Dirty or Duped?

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For larger quantities of drugs, you need a well-connected informant, someone who can introduce you to more than just your neighborhood dealer. "Officers are taught they are only as good as their CIs," Markham says. "An informant will get you there a lot quicker and safer because you don't have to spend as much time building trust."

Officers develop informants by arresting them and convincing them to snitch on their sources. Generally, if they do three deals bigger than their own, they can work off their cases. If they want to keep working, they do it for money. DeLaPaz couldn't develop an informant with much horsepower by busting dime-rock dealers, but over time the line between the targets of the street squad and other narcotics units began to blur. "Spanish-speaking officers were pushed to work Spanish-speaking informants into bigger seizures," says one former narcotics officer. DeLaPaz and his partner Herrera began working with a formidable informant, a referral to the street squad by someone in the federal task force, says another former narcotics officer.

On June 16, 1999, DeLaPaz and his informant negotiated the purchase of a half-pound of cocaine from a man who went by the street name David. The informant handed him $4,400; David handed the informant 252 grams of cocaine. No arrest was made on this "buy-walk" because officers anticipated a bigger kill. A month later, the informant and DeLaPaz convinced David--Enrique Martinez-Alonso--to sell them 3 pounds of methamphetamine for $19,500. Patrol officers stopped Alonso en route to the deal; his passenger Jose Guadalupe Ruiz was carrying more than 1,100 grams of speed in his crotch. Alonso was good for two charges, Ruiz for one, and both would later agree to work off their cases and become confidential informants.

"One day you're buying dope from a guy and sticking a gun in his face, and the next day he is working for you," says one former narcotics officer. "Then the legal system gives them tremendous power. It lets them walk into a courtroom and put other people away."

Enrique Martinez-Alonso acted as though he knew every Hispanic in Oak Cliff, East Dallas and Pleasant Grove. He had a large family himself, and though he seldom held a job, he would buy and sell cars, according to one acquaintance, attending car auctions with his friend Antonio Silva, owner of Silva's Auto Sales. As far as DeLaPaz was concerned, Alonso was just a street-smart hustler, a bit too grandiose, bragging about how he would go into a bar and drop $2,000 in an evening. He enjoyed flashy jewelry and cars, which only attracted people to him--the wrong people. That's what made him a good informant.

In July 2000, Dallas criminal defense attorney Eric Smenner represented a man accused of delivering 3 kilos of cocaine to Alonso. Alonso actually purchased 4 kilos and kept one for himself, Smenner claims. His client might have been guilty, but he was also angry, and he demanded a jury trial just so his lawyer could ask the informant one question: "What did you have down the front of your pants when you left?" Without police surveillance to corroborate what took place inside the client's condo, there was just the word of Alonso, who denied he had stolen anything. He did admit, however, that undercover officers hadn't searched him, which directly violates police procedure.

"The correct way to do a controlled buy is to search the snitch before and after he makes the buy," says Smenner, a former prosecutor and Irving police officer. "If you don't, how can you be sure the informant didn't take drugs inside someone's house just to set them up?"

After his client received a 15-year sentence, Smenner approached DeLaPaz and attempted to warn him. "I used to be a police officer, and you have a dirty snitch," Smenner recalls telling him. "You better watch him. He's going to get you into some serious trouble down the road."

By February 21, 2001, Alonso had worked off his two cases, which were dismissed by the district attorney's office at the request of the head of narcotics. He then turned paid informant and received a commission based on the value of the drugs, cash and property he helped confiscate. Money was paid based on field tests, long before the drugs were analyzed by the lab, if they ever were. The rule of thumb was 10 percent of the value of the booty: The more drugs seized, the more money he made.
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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald