How the Drug War Works

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Via To the People and reader John B. Slattery comes this Oregon News-Register account of how the drug war operates: through crapola minions such as Marc Coven, "a career informant trailing a criminal record and a well-documented history of entrapment."

During a four-month sting operation, capped with a late-June sweep timed to coincide with a well-publicized Meth Summit, the Yamhill County Interagency Narcotics Team employed a career informant trailing a criminal record and a well-documented history of entrapment, the News-Register has learned.

Repeating a pitch polished over 32 years of paid informant work in Oregon, Washington and California, the 51-year-old Portlander dangled hope of high-paying construction and landscaping work. Those tactics stirred such controversy in the early 1980s that even the attorney general felt moved to condemn them, but he seems to have flown below the public radar ever since.

Following his script, investigation shows, undercover operative Marc "The Mole" Caven suggested it would help applicants' prospects if they could hook him up with a bit of methamphetamine or marijuana. And at least 46 of them succumbed to the pitch, landing them berths in the Yamhill County Jail.

The suspects include a 22-year-old McMinnville youth who finally came up with less than half an ounce of marijuana after reportedly being hounded by Caven on a daily basis for weeks. Pumping gas, the lure of construction work at $10.50 an hour got the better of him.

Now facing the Class A felony charge of delivery, pegging him as a dealer, he fears he will never get the financial aid to follow through on college plans. He said he's feeling "like my life is over."

A 19-year-old Amity youth was so excited about the job promised to him that he carried Caven's phony business card everywhere he went, called his big brother in California with the news and laid plans to buy some sturdy work boots. He's also facing a felony charge—one sharing Class A status with murder, rape and kidnapping.

Whole thing here.

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  1. This reminds me of the song “Forkboy” by Lard:

    “Forkboy
    Flies by night on stolen fuel
    To Santa Rosa, CA
    Opens a fake employment office
    “Want a job? Go get me drugs”
    People desperate for work
    Return to quite a surprise
    Busted for intent to sell
    Cops pay him a bounty
    Forkboy skips town”

    Any idea who that song was about?

  2. I am looking forward to those drug war tribunals that will one day (hopefully) bring justice to this sort of madness. There is no moral defense for some of these far reaching drug warriors who intend to inflict harm on the citizens.

  3. Well, at least the defendants have laid the groundwork for an exciting and (plainly) long-lasting new career: Informant! Assuming, of course, they are >actual< criminals and thus know something. If they are completely new to this, then plainly they are ignorant and should go to prison for a long, long time. I love our DAs!

    Joe: Just a stab in the dark, but … I think it’s Forkboy.

  4. Glad to see these dangerous people are off the streets, never again to poison America’s children. Everyone allways gets what they deserve. Hopefully, they have learned their lesson about how wrong it was what they did and will repay their debt to society.

    He’s also facing a felony charge – one sharing Class A status with murder, rape and kidnapping.

    Drug dealing is worse, those things affect individuals, whereas drugs kill everyone.

    J

  5. sigh.

    actual criminals, and therefore have dirt to spill. If they are simply first-time yahoos, they won’t know anything useful and thus should go to prison for a long, long time. I love our DAs!

  6. actual criminals, and therefore have dirt to spill. If they are simply first-time yahoos, they won’t know anything useful and thus should go to prison for a long, long time. I love our DAs!

    That’s how justice works, get used to it.

  7. Posted: Please Don’t Feed the Troll

  8. As for these poor saps now sitting in jail, it sounds to me like their only crime was being gullible enough to believe they could secure better-paying jobs by providing this creep with drugs. How that could have sounded like a good idea is beyond me.

    Besides, everyone knows that such jobs are only obtained through a series of blowjobs, and it so happens that currently I am accepting applications. Call now; a promising future awaits you!

  9. This guy has been doing this since ’81 — How is it no one has retaliated ? I would thank that in so many years of doing this crap someone would have a vindictive relative/friend who would make some time to “talk” to this guy.

    But I do admit, he must have had some gullible dupes. I mean “score me some pot, and Ill give you a high paying job” ?? If the guy really ran a construction company, Im sure he has his own damn hookup.

