- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

DALLAS — A fake drug scandal that sent dozens of innocent people to jail in 2001 still has this city reeling since the acquittal of one of its main participants in a federal trial here.

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Dallas narcotics detective Mark DeLapaz was found not guilty Nov. 25 of lying to the FBI about purported drug transactions involving several falsely accused men in one of the Dallas Police Department’s worst scandals.

But following the acquittal — the jury deliberated five hours — both the city and county named special investigators to follow leads offered during the DeLapaz trial, with promises that the probes would leave no stone unturned to determine all those responsible for the debacle.

More than two dozen defendants were falsely charged on the word of Mr. DeLapaz, a senior corporal and 13-year veteran of the department, and his partner, Eddie Herrera.

Some of the accused spent months in jail; others were deported to Mexico. Still others, faced with 10- to 20-year jail terms, pleaded guilty rather than risk trial.

Mr. Herrera has been on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigations.

In all, more than 80 criminal cases were overturned when it was determined that nearly half the cocaine and a fourth of the methamphetamines sized by the Dallas police in 2001 turned out to be gypsum from wallboard.

One informant received more than $200,000 for fingering the innocent victims in a fake-drug scheme that began as a plot to steal money given to informants by police to set up drug deals, according to trial testimony.

Several defense lawyers said that Dallas police trusted questionable informants and had a “numbers” mentality, seeking to boost arrest rates even when there were red flags about some of the drug busts.

A public furor erupted on the city’s radio talk shows and media outlets after Mr. DeLapaz’s acquittal and the city’s forced reinstatement of Mr. DeLapaz to the police force last week.

Many did not understand the federal charges, which dealt only with lying to federal officers and submitting false reports to the department.

But out of the trial testimony came considerable leads, indicating that many superior officers might have known (or should have known) that the arrests were bogus. That testimony and documentation will comprise the string to be followed by a special prosecutor named by the district attorney and a city panel named by the city attorney.

“I have but one directive, one goal,” said Terence Hart, a member of a three-person city investigative panel named Friday, “and that’s to find the truth.”

Mr. Hart, 50, is a former FBI agent and former state and federal prosecutor.

Earlier, District Attorney Bill Hill named longtime defense lawyer Dan Hagood to independently investigate the cases and take evidence to a grand jury for possible state charges.

It is possible — some say probable — that Mr. DeLapaz will be eventually charged in state court. Three confidential informants who worked for him have pleaded guilty to federal charges of setting up at least 25 innocent people — mostly Hispanics — for false arrests. The three remain in federal custody awaiting sentencing.

“The time has come for answers,” City Manager Ted Benavides said. “We all want to know what happened.”

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