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No Federal Charges Against BNI Agents


The state drug task force in Philadelphia had been under investigation over allegations of  false arrests.

By Mark Fazlollah
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Philadelphia Inquirer

A federal investigation of the state attorney general's drug task force in Philadelphia -- prompted by allegations that agents gave false testimony about drug seizures and arrests -- has ended with a decision not to prosecute any agents.

U.S. Attorney Michael R. Stiles said yesterday that the two-year probe of the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI) "did not result in the filing of criminal charges."

The city and federal court systems were rocked three years ago by disclosures that cast doubt on the credibility of some agents from the bureau's Philadelphia office, established in 1989.

More than 125 drug cases, some involving large quantities of heroin and cocaine, were tossed out by judges or withdrawn by prosecutors because of doubts about whether the BNI agents had legal grounds to make arrests and drug seizures.

At one point in 1996, Stiles and Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham stopped prosecuting cases handled by the BNI agents under suspicion.

Stiles, in a two-paragraph statement yesterday, said his office "has closed its investigation of the conduct of agents of the Philadelphia office (Region IX) of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics Investigation . . . without the filing of criminal charges against any person."

The statement said "no further comment . . . is permissible under Justice Department standards."

Among the BNI cases dumped in 1996 was one involving a Dominican man allegedly caught with 2.2 pounds of pure cocaine. A federal judge freed the suspect, Miguel Tapia, after prosecutors said a BNI agent had admitted to
them that his testimony about an informant in the case had been "a misstatement."

In another case the same year, federal prosecutors asked a judge to overturn a drug-trafficking conviction "in the interest of justice." Defense lawyers had contended that a BNI agent lied to make it appear that he had probable
cause to make the arrest. The suspect, Melvin Santiago, was freed after serving one year of a five-year prison term.

In a case in Common Pleas Court, the District Attorney's Office withdrew charges against five suspects allegedly arrested with $200,000 worth of cocaine. BNI agents said they made the arrests after seeing drugs in plain
view in a house where one of the defendants lived. The D.A.'s Office, evidently not believing that account, told a judge that the case "lacked prosecutorial merit."

After the problems surfaced, then-State Attorney General Tom Corbett reshuffled the local BNI office, on Essington Avenue near Philadelphia International Airport, replacing its director and transferring several agents.

Later, at a state Senate subcommittee hearing on BNI, an alleged drug dealer whose case was dropped testified that he had been framed by the state agents.

Corbett's successor, Michael Fisher, said through a spokesman yesterday that he was "pleased that the U.S. Attorney and the FBI have concluded their investigation without the filing of any criminal charges."

Fisher's spokesman said that BNI last year added 25 new agents to the Philadelphia office. He said the agents have been working jointly with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and Philadelphia police.
 

1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

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