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Monday, May 10, 2010

Primetime: U.S. customs authorizes informant to import cocaine

Another large-scale informant crime spree, this one courtesy of a Grits comment. In this story, ABC News Primetime documented how U.S. Customs authorized its informant, Rodney Matthews, to import tons of cocaine into the U.S., much of which ended up on the streets. Here's the link to the Primetime transcript. Caught with a few hundred pounds of marijuana, Matthews became a Customs informant and starting importing cocaine with the government's blessing. While all the Customs officials interviewed acknowledged that such deals are routine, they disputed whether the drugs were permitted by the government to hit the streets: Agent Tom Grieve said it wasn't authorized, while Mark Conrad of Customs internal affairs concluded that Grieve was lying to cover up the debacle. From the transcript:
FORREST SAWYER (Primetime) Was there anything said, anything that could have been in your wildest imagination misinterpreted to mean that Rodney Matthews could bring in a load and let it hit the streets?
AGENT TOM GRIEVE No. Not hit the streets. No, no, no, no. No. See, that's-no, no.
FORREST SAWYER Tom Grieve says that there was no carte blanche, nothing like carte blanche.
FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Mark Conrad runs internal affairs for Customs in Houston. A 27-year veteran, Conrad spoke to PrimeTime in New York over the objections of the Customs Service.
MARK CONRAD We got in bed with Rodney Matthews and the importation of a humongous amount of narcotics coming into the United States.
FORREST SAWYER And the reason wasn't because they were dirty?
MARK CONRAD No. The reason is there's a great deal of pressure on agents in the field to make cases, to make the big one. And the bigger, the better.
FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In fact, more than a dozen agents and former drug enforcement officials told us that letting dope hit the streets is the cost of doing business, that while the Matthews case is extreme, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
Matthews' former partner Jimmy Ellard got an even more dramatic deal. He had fled to Colombia and became a top transporter for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. When he was caught in Florida, Ellard pled guilty to importing $6 billion [sic] worth of drugs into the U.S., and orchestrating a fatal airplane bombing. Ellard earned leniency by accusing several Customs officials of corruption. The officials were exonerated; Ellard served only six years in prison.