Coastal Post Online

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June 2001

Collateral Damage In War On Drugs

A Mother's Story

By D. L. Schaeffer

This story involves drugs, a "snitch," cops, FBI, INS, DEA, and courts in three states, with all these entities colluding to violate laws prohibiting offering anything of value in exchange for testimony, flagrantly breaking other laws, inflicting great harm on untold numbers of innocent people. It is about the failed "war on drugs" that plays with billions of taxpayer dollars, providing profitable employment for hundreds of thousands of agents, cops, prosecutors, courts, prison guards, and certain protected criminals-their informants.

The snitch who entered my life, a New Zealander named Rhett Jeffries, came to the United States about 20 years ago and worked as a licensed building contractor in Marin County. He was articulate and smart. In 1996, he met and married my daughter. What none of my family knew in 1996 was that for 18 years he had lived here without a passport or green card, that he was a drug dealer, and that he was being protected, first by DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the Marin County Drug Task Force, and since 1996, by the FBI, and, as the story unfolded, by the Marin County Superior Court and the District Attorneys Office.

In January 1998 the San Anselmo Police Department began six months of harassment, intimidation, and threats on Jeffries and my daughter. Old driving misdemeanor tickets not properly taken care of (3 for Jeffries and 1 for my daughter), were the excuse for these activities-stalking, attempting to get into their house illegally, and arresting them. At one point, San Anselmo Police Chief Bernie Del Santo unethically, if not illegally, intruded in a child custody issue. I learned to my surprise this was because Jeffries was not performing his "snitch" duties, rather than for any real criminal activities. The harassment and intimidation were to force my daughter to join her husband in the business of snitching. Although police responded several times to reports of spousal abuse, they never arrested Jeffries, as they are now required to do, although physical evidence was apparent. She also experienced physical abuse by the police.

Throughout the months the FBI and task force were fully responsible for their snitch, he continued to physically and emotionally abuse my daughter. She had nowhere to turn for help, certainly not to the police, who, by their refusal to arrest Jeffries, condoned and encouraged it.

On May 31, 1998, Jeffries and my daughter came to my home to explain these events. Within a few minutes of their arrival, four of San Anselmo's five police cars were outside my home. One officer rudely walked in without knocking, looking, he said, for Jeffries. I asked to see a warrant, which they did not have. Officer, Anthony Bohley, the leader of this attack, threatened to arrest me for obstruction if I did not let them in. They entered and arrested Jeffries and my daughter for the old driving misdemeanors. Bohley proceeded to search a room in my home. He had no search warrant. By Bohley's own admission, he was not looking for weapons, the only legitimate reason, under the circumstances, he could have searched without a warrant.

Over the following months, evidence emerged of Jeffries having stolen, forged, and fraudulently cashed checks belonging to several people, including me, involving thousands of dollars. He was also writing checks on various closed accounts of his own. Complaints were filed with several Marin County police departments, the Sheriff's Department, and the District Attorney, who chose not to prosecute any of these crimes.

At the end of June 1998, Jeffries was arrested in Superior, Montana, for driving without a license or insurance and for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. According to District Attorney Shaun Donovan, Jeffries offered to "deal" with Montana drug enforcement in setting up a friend at Flathead Lake.

Almost immediately, Special Agent Scott Smith of the San Francisco FBI office intervened on Jeffries's behalf. Also making numerous calls on Jeffries's behalf to both Donovan and Montana probation officer Marissa Gibbons was Deputy David Augustus of the Marin County Drug Task Force. Jeffries's mother in New Zealand provided a $30,000 bond. Agent Smith promised to have Jeffries back in Montana for sentencing, and Donovan and the circuit court judge agreed to Jeffries's returning to California to continue his "good deeds" for the FBI and the Sheriff's task force.

Jeffries arrived in Marin two weeks later and was re-arrested and jailed in Marin County for his old outstanding misdemeanors. I learned then about FBI Agent Scott Smith. I spoke with Smith at length. He admitted he had known Jeffries for a number of years but "could not discuss" their relationship. He also admitted knowing and working with Deputy Augustus for many years. I told him of the check stealing and forging and of the complaints filed with police departments. I asked him to stop whatever he was doing with Jeffries because innocent people were being harmed. He replied that if Jeffries crossed state lines and cashed stolen checks, then it would be a federal offense, and maybe he would do something. I realized the FBI and law enforcement was using Jeffries's and facilitating and supporting his illegal activities.

Agents are obligated to follow up leads on "unauthorized" crimes by their informers. In fact, if agents continue to work with an informant, knowing of the informant's crimes, they are guilty of aiding and abetting. Nonetheless, Agent Smith, Deputy Augustus, Marin's Drug Police, the Marin Sheriff's Department, and the Marin District Attorney all knew of Jeffries's crimes but actively continued to work with him and fund him for months; they even interfered with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Jeffries's deportation. As a result, an untold number of innocent people were harmed, some irreparably harmed.

