- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

DALLAS — A former Dallas police officer is on trial this week in the latest phase of the city’s bizarre fake drug imbroglio, in which corrupt informants framed innocent people.

Mark Delapaz’s trial on charges of tampering with evidence will be watched closely by the stunned community and by many of those whose lives were abruptly altered by the miscarriage of justice.

Two dozen persons, many of them illegal immigrants from Mexico, were arrested and convicted about four years ago in a fake drug operation, one of the most embarrassing moments of Dallas Police Department history. What were said to be cocaine and methamphetamines in well-publicized seizures turned out to be simple pool cue chalk.

Some of those who were charged falsely spent more than two years in prison, and the cost of the scheme is being measured in embarrassment and in cash.

City officials last week paid about $5.6 million to more than a dozen victims who had sued in federal court. Settlements ranged from $120,000 to $485,000.

Other victims have not been offered compensation. Settlements are estimated to cost the city another $2.5 million.

A few of those who settled last week were pleased with the payoffs, but others remained angry that no police officers have been jailed.

The FBI and a special prosecutor named by the Dallas district attorney investigated the case and found that some narcotics officers falsified evidence, lied about informants’ actions or covered up evidence when the story broke in 2001.

Police Chief Terrell Bolton, the city’s first black chief, was fired last year, partly because of his handling of the scandal.

“We are putting behind us the most egregious cases and most of the financial exposure the city has,” City Attorney Madeleine Johnson said. “In the course of conducting the war on drugs, missteps and mistakes are made. Approximately three years ago, mistakes were made and today we are dealing with the consequences.”

Informants, often working off drug charges of their own, were allowed to set up others for arrest. In these cases, narcotics officers were led to fake drugs that had been planted.

The main informant in the cases was paid more than $200,000 over several months. On several occasions, large sums reportedly were paid to informants for little more than a scratched figure and a date on an in-house memo.

Some of those arrested in the scam did not speak English and could not afford attorneys. Some pleaded guilty to win release for time served. Some were deported back to Mexico.

Long after the main informant admitted he manufactured accusations and planted the fake drugs, the district attorney still was actively pursuing convictions.

Erubiel Cruz, a 55-year-old grandfather and body shop worker, said he was pleased to receive $485,000, but said it would not provide solace for the three months he spent in jail after a corrupt informant planted 20 pounds of fake methamphetamines on him.

Mr. Cruz said police officers who participated in the scheme should be punished with jail time, but he was not optimistic.

“This is not the end of it,” he told the Dallas Morning News last week. “I don’t know when it’s going to end. I don’t know when there will be any justice.”

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, Mr. Delapaz’s lead attorney, will try to convince the jury his client was a good officer who was tricked by corrupt informants. That defense helped Mr. Delapaz win acquittal a few months ago in a federal civil rights prosecution.

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