Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trinity County: Drug sting appeal advances

BY SALLY MORRIS
THE TRINITY JOURNAL

A citizens group of former Trinity County grand jury members is happy with the progress of its appeal to the federal 9th Circuit Court seeking to halt the nationwide practice of reverse sting operations to nab drug dealers and manufacturers.

The appeals court has ruled that the case be filed and directed that the U.S. attorney representing the government agencies involved respond within 45 days.

A requested 75-day extension has been protested by the local group “and that’s where we are right now, but the judges’ ruling at least means they have agreed our case has merit and will be heard,” said former Trinity County grand jury foreman Dr. William Koch of Lewiston who has spent years pursuing the case.

It stems from reverse stings conducted by the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force in 1995 and 1997 involving methamphetamine production and sales in Trinity and Shasta counties.

The defendants, Erwin and Michael Spruth and John Rowley, were ultimately convicted and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for crimes that occurred after they were furnished by undercover BNE agents with ephedrine and other precursors for the production of methamphetamine.

In 1998, the Spruth brothers and Rowley sought to dismiss their convictions based on outrageous government conduct, but were not successful. They appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit Court that also refused to overturn the convictions five years ago. Though in each case, the government agents’ conduct was called into question, the defendants’ convictions were upheld on different grounds.

They have now filed another appeal to the 9th Circuit claiming the government agencies committed fraud upon the lower courts and the Trinity County citizens group has filed an amicus curiae, friend of the court brief in support of the defendants’ latest appeal.

The former Trinity County grand jury members who investigated the reverse sting operations from 2003 to 2005 concluded that the true victims were the citizens impacted after the government’s sting operations resulted in the uncontrolled release of massive methamphetamine doses sold to the public and never recovered.

They also claimed that government agents knowingly watched as cancer-causing contaminants — the byproduct of methamphetamine production — were dumped into Summit Creek near Hayfork and never cleaned up.

“We want the judges to issue a stay on all of these illegal reverse stings nationwide. We contend that the sting was only a ploy by the government to get the money from the drug sales,” Koch said.

He added that he has filed a freedom of information request to obtain records of all the monetary transactions that transpired to offer the court as additional evidence.

He and others involved in the citizens group expect to appear in front of the appeal judges’ panel once the government’s response is in and the case is reheard.

“We’ve gone a long ways down this legal track and we’re happy with progress so far,” he said.

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