law enforcement. Oh! I forgot though. In this state our law enforcement and justice system are the real criminals

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote: What they planted on the victims was chalk -- it had no usable amount of cocaine in it. It wouldn't get anyone high. But the fact that it contained trace amounts that yielded positive test results made the full weight of the chalk into "cocaine" for legal possession purposes.

Actually, the evidence in these cases found that the police officers were lying when they claimed to have tested these seized substances in the field. The scheme finally unraveled when lab tests began indicating that the drugs weren't real. The detectives were paying the informants for every seized kilo, so there was a financial incentive to bulk up the fake drugs.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11/30/2009 10:46:00 AM wrote:

"Actually, the evidence in these cases found that the police officers were lying when they claimed to have tested these seized substances in the field."

I don't doubt that for a minute. I am sure they lied about any number of things, as they were obviously on the take and the whole affair was dirty.

What I know is that the press at the time reported that the material was primarily "gypsum" with a small amount of real cocaine mixed in. That is where my point comes in. If that was the case, then any subsequent lab analysis which showed that the concentration of cocaine was minimal simply served to raise a red flag for further investigation. That is, someone who wasn't in on it decided that the fact that the material had only trace amounts of drug raised their suspicions to investigate further, because it obviously wouldn't make sense. But, that investigation would not be relevant to the original charges and convictions unless it was successful in uncovering evidence that it was a setup. As far as the law for prosecuting the possession charge, if it wasn't shown to be a setup, my understanding is that the full bulk of the material is considered "cocaine" for purposes of determining the quantity in the prosecution. That is a fact, as far as I know, and that is still how it is done.

It becomes important in cases where people possess pharmaceutical preparations that have large quantities of fillers and non-controlled drugs in which a relatively smaller quantity of a controlled substance is embedded (such as pain pills that have 5 milligrams of narcotic and 500 mg of tylenol, along with fillers). When the prosecutor presents the charge, the quantity of "narcotic" which the person is charged with possessing is simply the weight of the pills in total -- period. The law specifically avoids allowance for computing the amount of actual controlled substance in the bulk weight. Because of that, even prescription drugs with very small quantities of narcotics end up weighing enough to qualify for "trafficking" charges, and states routinely charge people in that way. My understanding is that the official guidelines for making this "error" is either established case law or is expressly spelled out in statutes. That is, the law at this time is that 1 ounce of a controlled substance dissolved in 50 pounds of water is 50 pounds of controlled substance. In fact, there was a recent prosecution of someone for possession of "bong water" where that precedent was tested and was upheld.

Anonymous said...

The Dallas Morning News articles states that:

"He wasn't immediately arrested. While federal agents worked the case, Mesquite police arrested Alonso in December for stealing boots from Sears at Town East Mall. He was released from the Dallas County Jail after 10 days on time served, records show."

Seems weird that a counterfeiter would steal a pair of boots, doesn't it?

Like you said, this guy might be a bigger criminal than thought, but my instincts tell me that he is a small-fry, down-the-chain in something bigger, and he is being "taken out"...