Dirty or Duped?

Page 9 of 12

The polygraph results were all the justification his supervisors needed. DeLaPaz was instructed to keep working his informant Alonso. That DeLaPaz might have to swear under oath in a search warrant that the information Alonso had provided in the past proved "true and correct on each and every occasion" didn't seem to matter. It did matter, however, to Estanisleo Mendoza, accused of possessing more than 28 pounds of methamphetamine in a raid that netted narcotics officers 28 pounds of gypsum--a week after Alonso took the polygraph.

Seven weeks after Yvonne Gwyn was arrested, she bonded out of jail, her bail lowered from $2 million to $4,000. Of the 30 kilos of cocaine seized out of the Honda Civic parked in her detail shop driveway, all but a nominal amount, says her attorney Andy Konradi, was analyzed as ground gypsum. Although District Attorney Hill contended his office stopped taking "pleas" in the "fake-drug cases" by November 12, prosecutors offered to plead Gwyn to probation on a lesser charge in mid-December. She refused.

Awaiting trial, she returned to her shop and found the Honda still parked outside her business. The police had neither seized it nor sold it. Her son had learned the car had been purchased from Silva's Auto Sales on the same day she was arrested. She knew Antonio Silva, knew that he was the friend of a man named David--one of her customers who drove a white Lincoln Continental. She had cleaned his car as well as his boat and recalled Silva coming to her shop, looking for David so they could attend a car auction.

A week after her release, Gwyn heard that someone else, "a Spanish man" named Jorge Hernandez, had been arrested for drugs at Silva's, even though he was just a customer, trying to get parts for his pickup truck. She drove the few blocks to Silva's, hoping to learn more, and there, sitting outside the garage in his Lincoln, was David. "I don't want to be close to you because you're a big-time drug dealer," he joked. But Gwyn wasn't laughing, particularly when she later identified David as Enrique Martinez-Alonso, the man she believes framed her.

But that wasn't Silva's only connection to a vehicle planted with fake drugs. In the days before the Ramirez-Licea arrest at Jack in the Box, Silva says he repaired the same Chevy Astro minivan that allegedly carried a large shipment of cocaine from Mexico. "The same for the Honda is the same for the van," Silva claims. "Someone brought it in and paid me money to fix it up. A thousand dollars for the van." He refuses to identify who hired him to work on the vehicles. "I am clean. I just fix the car."

By mid-December, lab tests were routinely coming back negative or close to it. Prosecutors dismissed charges on a dozen or so defendants, offering cut-rate deals to others. The Internal Affairs and the Public Integrity divisions of the Dallas Police Department had begun to investigate. WFAA's Brett Shipp and Mark Smith, as well as The Dallas Morning News, were snooping around, filing open-records requests with the police department, asking for narcotics procedures, informant payments, disciplinary records on all narcotics officers. WFAA broke the story on December 31, a week after Bolton says he learned about the problems. In what appeared to be a preventive strike, Bolton called a news conference just before New Year's Eve. He wheeled out dozens of kilos of fake cocaine mostly packaged in green cellophane-wrapped bags. Next to the fake drugs was a large stockpile of guns, few of which could have been seized during the fake-drug raids since only two weapons were taken in those cases. Bolton said he did not believe the problem was the informant or the officers, but rather drug dealers who were selling large quantities of fake drugs. It was "a blessing," he said, that drug users weren't seriously harmed by ingesting gypsum.

"I think the system worked," he said. "We discovered it."

Chief Bolton was right about one thing; the system did work. It worked too slowly, too casually, too callously. It worked to deprive too many innocent people of their liberty for far too long. His news conference placated no one: not his critics on the city council, not the media, not even police officers, some of whom found the idea that he had saved drug users from a pitiful fate almost laughable. Others just believed he raised more questions than he answered: How could drugs that tested positive in the field then test negative in the lab? Were the officers lying, the tests not conducted or flawed? And if the officers were lying about the field tests, what else were they lying about? Hijacking real drugs? Planting fake ones? Shaking down informants by getting kickbacks on their bounty?
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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald