Michele Leonhart institutionalizes perjury

June 5, 2013
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In 2003, I wrote a feature on the then Drug Enforcement Administration Deputy Director nominee: DEA Bad Girl Michele Leonhart.

In it, I talked about her horrendous lack of ethical standards in her work with super-snitch Andrew Chambers:

When Michele Leonhart moved to St. Louis, she hooked up with the most prolific snitch of all time — Andrew Chambers.

The details of Andrew Chambers’ career as a super-snitch are mostly hidden (partly to protect him, and partly to protect the DEA). Much of what we know about Chambers comes from an excellent investigative report by Michael D. Sorkin And Phyllis Brasch Librach for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 16, 2000 and several follow-up reports later that year.

Here are some of the facts:

  • Chambers’ career as a snitch spanned an amazing 16 years, from 1984 until 2000, and he was credited with 291 investigations, including 76 the DEA considers “significant.”
  • He traveled all over the world for the DEA, but his home was St. Louis, and his second home Los Angeles.
  • For his snitch work with the DEA, he was paid over $2.2 million. DEA regulations limit informants to a career total of $200,000, but those regulations can be waived. The DEA says its second-highest paid informant has received about $500,000.
  • Since he also worked for the FBI, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. postal inspectors, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service and state and local police, his total take may have been much more.
  • He lied. He lied under oath on the stand. He lied on the stand repeatedly, beginning the year after his recruitment in 1984.
  • For years, some prosecutors and many defense attorneys had expressed concerns about Chambers’ perjury. In 1993 in California, a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling agreed that Chambers lied on the stand. In 1995, the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis added its voice: “The record, however, clearly demonstrates that Chambers did in fact perjure himself . . .”

The DEA protected Chambers repeatedly, and avoided notifying prosecutors and defense attorneys about Chambers’ past. At one point, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Justice Department lawyers stonewalled for 17 months, fighting a public defender who was trying to examine the contents of DEA’s background check on Chambers.

Later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Wolf stated that it was clear that the drug agents never put any damaging reports into Chambers’ file — even though DEA regulations require it.

Finally, the DEA conducted an internal review of Chambers’ career, and although there was some talk of reprimanding DEA supervisors, the report was never made completely public, and the DEA refused to agree to stop using Chambers. Janet Reno finally intervened in 2000 and Chambers was deactivated as an informant.

During all this time, Chambers’ biggest fan was Michele Leonhart.

At one point, she was asked whether it was time to stop using Chambers given all the problems with his credibility. “That would be a sad day for DEA,” she said. “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.” [...]

The most startling statement in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation of Andrew Chambers was from Michele Leonhart:

“The only criticism (of Chambers) I’ve ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand.”

She continued by saying that once prosecutors check him out, they’ll agree with his admirers in DEA that he’s “an outstanding testifier.”

That’s the key. To an agent like Leonhart, getting the bust and getting the conviction is all that matters. The testimony is good if it leads to a successful conclusion (from her perspective). Why nitpick about the truth?

I thought that was the end of it, unti I read today: DEA reactivates controversial fired informant

PHOENIX — A government informant who was terminated by the Justice Department years ago amid accusations of serial perjury has been reactivated and is working an undercover drug case with DEA agents in Phoenix, prompting allegations of government misconduct by a defense lawyer in a pending case. [...]

The DEA conducted an internal probe in 2000 documenting Chambers’ dishonesty after defense lawyers and the media criticized the pattern of perjury and a lack of federal oversight. The Republic has obtained a copy of the 157-page Management Review, which says the DEA deactivated Chambers indefinitely as a confidential source on Feb. 2, 2000.

Yet, somehow, he resurrected his career and surfaced in Phoenix about three years ago in a sting that targeted defendant Luis Alberto Hernandez-Flores, accused as the kingpin in a major drug-trafficking organization.

Cameron Morgan, an attorney for Hernandez-Flores, filed a motion to dismiss charges or suppress testimony after uncovering the informant’s background.

“The DEA rehired Mr. Chambers, is using him in investigations all over the country, is again paying him exorbitant amounts of money and refuses to provide discovery about what he’s up to,” Morgan wrote in a petition under consideration by U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee. “If Chambers were nothing more than a run-of-the-mill criminal, that would be one thing. But both Chambers and his defenders in the DEA brag that he is a con man extraordinaire.”

This is the state of justice in our country.

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Pete Guither is the editor of drugwarrant.com

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