Cleveland DEA Informant Scandal Unravels


Last July, I posted about a brewing scandal in Cleveland in which longtime DEA informant Jerrell Bray admitted to conspiring with DEA agent Lee Lucas to lie in at least two dozen cases, resulting in 21 convictions.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the sad case of one of the wrongfully accused, nursing home attendant Geneva France.

Geneva France walked out of federal prison with $68 and a bus ticket home. That's all the government had to offer a woman who had served 16 months of a decade-long prison sentence for a crime she didn't commit.

The mother of three returned to her family, but her youngest child—who was 18 months old when France was sent to prison—didn't recognize her.

And France, 25, had no home to return to.

Her landlord had evicted her from the rental during her incarceration, and everything she owned had been tossed on the street.

France's case is the nightmare scenario for a system that critics say sometimes dispenses justice differently for rich and poor.

It shows how easy it is for the government to get convictions in cases built on shaky investigations.

Defense attorneys say a street-smart but dishonest informant and a federal agent working without oversight manipulated the system to convict France and dozens of others.

"They stole the truth," France said. "I don't think I'll ever trust people again. It's too hard."

"I don't know how a human being with a heart could stand up there and lie about another person," France said. "They stole part of my life."

France can't find work because she can't get references, and can't explain the 18-month gap in her employment record she spent wrongfully incarcerated. She couldn't keep in touch with her kids while in prison because they couldn't afford to visit, and she couldn't afford to call. The federal government owes her a hell of a lot more than $68.

Fifteen more convictions related to the investigation are likely to be overturned in the coming weeks. Bray, the informant, is now in prison for perjury. Remarkably, DEA agent Lucas not only hasn't been charged or convicted, he apparently still has a job. His dealings with Bray mark the sixth time in his 17-year career that he has come under investigation for his work with informants.

In 2005, a report by the FBI's inspector general found that agency failed to comply with DOJ guidelines regarding the use of informants 87 percent of the time. That's not a typo. In nearly nine of every ten cases. And that's just the FBI. The report didn't cover other DOJ police agencies, like the DEA or ICE.  I've reported on how the FBI won't even guarantee that its informants aren't killing people—or sending innocent people to prison—while agents look the other way.