DEA’s trusted tipster not so confidential
June 27, 2011
ASPEN – They’re called everything from snitches to narcs and beyond, but in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration, they’re confidential informants.
And it appears that the confidential informant whom the DEA relied upon in its recent investigation in Pitkin County has lost her confidentiality. Since the DEA’s sweep last month, the woman’s name has surfaced more and more as the informant who fed the agency tips.
And last week an email was circulating with a woman’s photograph and the subject line: “contract is out. … I’m offering $2 for the skin, dead or alive.”
The photo was of a woman who’s evidently well-known in some local circles, but is getting the kind of notoriety the DEA wants kept under wraps.
“We would never confirm nor deny the identity of a person that cooperates with the DEA,” Kevin Merrill, DEA acting special agent in Denver, said when told the name. “It’s just not our policy to comment on those names.”
Likewise, Jim Schrant, resident agent in charge of the DEA’s Grand Junction office, wasn’t talking.
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“We would never comment on a confidential source in any circumstance,” he said.
Legal documents and testimony from a June 14 hearing in Denver’s federal court indicate that the DEA’s trusted, anonymous advisor was a female who played an integral role in the investigation that led to the May 19 arrests of local residents Joan Anastasi, 67; Jack Fellner, 61; and Peggy Schlauger, 41; along with Aspen Village resident Joseph James Burke, 63. They are free on $20,000 bonds.
Another local suspect, Christopher Sheehan, 65, of Snowmass, was arrested May 19 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. He remains in federal custody in Denver, as does 65-year-old Aspen resident Wayne Alan Reid, the suspected ringleader of a network that feds say imported more than 200 kilograms of cocaine from Los Angeles to Aspen over the past 15 years. All six local suspects have pleaded not guilty to the charges, as have three defendants in the Los Angeles area.
The confidential informant evidently had immediate access to Reid, and twice took pictures of the cocaine Reid allegedly packaged. She turned the pictures over to the DEA, according to the June 14 testimony from Paul Pedersen, a Glenwood Springs police officer and special task force member of the DEA.
The informant also had telephone conversations with Reid following his April arrest in Mesa County after deputies allegedly found a kilo of cocaine in the trunk of a rental car he was driving; Reid had been pulled over after going 5 mph over the speed limit on Interstate 70 near the Utah border. While in jail, Reid called the source and told her to retrieve files from his house and give them to Peggy Schlauger, 41, of Aspen. (Schlauger also was arrested May 19.) He also told the confidential source to pick up a black duffel bag, Pedersen told the court.
“The informant had access to his house,” Pedersen said. “The informant retrieved the black duffel bag from the garage and turned it over to us.” In the bag were “several vials of coke and Ziploc bags of coke.”
The informant also witnessed on seven different occasions Sheehan allegedly buying cocaine from Reid, Pedersen testified.
It’s unclear how the informant’s name was leaked. Calls placed to numbers in her name were not answered.
Woody Creek resident Michael Cleverly, a former Aspen Times Weekly columnist, was one of the recipients of the email with her photo. (Her name was not included with the email.) He said he learned about the informant’s name more than a week before he received the email.
“I’ve heard it from multiple sources who are in town and others who are time-zones away,” he said. “And the email I got was from someone who doesn’t live here. I don’t know the woman. I wouldn’t know her if I tripped over her.”
Defense lawyers, however, may get a chance. The Sixth Amendment allows a defendant to confront his or her accuser at trial. And in this case, were the confidential source’s information considered relevant enough to present at trial, she would have to present it herself, noted Gerald Goldstein, a part-time Aspen resident and past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Goldstein, whose law practice is based in San Antonio, Texas, has no ties to the DEA-Aspen case.
Goldstein said the court gave Pedersen more latitude at the detention hearing than he would get at trial, because the rules of evidence don’t apply in a detention hearing. In other words, at the detention hearing Pedersen relayed to the court what the informant told him; that would be considered hearsay at trial and would be inadmissible. So whether the confidential informant is revealed at trial would, in all likelihood, come down to “whether or not the informant’s identity becomes relevant,” Goldstein said.
“There could be a situation where the informant becomes a witness to the facts of the case – then their identity is important,” he said.
Goldstein said that if the informant did testify, her identity would not be protected.
“If there’s an eyewitness to the event, they’ll have to come in and subject themselves to confrontation [by the defense],” he said. “In trial, the officer [Pedersen] couldn’t testify to what people told him.”