  10. I remember John Tierney catching hell becuase people felt a column he wrote implied that drug cops are cowards for busting pain doctors(the column simply said it was easier). Frankly, I don’t see what else you can call people who have badgered and coerced people into commiting crimes so they can boost their arrest numbers. I guess “predatory cocksuckers” will do, but it’s not NYT friendly. What’s worse is that they believe they’re heroes. It’s everyone else who are criminals just waiting to be found.

    The purpose of law enforcement is to enforce the law, not trick people into breaking the law, then bust them and have a parade.

  11. Is Forkboy related to Spoon Man?

  12. Maybe somebody ought to offer the guy a job in mining – like deep exploratory mining, at the bottom of a shaft.

  13. Earn $10.50/hour working construction! Send resume, photo, hours you will be home, and half-ounce of ditch weed to: Happy Dude, 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield. Don’t delay!

  14. Frankly, I don’t see what else you can call people who have badgered and coerced people into commiting crimes so they can boost their arrest numbers.

    Exactly. The cops that took part in this are cowards. Someone needs to say it. Doesn’t even a single one of them have the courage to stand up and refuse to participate in such outrageous and immoral conduct? This kind of stuff is why I have so little respect for any police anymore. After that story I’d say it has gone from very little to virtually none. And what to say about this informant character? Hey this is Oregon after all; where’s Tanya Harding and her goons when you need them?

    I guess “predatory cocksuckers”

    Except that it might be unfair to the real predatory cocksuckers…

  15. Does this The Mole put “Drug Informant” on his 1090? This is disgusting, and I say that as someone who only thinks pot should be legalized so that the “Legalize It!” people’s heads explode.

  16. Is Forkboy related to Spoon Man?

    Yes, through his sister’s marriage to Mack the Knife.

  17. Explain to me how this sort of entrapment is any different than the common tactics used for prostitution busts (which I also think are crap).

  18. Is this scumbag’s name “Marc Caven” “Marc Craven” or “Marc Coven”? The linked article says “Caven” many times.

  19. common tactics used for prostitution busts

    You’ll have to be more specific. If a cop is pretending to be a prostitute, then as long as the john approaches the cop first, that is not entrapment.

    This gives a nice brief overview of entrapment.

    It seems clear to me that this is a blatant case of entrapment.

  20. It seems clear to me that this is a blatant case of entrapment.

    And frickin’ how, to mix idioms.

  21. The purpose of law enforcement is to enforce the law, not trick people into breaking the law, then bust them and have a parade.

    Pfff – where’ve you been?!

    I wonder how this is any different from those people who inform on their friends and family for speaking ill of the ruling party in those *other* totalitarian countries.

  22. Got to agree with Chicago Tom: how has this guy NOT ended up at the end of an alley with two in the back of the head? If this guy has been operating out of the same county for 32 years I cannot see how even the most inept drug operation could not finger him. We hear stories of parents attacking other parents and refs at sporting events, yet no one went after this guy for putting their child in jail thru such tactics?
    And how many of the convicted have been released in those 32 years?

  23. Got to agree with Chicago Tom: how has this guy NOT ended up at the end of an alley with two in the back of the head?

    It sounds like he doesn’t cause any real trouble to your hardcore, pipe-hitting type criminals, but instead makes a living entrapping non-criminals, and maybe snagging the occasional wannabe gangsta.

    Still, I would happily spit on his grave if he were to accidentally try to rat out a real bad guy, and get his ass capped for it.

  24. If one of the applicants had supplied him with oregano, I wonder if they would’ve been charged with misrepresentation of goods.

    Nah, probably would’ve just arranged for it to become pot.

  25. anyone want to know where the war on terror is headed?

  26. There’s a fairly obvious answer to why nobody killed him:

    The people he “busted” aren’t actually criminals.

    The actual criminals, the sort who might be inclined to put bullets in people’s heads, aren’t going into his office looking for landscaping jobs.

  27. Joe said : “The people he “busted” aren’t actually criminals.”

    Its true they weren’t criminals, but many non-criminals have exacted revenge for far less. Just like Jeff said about parents losing it and go after opposing parents at kids sporting events and whatnot. They weren’t criminals either, but took up criminal activity when uhmm…they reached a certain level of frustration?.

    In 32 years Im sure there must be at least one questionable character that had “friends” who would be willing to put a beat down on this fucker! I know if it was my kids future that was jeapordized because of this crap I would at least consider some sort of vigilante justice

  28. joe,

    I wonder how many people who have spent several years behind bars would come out more hardened criminals than they would have been otherwise. Yeah, we’re really helping society there.