In late July 1998, the INS stepped in and ordered Marin County to hold Jeffries for deportation. This was our first clue about his immigration status. On the morning of July 24, 1998, at the request of Deputy Augustus, Marin County Superior Court Commissioner Heubach released Jeffries on the Marin County charges, but continued him in detention, noting the INS hold. A few hours later, responding to a call from the FBI, the Commissioner released Jeffries entirely. The FBI then hid Jeffries from the INS in various places, including the San Anselmo Inn. On August 4, INS found Jeffries and took him into custody for deportation.

On August 31, Jeffries was deported to New Zealand. Five days later, on September 5, he was returned to the United States by the FBI on a so-called limited "public service" visa. He was flown business class. From that day, the FBI was entirely responsible for Jeffries and all that he did. Hearings in Montana were postponed so that informant Jeffries could continue doing the FBI's bidding. He also continued to steal and cash forged checks.

While this was going on, I began searching records at the Marin Civic Center trying, without success, to get information from the D.A.'s office. I had no idea where my daughter was or, if she was even alive. Soon Jeffries began to make threatening phone calls, which I reported to Smith. The final threat, in mid September, was that if I did not stop talking to people and judges at the Civic Center, the FBI would lock me up in a mental hospital for six months. I reported this to Smith, filed a complaint with the San Anselmo Police Department, and got an unlisted number.

By this time, I had compiled an ever growing list of innocent people who were being harmed: people whose checks had been stolen, people who had innocently cashed these forged and stolen checks, my daughter, her two young sons, Jeffries's mother, and me-in all, more than 20 individuals. I have no idea how large the true number of victims is.

The Montana judge had issued an ultimatum to the FBI: have Jeffries in Superior on December 22 for his sentencing hearing or the deal (probation, no prison time) would be rescinded. Jeffries did not appear. He did arrive about one week later at the Missoula office of Probation Officer Gibbons. (She told him he was now facing a five-year sentence.) When he learned what he was facing, Jeffries excused himself for a few minutes and disappeared.

Although Smith claimed to have made all the arrangements for his informant to appear for the hearing on the 22nd, he and the task force had lost their snitch. Jeffries was now a fugitive from Montana and from the FBI. And he had my daughter with him.

In mid January 1999, I learned that Jeffries and my daughter were in Maui and that Jeffries had stolen checks and credit cards there as well. On January 21, a woman whose checks and cards had been taken had them arrested. There were 13 charges against Jeffries and four against my daughter. (My daughter reported that Jeffries had found the schools her sons attended and had threatened to kill her and the boys if she did not do as he told her.)

For Jeffries, there was an extradition hearing, followed by an accelerated sentencing hearing. The 13 charges miraculously dwindled to three, and Jeffries received a five-year sentence to run concurrently with the sentence in Montana and not to exceed Montana's sentence. In brief, Jeffries "walked" on the Maui charges, was never made to pay restitution, and was returned to Montana. A Maui attorney told me "the FBI was all over this case."

Just after the arrests, agents visited my daughter, offering her money if she would join Jeffries in the "entrapment" of a man named Robert Burton in San Rafael, California. She refused.

Several months later, I was interviewed by a San Rafael private investigator, Denise Garety, working for defense attorney Mary Stearns. Her client, Robert Burton, was being charged with selling drugs to Jeffries. Burton, an African American man in his 50s, has lived in Marin County all his life. He has a family, taught tennis, and, in the past, had been hired by Jeffries for work on building projects. Although no evidence was brought forward linking Burton to illegal drug sales for more than 11 years, Jeffries had to produce somebody. After the FBI brought Jeffries back from New Zealand, Jeffries had set up Burton. Then, from the jail in Maui, at the behest of the Marin Task Force and with the cooperation of the Maui prosecutor, Jeffries made several phone calls to Burton, trying to buy drugs to be picked up in Marin by a "friend" of Jeffries. Tapes of these calls were produced at trial. Burton had not know Jeffries was in jail.

It was arranged that a bounty hunter, hired to return Jeffries to Montana, and Jeffries would stop en route in Marin. A member of the task force met them at SF Airport and brought them to the Marriott Hotel in Larkspur Landing. In addition to Jeffries and the bounty hunter, Sheriff's deputies and several FBI agents also stayed there. (One wonders how much this cost, and who paid?) Again, more phone calls were made to set up Burton. According to Jeffries, the FBI was going to pay him $10,000 when the case was finished.

This case was being heard in Marin County Superior Court by Judge John Stephen Graham, a former federal prosecutor, mostly of drug related cases, and a friend of law enforcement. For several reasons, Graham continued the Burton case to September 2000. He did not attempt to hide his biases. At the start of the trial, two African Americans, one a relative and one a friend of Burton, came to court to support him, taking their seats quietly and respectfully. Within seconds of their arrival, Graham said he did not want "those thugs" in his courtroom. He immediately called for extra security and had an armed guard stand by them, who then demanded to see ID and asked them many questions. A Caucasian man, who was in court every day, was not so questioned.

