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News (Media Awareness Project) - US CA: Packed With Heroin, Burrito Had Bite
Title:US CA: Packed With Heroin, Burrito Had Bite
Published On:2012-01-26
Source:Los Angeles Times (CA)
Fetched On:2012-01-27 06:01:40

Records Reveal How an L.A. County Sheriff's Department Task Force
Used a Lunchtime Sting to Target Smuggling of Drugs Behind Bars.

The young woman sat by herself in a hallway of the bustling
courthouse, nervously clasping a brown paper bag. Inside was a warm
bean and cheese burrito stuffed with 24 grams of black tar heroin.

Henry Marin, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, peeked out from a
courtroom and waved her over.

Lunchtime was approaching - lawyers in suits clutched their
briefcases and witnesses waited to testify.

As the handoff was made, no one appeared to be paying attention -
until a voice commanded: "Deputy Marin, you need to stop."

What Marin didn't realize was that the hallway bystanders were
undercover sheriff's investigators. And the woman was a cog in an
elaborate sting targeting him and another deputy suspected of
smuggling drugs into the county's lockups for inmates in a notorious
prison gang.

Grand jury transcripts made public this week offer a rare glimpse
into the world of drug smuggling into the jails and reveal for the
first time how a secret Sheriff's Department task force has tried to
combat corruption among deputies helping to fuel a lucrative drug
trade behind bars.

Investigators have monitored phone calls in which jail leaders -
so-called shot callers for the Mexican Mafia - plot in coded language
to use sheriff's guards to bypass tight jail security. Successful
schemes bring tidy profits, as heroin and other drugs can be sold at
up to 10 times their street value to inmates who are desperate for a
fix behind bars.

The grand jury transcripts give details of the successes and hiccups
during the sting that ensnared Marin, complete with a video pen that
failed to work, detectives in disguise and a couple who unwittingly
walked into the sting with their own special package Marin was meant
to deliver.

Marin's case is the latest in a string of sheriff's employees accused
of smuggling narcotics in recent years. Sheriff's spokesman Steve
Whitmore declined to discuss the task force, saying, "We will arrest
. anybody that's involved in trying to take drugs into our jails. How
we do that, I'm not going to get into."

Earlier this month, the grand jury indicted Marin on conspiracy and
drug charges. He pleaded not guilty. In testimony before grand
jurors, investigators and others gave the following account of the inquiry:

In January 2010, inmate Carlos Gallardo phoned a friend who had
previously bought drugs for him. Known by the moniker "Trouble,"
Gallardo was a Mexican Mafia associate who had learned that a fellow
inmate, Robert Alvarez, was heading to the Airport Courthouse. In the
call, Gallardo used code to refer to drugs, calling them "his son" or
"Junior." A deputy - "the man in green" - would help, he told his friend.

The woman, however, refused. She reminded him of another time he
wanted a delivery in a hurry: a jail clerk was caught carrying 25
grams of meth destined for Gallardo.

Listening to the call was Jim Deruyter, a sheriff's investigator.
Later, Deruyter and other investigators confronted the woman at her
home about the conversation, and she broke down.

"Look," Deruyter told her, "we're after a deputy sheriff who is
dirty, one or two, and what we really need is your cooperation in
getting these deputy sheriffs."

Later that day, Gallardo called her back. This time, she offered to help.

The woman visited Gallardo in jail. Separated by thick plexiglass,
the two spoke in code via the jailhouse telephones. Gallardo had
written instructions on a tiny piece of paper he held up to the
glass; the woman scribbled the details on a magazine.

She was to put the drugs inside food and take them to the Airport
Courthouse at lunchtime, when it would be less conspicuous. She was
told to ask for Rodriguez or Marin, referring to deputies.

The Times is not identifying the woman, who has been relocated by law
enforcement authorities out of concern for her safety.

On Feb. 23, the woman arrived at the courthouse and entered an
elevator. Two undercover sheriff's investigators walked in, carrying
a burrito stuffed with heroin. When the elevator cleared and they
were alone, they handed her the food and quickly fitted her with a
recording device and the video pen.

Later, as the woman sat on a bench on the seventh floor, a couple -
later identified as Alvarez's relatives - sat near her holding their
own plastic foam food package. The woman called one of the nearby
undercover sheriff's investigators on her cellphone. "These guys are
bringing dope," she said.

Marin came out and accepted the food from the couple. Soon after, the
courtroom doors opened again. The woman got up and approached Marin.

Inside the courtroom vestibule, out of view of sheriff's
investigators, the woman gave Marin the burrito.

Interrogated after he was stopped, Marin admitted that he intended to
give the burrito to Alvarez after checking the package and didn't
know there were drugs inside. He said he had passed food to Alvarez
for about a year. He was never paid to do it, he said, but he did the
favor in return for extra sandwiches.

Victor Lewandowski, who was then a sergeant, confronted him with the
burrito and showed him the drugs.

"His story that he would risk his job for the promise of a sandwich
was ridiculous," Lewandowski testified.

"You're not one bit surprised to see that there is drugs in that
burrito, because you knew," the sergeant told Marin.

"No, no, I didn't know. I hadn't checked it yet," the deputy responded.

The other deputy, Oscar Rodriguez, still works for the department and
is now in patrol.

A sheriff's spokesman said Rodriguez, whose involvement is still
being investigated, declined to comment for this story.

Investigators never found drugs in the package from the couple with
the meat sandwiches but believed the contraband could have been taken
out before they intercepted it.

During Marin's questioning, he admitted delivering the two meat
sandwiches, one for Alvarez and one for himself. When Marin was asked
what investigators would have found if they had examined the
contents, he was blunt.

"Drugs," he said.
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