    I’m not really disagreeing with you, joe, just extending.

  29. It is interesting that after 32 years he’s never either (1) busted the wrong guy (“wrong” as in “the sort of guy who knows how to get revenge”) or (2) busted somebody who became so hardened by prison that he was willing and able to get revenge.

    My best guess? Hardened criminals (be they victims of his who become hardened, or professionals that his victims might try to hire) know better than to mess with this guy, because he’s well protected. He’s a guy who’s made himself indispensable to a lot of people for a lot of years, and if something happens to him the cops won’t simply write it off as one more guy who spent too much time in the underworld and paid the price.

    You could ask why he’s never been attacked by somebody who’s so outraged over his life being ruined (or a loved one’s life being ruined) that he doesn’t care about consequences. Well, my guess is that this guy lies low, makes a point of keeping his comings and goings and addresses confidential, never sits with his back turned to an open door, and just generally watches his back.

    Not to mention that some people are just plain lucky. The Devil watches over his own.

  30. Indulging your resentments is luxury that most people can’t afford.

    Also, I’d be willing to bet that most of his marks were compelled to turn state’s against their dealers, feel like they’ve barely dodged a bullet, and don’t want to get back in front of it.

    Plus the “friends in high places” point from above.

  31. While this guy is a scumbag of epic proportions, he’s not the one ruining these people’s lives. The police depts that are hiring him with full knowledge of his techniques, and then defending these techniques afterward, bear the greater part of the blame.

    All I can say is, if these guys get convicted, we can be sure that jury nullification is dead and buried.

  32. This guy’s a regular Huggy Bear gone bad.

  33. joe makes another good point: If most of his victims have turned state’s evidence and testified against whoever sold them the stuff, then they probably got lighter sentences and come away feeling like they had a narrow escape and want to stay out of trouble. Of course, there will be a few who come away wanting revenge, but maybe they’re too afraid of him. He’s undoubtedly well protected.

  34. Who will protect us from those who want to protect us from ourselves?

  35. ME,

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  36. The WoD is its own entrapment. (Sort of like that country music hit: “I am my own grandpa.”)
    To the extent the WoD forces entrepreneurs onto street corners and puts plenty of profit margin into their product.

  37. “If most of his victims have turned state’s evidence and testified..”

    That’s the part I can’t wrap my head around. If I’m a local drug dealer. (And I dont mean the the little guy, but one of the big time guys) this guy is a HUGE, HUGE liability to my work / profits / customer base. I would imagine that the dealer would have quite the incentive to off this guy and make it look like an accident or something. That would get rid of the threat and possibly deter anyone else from choosing “informant” as an occupation.

    The Mob had a way of dealing with rats, and I can’t imagine that drug dealers wouldn’t employ a similar tactic. This guy was a contractor with a criminal record himself. He had no legal standing as a cop or anything to deter anyone from getting at him and I doubt that too many communities (many of which, the story seems to imply, have been outraged a number of times by these tactics) would have shed much of a tear nor demanded the solving of this crime.

    Or maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing, and thoreaou is corrent when he says “the devil watches over his own”.

  38. Clarification: By “contractor” my post above I meant a hired gun as far as setting up sting operations.

  39. During the tyrannical reign of Caligula, he often made up capricious new laws with the sole intent of arresting those who were in violation the next day. He would have the new law posted on an unreadable sign atop a very high pole in front of the Senate, then send out his goons to arrest anyone who happened to be eating lefthanded, or whistling indoors on a tuesday or whatever.

    Our country’s drug laws seem to have a similar nature. Capricious laws more designed to keep the law enforcers in business than anything else.

    Futhermore, Caligula would execute the “criminals” and seize all their assets, which was the point of the entire excercise. Sounds familiar…

    nmg

    * i.e. execute and sieze all of their assets

  40. ChicagoTom-

    My guess is that this guy is:

    1) Lucky
    2) Careful in his personal habits (sleep with one eye open, never give away his home address, never attract attention to himself when he walks down the street, etc.)
    3) Protected from on high
    4) Careful in his choice of targets

    On that last point, I’d be interested in knowing who he brings down. If he gets some formerly law-abiding citizen to testify against the flunky selling stuff on the street corner, somebody higher on the criminal food chain is no doubt annoyed. But is he annoyed enough to risk taking down a guy who’s protected? He can always find a new flunky. (Maybe some guy who’s just been released from prison and can’t find a job because his reputation was ruined by an informant.) As long as this sleaze spreads out the misery, never taking down too many flunkies working for the same guy, he can probably get away with it.

