U.S. probe puts Cleveland DEA agent's work under scrutiny
Career has been marred by several investigations
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Mike Tobin, Amanda Garrett and John Caniglia Plain Dealer Reporters
Lucas used the German - who had a reputation for lying to investigators, helping people escape from jail and committing fraud - to snare a German count who made a fortune in the Miami real estate market.
The German count was sentenced to 10 years in prison on cocaine charges, but a federal judge later threw out the case.
One of the reasons the judge cited was the government's failure - implying Lucas' failure - to monitor "treacherous informants and failure to disclose what it knew and had to know about the informants."
Twice investigated in cocaine disappearance
In the 1990s, Lucas was investigated by federal and local authorities in the disappearance of 23 kilos of cocaine after agents seized 400 kilos in a large-scale probe of a professional speedboat racer. Nothing came of the probes.
But Lucas was also criticized by a federal appellate court in the case of the dirty Miami cops and the Colombian drugs in the neighborhood bar. In that case, Lucas claimed four of his informants had worked successfully with police in the past. In truth, only one had. Another was convicted of lying to police. And a third was a bitter former spouse with an agenda.
"It is unclear how agent Lucas could have made such statements of an affirmative character for which there was no basis without having acted either deliberately or recklessly," wrote the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Miami.
None of this seemed to slow Lucas' career.
"He was an excellent agent," said Frank Tarallo, the second in charge of the DEA's Miami office when Lucas worked there. "He worked really well undercover. He did everything. Today, no one wants to go undercover. But he did it. He did surveillance, handled seizures and worked well with informants."
About 1995, Lucas transferred to the DEA's Bolivia unit and took on even greater responsibilities.
There, he not only trained the Bolivian officers in drug enforcement but also made sure they seized and destroyed drugs instead of stealing them. He was also in charge of paying informants.
In Bolivia, Lucas worked high-profile cocaine cases that further enhanced his reputation. As his South American tour of duty wound down in the late 1990s, the DEA asked Lucas where he wanted to go next. He picked his hometown - Cleveland.
He returned in the summer of 2000 as a veteran DEA officer. He had been investigated and cleared of wrongdoing at least four times in Miami but had a reputation for turning major cases quickly, no matter the hours involved.
Agent becomes known for many arrests, convictions
Court clerks in Cleveland marveled at his work ethic. They couldn't believe he was married. They wondered aloud how Lucas found time to date, let alone establish a relationship.
Lucas was proud of his work.
And despite his own troubles, he routinely criticized how investigators from other agencies did their jobs, telling friends and colleagues that some drug agents watched too many drugs move through Cleveland before making an arrest.
Lucas liked to swoop in fast. Around the courthouse, he was known as an agent who "makes cases" - arresting lots of people, leading to lots of convictions.
"He ran and ran and ran," said Marilyn Cramer, a retired federal prosecutor who handled several of Lucas' cases in Cleveland. "I used to call him Mr. DEA because he was so good."
Yet trouble followed Lucas to Cleveland.
It started in 2001 when Lucas worked with a cadre of Cleveland police and state agents who hid a recording device on a convicted drug peddler-turned-informant named Nathaniel Roberts.
Afterward, they handed Roberts $3,200 and sent him out to buy 4½ ounces of cocaine from a Cleveland street pusher. Roberts, however, spent $4,700 on cocaine that day. He gave police some of it but made a side deal to score some for himself, records show.
Roberts was arrested a few weeks later with the drugs from the side deal.
Lucas took the street pusher's case and ran to federal prosecutors with it, never mentioning the tape or the side deal in affidavits.
Angered about being arrested and looking at 20 years in prison, Roberts tipped off officials. He told them that police allowed him to buy drugs on the side and that there was a tape to prove it.
A corruption task force of FBI agents and Cleveland internal-affairs officers began investigating in 2002. When court officials analyzed the tape, they found it had been tampered with and included only snippets of the side deal.
Investigation begins into botched tape
The focus of the task force probe started small: How the tape was botched and why the federal affidavits never mentioned Roberts' side deal.
It quickly grew to include allegations that Lucas beat suspects. A prosecutor from the U.S. Justice Department's public-integrity unit began presenting evidence to a grand jury, targeting Lucas.
But the DEA intervened.
DEA administrators in Washington, D.C., snatched the case away from the FBI and said it was up to the DEA to investigate one of its own.
It's unknown what the DEA did . The grand jury investigating Lucas ended. And Lucas continued making cases - and finding trouble with informants and recording devices.
In October 2005, Lucas went undercover to target Mansfield drug slinger Joshawa Webb.
An informant arranged for Webb to sell Lucas crack cocaine in the parking lot of a gas station.
Webb was later indicted for selling crack to Lucas, who wore a hidden wire to record the transaction. But when Webb's attorneys reviewed the tape, they discovered gaps in the recording. The attorneys paid three experts to analyze the tape.
"The experts agree the interruptions were not accidental," federal public defender Carlos Warner wrote in a memo to his boss. "The court expert has determined that Agent Lucas started and stopped the recording."
To find out more, Warner wanted to talk to Lucas' informant in the case, Jerrell Bray.
Bray, 34, grew up around the Garden Valley Estates on Kinsman Road and was no stranger to the system. He had spent 14 years in prison for manslaughter.
In May, Warner found Bray back in jail. He was accused of shooting another drug dealer.
As Warner walked to the Cuyahoga County Justice Center to visit Bray, he had low expectations, figuring Bray would dodge his questions about Lucas, the tape and the crack deal in Mansfield.
But Bray - crying wildly - surprised the public defender.
He told Warner that he could fill a room with the innocent people whom he had helped put into prison with his lies. His statements, however, raise questions:
Was Bray trying to destroy a DEA agent's career because he was bitter the officer could no longer help him? Or was Bray telling the truth?
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