Feds launch witness tampering probe in Aspen drug bust
ASPEN – Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration served a subpoena on a Woody Creek resident Tuesday, ordering him to appear before a federal grand jury concerning the apparent identity leak of a confidential informant who provided key evidence leading to the arrest of six Aspen-area residents in May.
Michael Cleverly said DEA agents approached him at his home and told him that he is part of a witness tampering investigation that stems from an email that went into circulation last month. The email showed a photograph of the woman believed to be the DEA’s anonymous advisor, along with the subject line: “contract is out. … I’m offering $2 for the skin, dead or alive.”
The Aspen Times reported the email in a June 27 article titled “DEA’s trusted tipster not so confidential.”
Cleverly, the freelance journalist, published author and frequent contributor to The Aspen Times who received the email, was interviewed for the article. Cleverly told the newspaper that he had heard the informant’s name about one week before he received the email in mid- to late June.
Meanwhile, Cleverly said the DEA agents asked him Tuesday to provide the source of the email. He refused, and then was served with the subpoena. He said the subpoena orders him to appear before a federal grand jury in Denver on July 25; he also must bring his computer’s hard drive.
Cleverly said Jim Schrant, resident in charge of the DEA’s Grand Junction office, was among the three agents who served him with the court papers, along with David Storm and Paul Pedersen, who are based in Glenwood Springs.
Schrant on Tuesday night declined to provide specifics regarding the grand jury investigation.
“Any grand jury material is confidential, and we’re not able to speak on any level about grand jury proceedings,” he said. Grand jury hearings are private and inaccessible to the general public.
However, Schrant said that “in terms of the DEA’s position, any investigative leads or potential violations of the law, the DEA takes those very seriously and we will pursue all such investigations to the full extent of the law, utilizing all of our resources we have available.”
On April 19 a federal grand jury in Denver issued a nine-count indictment for the arrests of six local residents and four from Southern California. The DEA acted on the indictment one month later, making five local arrests without notifying Aspen or Pitkin County law-enforcement agencies, later explaining that they did not trust Sheriff Joe DiSalvo because of what they believed were “close ties” he had with some of the suspects.
Subsequent court hearings revealed that a confidential informant played a key role in the investigation leading to the arrests.
Cleverly said he told the DEA officials that he is a journalist and as such is covered by shield laws that protect reporters from revealing their sources. He said he will continue to refuse to disclose the name of the person who sent out the email.
“We actually went on to chat cordially for a while,” Cleverly said of the DEA’s visit. “I told them as far as I was concerned, that the statements that had been given to the press were so obvious to me, as a reader, that the confidential source could be outed by Steve Wonder that she was either [alleged ringleader Wayne Reid’s] girlfriend or mother.”
Cleverly said he told the agents that his car won’t make it Denver if he has to appear before the grand jury.
“They said they’ll send me a witness-protection van,” he said.
He went on to say that the subject line of the email in question was is not a serious threat.
“What they are doing is they’re harassing everyone with anything to do with the upper valley who has a distaste for undercover-narc BS,” said Cleverly, who collaborated with Bob Braudis, Pitkin County’s sheriff of 24 years, on the book “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson.” Braudis stepped down from his post in January.
Legal documents and testimony from a June 14 hearing in Denver’s federal court indicate that the DEA’s confidential informant was a female who provided evidence implicating 65-year-old Aspen resident Wayne Alan Reid and Christopher Sheehan, 65, of Snowmass. Both are in federal custody in Denver without bond.
Reid is 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. One defendant out of L.A. remains a fugitive.
The confidential informant evidently had immediate access to Reid, and twice took pictures of the cocaine Reid allegedly packaged, according to court testimony. She turned the pictures over to the DEA, according to June 14 court testimony from Pedersen, a Glenwood Springs police officer and special task force member of the DEA. The informant also witnessed on seven different occasions Sheehan allegedly buying cocaine from Reid, Pedersen testified.
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