Graham made it clear that he thought Jeffries (against whom the defense had found more than 30 past criminal charges) and the FBI were sterling assets to the community, though they had created mayhem for months and had harmed many innocent people.

The prosecutor, Patricia Williams, with Graham's concurrence, kept most of those from whom Jeffries had stolen, from testifying and also prevented testimony about spousal abuse, which would have sullied their informant's character, thus effectively undermining ability to impeach the state's witness.

Graham did not want to hear the word "entrapment" used in his court. He did not want to hear about Jeffries's numerous crimes or his spousal abuse or law enforcement's knowledge of them. He was welcoming and conciliatory with Agent Smith and Jeffries. Graham's attitude was one of boredom, annoyance that Burton had exercised his Constitutional right for a jury trial and anger that the public might learn how the government does its job. It was clear this judge was not neutral.

Perhaps taking their cue from Graham's demeanor, the all white jury did not seem to care that Jeffries was a criminal, that he was a pathological liar, that he had numerous aliases and several Social Security numbers and that he had obviously set up Burton. They quickly found Burton guilty, and Graham gave him the maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, despite multiple witnesses on Burton's behalf-leaders in the African American community and Burton's previous federal parole officer, who is a strong advocate for him.

Apparently, only those who become informants have the chance to have their sentences reduced. Three cases I know of in which Jeffries was the informant all involved nonwhite individuals. What has all this cost the tax payers? It has cost Robert Burton his good name and his freedom.

On September 24, 2000, I went to Court to hear scheduled testimony of subpoenaed cops. The defense, however, had rested, and the trial was over, but the parties were there, taking care of final business. Public Defender David L. Brown then had Graham sign an order Brown had prepared, paying Jeffries $2,178 for 121 days of "lost wages" at $18 per day. Graham asked Brown the basis for the lost wages, and Brown replied, "fighting fires in Montana."

The Montana Department of Corrections, however, states, in a personal communication, Jeffries was not in Marin for 121 days, but for only 35 to 40 days. The Department also confirms that Montana prison inmates were not taken out to fight fires last summer, or for any other reason, and in fact, had not been used for fire fighting for more than five years. These are facts that Judge Graham and Attorney Brown could easily have ascertained had they so wished. According to a board member of the Marin Prison Law Office, prisoners are never paid for their testimony under any guise.

Considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars the FBI routinely pays its snitches, $2,178 is minuscule and probably was part of the deal Jeffries made with the prosecution and the court, in addition to immunity for his testimony. But it is yet more evidence of payment for testimony and entrapment in violation of state and federal laws.

The US Code (Section 201(c)(2) of Title 18) prohibits "giving, offering, or promising anything of value to a witness for or because of his testimony." Although this law allows for no exceptions, courts routinely hold that the government may violate it (as did the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago: United States Vs Sonya Evette Singleton), despite abundant evidence that informants are the least reliable and will offer up the most innocent in exchange for money and protection.

Agent Smith testified to the FBI having paid Jeffries, providing housing, transportation, and other moneys. In fact, Jeffries had been paid substantial amounts over many years. Smith and his cohorts also worked hard to prevent their snitch from spending any time in prison, something obviously of great value to Jeffries.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the evidence is clear that the FBI intervened in courts in three states-California, Montana, and Hawaii-in their protection of Jeffries. Had Jeffries not been a white middle class man from a British Commonwealth country, INS perhaps would not have allowed him to remain for almost 20 years with false social security numbers, without passport, visa, or green card. In these several months, more than 20 innocent people I can name were harmed, and there were many more whose names I don't know.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are not being held accountable for facilitating this harmful criminal activity. Nor will Judge Graham and other judges in Marin County or the D.A. be held accountable for their collusion in protecting Jeffries and his crimes. Many innocent, law-abiding citizens in this case did not know the harm stemmed from their own public employees (police, FBI, D.A., and courts) and their snitch. Local and federal police are not making our streets safer. Indeed, their practices place us all in jeopardy. This is a microcosm of what these people do and how they do it, repeated every day across the country. They hurt those who are incapable of fighting back.

The government's use of informants is one of the oldest practices and one of the most problematic. For informants to be useful to law enforcement, they must ply their illegal "trades," and in this, they are not only protected but encouraged by the agents "running them," thus, facilitating and being complicit in their illegal activities.

This deep-seated corruption is an inherent part of law enforcement that courts find acceptable. If the notoriety of the FBI informants comes to media attention, as happened in Boston two years ago, when protected informants committed major crimes including murder, the agency and US attorney shrug this off as being the work of a few "rogue" agents, unfortunate but uncommon. (See "At stake in a messy Boston trial: How to handle informers' crimes," by Carey Goldberg, New York Times, 3/13/99). On the contrary, uncommon it is not, but business as usual.

Soon after Burton's trial, Jeffries was returned to prison in Montana, then quickly removed by INS and deported to New Zealand. If, however, he appears in the United States, with whatever alias, with or without the help of the FBI, Montana Corrections say they want him back to complete his sentence. Jeffries's victims, meanwhile, await justice. It may be a very, very long wait.

 

 

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