Collateral Damage

Posted: Sep 27, 2007 4:14 PM
Collateral Damage

Major recent drug busts — by authorities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border — have successfully disrupted drug cartel distribution efforts, resulting in a sharp decrease of drug supplies in several U.S. cities according to the DEA.

Meanwhile two Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, continue to serve prison sentences for attempting to apprehend a known convicted drug smuggler in February 2005, while the smuggler himself is a free man after receiving government immunity.

On the surface, these stories may appear to contradict each other — stepped-up government efforts in the war on drugs, porous borders and preferential government treatment for a drug smuggler — but to one law enforcement professional who recently contacted me, it all makes sense.

A veteran law enforcement professional, who states that for reasons of personal safety chooses at the moment to remain anonymous, told me he believes "Ramos and Compean wandered down the wrong road at the wrong time and found themselves involved in the middle of a much bigger government operation of some type."

"From day one I have believed, based upon how this case has been handled, the government chose to regard Ramos and Compean as collateral damage for the greater good of some bigger operation, as opposed to risk jeopardizing months and years of diligent hard work, millions of dollars of money invested and possibly exposing the names of other informants." He further states that he maintains relationships with law enforcement professionals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border who share his "collateral damage" conclusion, but are not yet willing to risk stepping forward publicly.

"First off, the integrity of the government's handling of this case is very suspicious to say the least. Just take a look at their star witness. There's something rotten in Denmark."

Indeed, curiously, the government's star witness was Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, the two-time convicted drug smuggler crossing the border illegally who Ramos-Compean had attempted to apprehend. Davila, age 26, has been running drugs from Mexico into the United States since he was 14.

T.J. Bonner, president of The National Border Patrol Council, told me, "The U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton built his own case almost entirely around one person's word. The word of a two-time loser who has been running drugs for 12 years and has no credibility. The U.S. Attorney chose to take the word of a drug smuggler over that of two sworn agents."

"Normally in these situations the government will cut a deal where the smuggler gets a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. But never do they allow someone to walk away completely scot-free as they did here."

Furthermore, after receiving government immunity to testify against the agents, Davila was later arrested (prior to the trial) with close to 750 pounds of marijuana in his possession. Says Mr. Bonner, "For some reason the U.S. Attorney fought like hell to suppress that evidence from being presented to the jury. A rationale person would say it is relevant to the credibility of the witness."

Added Mr. Bonner, "Clearly Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila is someone the drug cartels trusted. In total, he has been caught smuggling close to 1,500 pounds of marijuana in to the U.S. They simply don't give 1,500 pounds to someone unless there is a high level of trust."

There is precedent for the federal government choosing to sacrifice innocent people for the benefit of a larger operation. In July of this year (in a Mafia case) the government was ordered to pay a $102 million judgment because FBI agents withheld evidence — and encouraged a mob witness to lie — in a case that sent four innocent men to prison for nearly 30 years. The judge in the case said FBI agents were trying to protect informants and considered the innocent men as "collateral damage."

Judge Nancy Gertner further said, "The FBI's misconduct was clearly the sole cause of their conviction."

Meanwhile, in New York, the price for a kilo of cocaine has doubled from $17,000 to $34,000 as supplies shrink. In Los Angeles, where a kilo has cost around $13,000 for nearly a decade, prices jumped to $19,000 over the past year. "There's a definite reduction in supply," DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen recently said.

Not calculated in those prices, however, are the lives of two innocent men.