    As to #3, when I say protected, I don’t mean that if something happens to him the best cops on the force will mount a thorough and professional investigation to make sure that the attacker is brought to justice. I mean that they’ll find the dirtiest cops on the force and remove their leashes. If something happens to this guy, I somehow doubt the culprit will enjoy much in the way of due process.

    And, as you agreed, the Devil looks after his own.

  41. “this guy is a HUGE, HUGE liability to my work / profits / customer base.”

    Why? The people he busted were, at most, consumers. The only people they could turn in are the level of dealer who sell half ounces to customers.

    It’s not as if drug users, or guys out hustling bags, are particularly hard to come by.

  42. Thoreau, ChicagoTom

    Being a mj activist in the Pacific NW (PNW), I am of the opinion that the violent mob element is either nonexistant or relatively insignificant up here when it comes to the pot trade. If this guy was to operate, say, in California for a lengthy chunk of those 30 odd years of being a snitch, he probably would have been dealt with long ago. He certainly would have expired had he tried this in LA, SD, or possibly even Oakland!

    If you recall, ABC news with the late Peter Jennings had a special called Pot of Gold. They came up with the stat the 1 in 5 households in certain parts of Portland and Seattle grow mj. Therefore it is quite likely Caven is going after people related to these small ops types. He apparently has a profile for whom he goes after since he stops them and offers them a job. Someone in a larger operation might not look like a kid in need of a job. In fact, they probably laugh in his face at the thought of $10.50 an hour for construction.

    I have met a number of these small ops people and the majority of them don’t own any firearms nor has a violent bone in their body. They are more likely to be peace loving types that appreciate a finer quality herb, much like a typical beer home brewer, and thus grow it for themselves and maybe a few friends and family. When done wrong by Caven, they probably lay as low as possible and hope his karma pays him for his crimes. They know that trying to retaliate violently will more likely increase their own risk and make matters worse.

    I recall one guy who was a leader of many Olympia mj activists. He was flashy and thumbed his nose at the cops while toking in public. One day, the cops had enough and took him down. He rolled on many of the local activists leading to several possession arrests and worse for those that had small grow ops. He served no time. He is still in the community, alive and well, but no one talks to him, invites him to any functions, or want anything to do with him. Many were wishful that he rolled on the wrong guy and got dealt with, but that wasn’t the case.

    Just to be sure, I am not saying there is no violent mob element in the PNW, I am just pointing out its insignificance within the pot trade, contrary to what the drug warriors want us to believe. I moved here from California and was immediately amazed at how peaceful and respectable the pot community is in the PNW. Night and day difference.

  43. joe said “Why? The people he busted were, at most, consumers. The only people they could turn in are the level of dealer who sell half ounces to customers.”

    Joe I get what you are saying, but eventually the chain keeps moving up. The guy who sells half ounces to customers buys from a guy who sells pounds to customers, the guy who sells poundes buys from someone. Each level someone is going flip on a bigger fish.

    Or do you think that the cops are going to just stop with the guy who sells quarters and ounces and not try to flip him or find out his supplier?

  44. Or do you think that the cops are going to just stop with the guy who sells quarters and ounces and not try to flip him or find out his supplier?

    I think it’s a little more complicated than that. They can’t just bust a junkie who turns in a street seller who turns in his boss who turns in his supplier who turns in a smuggler who turns in a lieutenant who turns in a drug lord. If it worked that way then every bust would set in motion a chain of events that would topple a king-pin.

    I imagine there’s a number of reasons for this:

    1) These guys are probably good at covering their trails, making it tougher to prove anything. If an underling is arrested, I’d assume that the bosses change their habits, lie low, and tell their money launderers to take extra precautions.

    2) Really good witness protection is expensive, and killing relatives is cheap.

    3) Moral Hazard: If every low-level employee of a criminal organization has a get-out-of-jail-free-card, then what’s the disincentive to get involved? The cops have to save their sweetheart deals for a handful of guys with really juicy stories. Remember, the whole point of prohibition is to “send a message.” If you only arrest a handful of people and give everybody else a sweet deal, no message is sent.

