- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

DALLAS Criminal charges are expected to emerge soon from a federal grand jury here in a 15-month-old investigation of police accused of setting up innocent victims in huge drug busts that made temporary heroes out of the police officers.
Known as the "Sheetrock scandal" because tests determined that the substances were shredded Sheetrock, pool chalk or gypsum instead of cocaine and methamphetamines, the situation has been a major embarrassment to both the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County district attorney's office.
More than 80 cases have been thrown out against nearly 50 suspects, and the city faces an expected deluge of civil law suits for false imprisonment.
"It's all going to boil down to whether the narcs knew the informants were setting innocent people up or whether they were snookered themselves," said a former federal prosecutor here.
Dallas Police Chief Terrell Bolton has sidestepped the issue, at first saying his officers did not know the seizures were phony. He later refused to comment, saying the FBI had been asked to investigate.
He did, however, suspend with pay two officers who were involved in most of the questionable buys: Senior Cpl. Mark Delapaz and Officer Eddie Herrera.
Three informants, those who worked most closely with the narcotics officers and received big bonuses for their help, have testified before the grand jury about the incidents, legal sources said.
One informant, Enrique Martinez Alonso, seems to be the key to unraveling the mysteries of the cases. The drug dealing suspect was charged in June 1999 with possession of a pound of cocaine.
Mr. Alonso is said to have told officers he could deliver some of the city's premier dealers, for a price: that his charges would be dropped and he would be paid a percentage of the value of the seized drugs. Top police management negotiated and agreed to the deal.
Although other informants were involved in illegitimate cases, one defense lawyer said Mr. Alonso made 90 percent of them.
The informant would make a small buy, a kilogram or less, then return to make a bigger one a few days later. On the second visit, Mr. Delapaz and Mr. Herrera would arrest the seller.
By mid-2000, Mr. Alonso had become the department's most prolific snitch, according to police and court records. He was instrumental in about 70 arrests and the confiscation of huge amounts of purported cocaine and methamphetamines.
For this effort, police records indicate, he received 60 payments, totaling nearly $200,000. Chief Bolton's salary in 2001 was $152,000, including about $20,000 in overtime.
Some have questioned Chief Bolton's leadership and his failure to explain what happened.
One unidentified caller to a radio talk show recently charged: "Of less than 1,500 pounds of cocaine that the cops reportedly seized in 2001, we now know that almost 700 pounds was Sheetrock or pool chalk. Is that how a major police department deals with the drug problem?"
Others said Chief Bolton was wise to not respond while investigations were still in progress.
Bob Baskett, a Dallas lawyer who represents Mr. Delapaz, told The Washington Times yesterday that he had been told that the police officers did not know what was happening.
Even government attorneys, he said, "told me they do not believe the officers had any knowing participation in the fakeness of the drugs."
But Phil Jordan, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency office here, said any experienced narcotics officer should have been able to take one look at the substance and know it was not cocaine.
"The feel and texture is different," he said.
A lawyer who represented a client whose related drug charges were dropped by the District Attorney's Office, said he had been told indictments would be handed up soon.
"This has been going on too long," he said. "Can you even imagine how it has tied the hands of good, decent cops? I don't think the public will accept a coverup or a 'Sorry, we didn't know' here."

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