Longform

Dirty or Duped?

Page 8 of 12

The facts of the case made no sense: a credit buy, no guns or cash seized, no accomplices, just a lone mechanic working under his car charged on the uncorroborated word of a confidential informant. And with 25 kilos, why weren't the feds called in? The DEA or FBI might be interested in knowing a little more about Vega.

By the end of August, Barbare had voiced her concerns to Chris Woodward, the prosecutor assigned to the case. But this wasn't the first time Woodward had heard these complaints. Attorney Nadine King-Mays represented Victor Alvarado, who was accused of selling 4 ounces of cocaine to a confidential informant, the entire transaction allegedly witnessed by Officer DeLaPaz. Alvarado, a Mexican national, claimed he was simply getting his car repaired at an auto shop near Fair Park when the police raided the shop and arrested him. Despite positive field tests, King-Mays insisted the forensic laboratory test the drugs. On August 21, the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences mailed prosecutors its results. The 4 ounces contained a trace amount of cocaine but not enough "for quantification." Prosecutors refused to dismiss the case, choosing to proceed on a lesser charge. When the case was called for trial on September 10, however, it was dismissed. Undercover officers couldn't locate their informant, Roberto Santos, despite him being a friend of Enrique Martinez-Alonso.

"The cops lost the money [$2,500 in buy-bust money was not recovered]. They had fake drugs, and they had no informant," King-Mays says. "I couldn't understand why no one was acting suspicious."

To convince prosecutors of Vega's innocence, Barbare had her client polygraphed by examiner Joe Morris, a former Dallas police officer. Not only did Vega pass the polygraph, but the examiner was stunned by the similarities between his case and the case of Jesus Mejia, another Hispanic auto mechanic who had passed one of his polygraphs. Same credit buys, same two undercover officers, same implausible facts. Morris was so suspicious of these coincidences, he met with producer Mark Smith at WFAA in early November and tipped him to the story. And once Barbare and Mejia's attorney, C. Tony Wright, compared notes, they spread the word among other criminal lawyers: Ask for drug tests in your big seizure cases; don't plead anyone busted by DeLaPaz and Herrera; there may be an outside investigation. The FBI may be involved.

But at this point the only investigation was internal and remarkably well-contained. A source close to DeLaPaz says that after Greg Long phoned him about the problems in the Rosas case, DeLaPaz immediately notified his chain of command. On September 11, he was summoned to a meeting with Sergeant Jack Gouge, Lieutenant Turnage and Deputy Chief John Martinez, who helps oversee the narcotics division. DeLaPaz had learned about the final lab results in the Rosas case. All but trace amounts of the remaining 41 kilos was gypsum.

"Martinez instructed DeLaPaz to find out how bad things were," says a source close to DeLaPaz. "He told him to take all the drugs on the big seizure cases to the lab for analysis...He said he didn't want this getting to 106 [meaning Chief Bolton, who claims he didn't learn about any fake-drug case until Christmas Eve, more than three and a half months later]." After all, the damage could be limited to an isolated case; and these supervisors had some exposure themselves, paying Enrique Martinez-Alonso more than $210,000 for his work as an informant. The Jack in the Box bust alone netted Alonso $50,000, and Martinez had authorized all informant payments above $5,000--even before the drugs were analyzed.

Between September 25 and October 9, the district attorney's office received lab reports that found trace amounts of cocaine or no cocaine in at least four more cases. According to DPD, an assistant district attorney in September told "a narcotics supervisor" that the largest bust of the batch--the arrest of Denny Ramirez and Daniel Licea at the Jack in the Box--contained nothing but gypsum.

Alonso claimed he didn't know anything about fake drugs. "He said you must have a problem with your lab," says a source close to DeLaPaz. And DeLaPaz claimed he was just doing his job, seizing the dope that his informant had brought him, relying on the positive field tests conducted by at least a half a dozen other officers that showed the seized drugs were cocaine.

Martinez and Turnage told DeLaPaz to polygraph Alonso, who passed the examination given by a police operator on October 12. "What that meant to DeLaPaz and his superiors was that someone either hijacked the real load or was trying to sell bad drugs," says DeLaPaz's attorney Bob Baskett. Prosecutor Greg Long told Cynthia Barbare that he now thought a big supplier in Mexico was testing the informant, supplying him with fake drugs to see if he was a snitch. "But I wasn't buying it," she says. "In my client's case, the informant didn't buy dope from Mexico; he supposedly bought it from my client in Oak Cliff." And besides, dope dealing is a business. If you put 1,000 pounds of fake drugs on the street, you will either lose customers or your life.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald