Category: confidential informants

How the US government used a Mexican drug lord to convict an innocent man

Ramsey Muniz runs for Texas governor in 1970

By Alan Bean

Ramsey (Ramiro) Muniz is a man of seventy who hobbles on a bad hip, but his spirit grows stronger with each passing day.  Ramsey has now spent two full decades in federal prisons (including three years in solitary confinement) for participating in an alleged narcotics conspiracy.  Supporters feel that a septuagenarian with a broken body and a vibrant heart is a sterling candidate for a presidential commutation.  I agree.  But first we must face a troubling question.  Somebody entered into a conspiracy with a Mexican drug lord, but was it Ramsey Muniz or was it the federal government?

Eager for a big media splash and an easy conviction, the Houston office of the DEA treated their counterparts in Dallas to a series of carefully staged events while intentionally obscuring the truth.  Those who testified at trial had no idea what was going on; those who knew the truth did not testify.  The DEA got a big media win, a drug lord got a plane ticket back to Mexico, and Ramsey Muniz got a life sentence.  (more…)

A Snitch’s Dilemma

By Alan Bean

A Snitch’s Dilemma” takes us inside the world of a typical Atlanta street hustler.  His name is Alex White.  It’ a long piece, but this isn’t the kind of story you can tell in 700 words.  White made his living as a drug dealer and a snitch.  Narcotics officers knew he was dealing but didn’t care; the men who supplied him with drugs may have known he was a snitch but looked the other way so long as he only set up “nobodys”. 

Then a gang of Atlanta narcotics cops killed an innocent old woman in a botched drug raid and Alex White’s neat world came apart.

Ted Conover wrote this piece for the NYT Magazine.  He doesn’t glamorize his subject or his life on the streets.  Instead, he gives us a portrait of a man trapped by the streets.  When federal authorities urge him to get out-of-town for his own safety, White is terrified by the thought of leaving his familiar streets.  He can’t survive anywhere else.

Alex White is smart.  Smart enough to have excelled in school had he been so inclined.  But, in the words of his on-again-off-again girlfriend, he was too “hoodish” for the straight life.  But did he choose to be that way or was there are a certain inevitability about it?

A Snitch’s dilemma takes us inside the world Alexandra Natapoff describes in “Snitch,” the best book I have seen on the subject of criminal informants.  But this isn’t really a story about a snitch; it’s about the neighborhood that shaped Alex White and the social and economic conditions that shaped that neighborhood. 

This is also a story about the futility of a drug war that perpetuates the evils it was ostensibly created to eliminate.  Highly recommended.

When proof isn’t possible

By Chaka Holley

“Innocent until proven guilty is the old mantra”; but a convicted defendant is “guilty until proven innocent.” James Legate and his wife, Yolanda, are attempting to prove his innocence as he sits behind bars in Texas.

Legate was convicted of the murder of Eddie Garcia, a San Antonio businessman. Garcia, known as the “Bingo King” owned a home-health care business, tons of real estate and managed prize fighters. He is also known for giving a $35,000 bribe to former Congressman Albert Bustamante. The two of them were under FBI investigation. A federal jury found Bustamante guilty of racketeering but Garcia was never indicted. Friends of Garcia have also alluded to Garcia being involved in other illegal practices.

Legate, on the other hand, was the man on trial. His job repossessing cars landed Legate in the middle of a murder scene. It was like a scene from a television crime show. After having drinks at a sports bar, Legate reports going to Garcia’s office in search of Marilyn Maddox, a woman who had recently worked for Garcia and was behind on her car payments. Legate explained that he visited the office in an attempt to repossess her car. (more…)

Head in the sand over prosecutorial misconduct

Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky is dismayed by Supreme Court rulings that protect unscrupulous prosecutors from the consequences of their actions.  The Friends of Justice share this concern.  The pious doctrine that American citizens stand before the law as equals is a worthy aspirational goal, but it bears little relation to actual practice.  The title of this post is taken from the title of professor Chemerinsky’s article in the National Law Journal.

In the real world, American citizens are scattered along a continuum stretching from low-status black males (who can be prosecuted and convicted on the basis of uncorroborated snitch testimony) all the way to prosecutors and judges whose professional behavior, no matter how flagrantly illegal, cannot be prosecuted at all.  We cannot admit that some can be convicted without real evidence (ala Tulia) while others smoking-gun isn’t enough to put people like Terry McEarchern (Tulia, TX), Brett Grayson (AUSA, Western Louisiana) and Harry Connick Sr. (New Orleans) out of business.  (more…)

ACLU report focuses on Mississippi drug war


For years now, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have been competing for the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in America.  A new report commissioned by the ACLU of Mississippi asks why the Magnolia state’s prison population has exploded in recent years.  According to the report:

Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation, at 749 prisoners per 100,000 residents. Between 1994 and 2007 the state’s incarceration rate ballooned by 105 percent, compared to just 46 percent for the nation as a whole and 51 percent for the Southern region. During that same period, prison expenditures by the state of Mississippi grew by 155 percent. By mid year 2008, Mississippi’s prison population had reached a record high of 22,764. (more…)