    4) Gee, I wonder why the cops might not always go after the guys at the top with enough money to bribe, blackmail, or kill anybody who gets in their way. Anybody got a clue? I’m stumped here.

  45. It looks to me like the cops are using this scumbag, despite his methods clearly being entrapment, for several reasons:

    * When they report to ‘on high’ they are expected to deliver arrest numbers, not convictions.

    * A large percentage of these kids will get scared and rat out the low-level dealer they bought from. One more arrest, even if not another conviction.

    * Any kid that hangs tough probably gets offered a ‘drug court’ deal by the prosecutor’s office and never actually does any time. So not much in the way of actual costs involved. (Other than the ruined lives because of the drug records, but who cares about that?)

    So there is no reason for the cops not to use such heinious tactics; its a win-win for them. The only way to stop this is to make the cost to the cops greater than the gain. Starting by making them report only arrests leading to felony convictions. Add in a nice juicy class-action lawsuit and you might even get somewhere.

  46. thoreau,

    I agree with a lot that, but it seems to me that once you go after the guy who sells the quarters, it wouldn’t be hard to set up a sting for his supplier. They wouldn’t publicize the busts that could potentially get them a bigger fish.

    As for the disincentive to join theory, its not like they are just gonna let everyone go. But we see reduced sentences for co-operation all the time. Someone pleads to a lesser charge in exchange for co-operation. You still get a record/fine/jail/conviction time but you do less time and maybe have your feolny dropped a class. Why would these cases be any different?

    Of course maybe Im just bitter that someone hasn’t taken the initiative and put this guy permanently out of business 🙂

  47. Heh. I used to live pretty close to McMinville. In the early 1980s (at least) it was a shithole.

    BTW, in my misspent youth I think I might have met this “Mole” fellow.

  48. gaius marius,
    I’m eager to hear where the war on terror is taking us. I apologize for not asking sooner.
    Speed–especially speed-reading–is the eighth deadly sin.
    Or was your question rhetorical? Whatever.

  49. Ruthless,

    Regarding where the war on terror is taking us related to war on drugs, I heard this little gem a few weeks ago on NPR (a pedigree that many will rightly attack but I found this piece exceptionally well done).

    http://www.thislife.org and find “The Arms Trader” (Episode 292)

    It costs $13 to download. I am surprised the Reason staff has not highlighted it here yet. What to you say, Nick? Can you spring for it?

    It’s a long complicated story and there are no sypathetic characters.

    Basically, after 9/11 the FBI uses an ex-DEA informant (that the DEA dropped because of his style!) to entrap an Indian Muslim salesman into supplying a surface-to-air missile to a terrorist contact in New Jersey. Not only is the terrorist buyer the U.S. government but, after over a year of the suspect failing to produce a single weapon, the government acts as his supplier as well. After a long sting operation (hailed as a major success by the Justice Dept), he is the only one facing charges because he is the only one in this scenario who is not working for the feds.

  50. “Gee, I wonder why the cops might not always go after the guys at the top with enough money to bribe, blackmail, or kill anybody who gets in their way. Anybody got a clue? I’m stumped here.”

    Especially since the cops working with this gentleman have such a highly developed ethical sense.

  51. The Mob had a way of dealing with rats, and I can’t imagine that drug dealers wouldn’t employ a similar tactic.

    And the drug war has made law enforcement get so bad that people like me find ourselves thinking we’d be better off in a country run by the freaking Mob that by our “elected” government (elected is in quotes not as a jab at Bush, but because I, personally, never got a chance to vote on the drug war or DEA). I’d rather pay half my salary in “protection” money and be free from the threat of jail than pay one-third of my salary in taxes and have the threat of bullshit imprisonment hanging over me.

    Also, as a former stripper I can honestly say that guys in the Mob are more polite and respectful than guys who work for the TSA.

  52. “I used to live pretty close to McMinville. In the early 1980s (at least) it was a shithole.”

    Ehh? I do live nearby, and McMinnville is (and has been) a sleepy rural farming town. Just the kind of place where you would find poor teenagers desperate for a good job, and a chance to get ahead.

    Got something against little podunk farm towns?

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