- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Justice Department is appealing a $1.1 million ruling against the Drug Enforcement Administration, asking an appeals court to throw out a ruling that the agency acted with “reckless disregard” for one of its most prized drug informants by sending her into an investigation after her cover had been blown.

The informant, whose identity is still sealed in court documents and is known only as the “Princess,” accused the DEA of sending her to Colombia on an undercover assignment in 1995 despite clear signs — such as a foiled assassination plot and death threats — that her identity was known.

During the 1995 trip, she was kidnapped by a Colombian guerrilla group and taken to an unknown location, where captors put a noose around her neck for days, then locked her in a small room with a dirt floor and a bed made of straw, according to court records.

“What went through my mind [is] I couldn’t see how I was going to come out of this one,” she later testified.

Freed after nearly three and a half months, the informant testified that she began having serious health problems soon after her release. Doctors diagnosed her as having multiple sclerosis, which medical experts said was caused by stress related to her capture. She sued the DEA, saying the agency failed to protect her and was responsible for her health problems.

But the government has argued other factors contributed to her stress aside from the kidnapping.

In a ruling unsealed in late September, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams ruled that the DEA “breached its duty” to the informant by sending her to Colombia, even though the agency knew she was targeted.

The DEA declined to comment on the ruling.

The Justice Department has appealed the ruling, and last week filed papers asking for more time to file briefs and saying the solicitor general is studying the case.

While the DEA couldn’t have known the informant would develop multiple sclerosis, the agency should have realized the inherent dangers of sending her into a “hot spot” aimed at high-ranking Colombian drug traffickers when her cover was so compromised, the judge ruled.

The ruling awarded the woman $1.1 million to cover her medical care for 25 years.

The decision was in stark contrast to the outcome of a similar lawsuit a few years ago in Washington. In that case, an FBI informant sued the agency for negligence because he said agents blew his cover when they arrested the ringleader of a major drug gang.

According to court records, an agent had asked the informant to contact the ringleader, Kevin Gray, who was ultimately convicted in 19 murders. The informant called Gray and told agents Gray’s location but asked that they hold off on arresting him because Gray would figure out the informant was working with the FBI.

Gray was arrested right way. Weeks later, agents convinced the informant to go back out on the street setting up drug deals. However, he was shot in what prosecutors later called a retaliatory shooting by Gray’s associate and remains paralyzed. A federal appeals court later ruled against the informant, saying the FBI had immunity.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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