Narcotics Agents Allegedly Covered Up An Informant's Heroin Use

By Keri Blakinger 03/01/16
A Pennsylvania drug control unit has been accused of withholding information about an informant's heroin use.
Narcotics Agents Allegedly Covered Up An Informant's Heroin use
Photo via Shutterstock/Joshua Resnick

A warrant missing crucial information about an informant's heroin use has led to a credibility-damaging federal lawsuit for a Pennsylvania drug control unit.

As 60 Minutes documented on an episode last December, there are plenty of potential problems inherent in the use of confidential informants. Sometimes informants are put in grave danger, sometimes they have abusive handlers, sometimes they set up people who aren’t really dealers and sometimes—according to a recent report in the Allentown Morning Call—they steal some of the drugs for themselves.

In May 2013, Justin Williams was charged with possession with intent to deliver drugs after a raid on his home turned up heroin, cocaine and marijuana. But now, Williams’ lawyer is alleging that the search warrant should not have been valid in light of allegations that an informant used some of the heroin he bought from Williams. The warrant was issued based in part on the informant’s heroin purchase from Williams—but the warrant itself made no mention of the informant’s own drug use or the fact that some of the drugs went missing.

"You have no business not mentioning that in the search warrant," defense attorney Eric K. Dowdle said Friday. "I think that's a gigantic problem and that's obviously why they didn't put that in the search warrant." He argued that using an informant who may have been under the influence during the buy calls into question whether he could be considered a trustworthy source.

"You can't cheat to enforce the law," Dowdle said. "Otherwise you might as well do nothing."

The matter came to light after former Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics Investigation agent, Charles Horvath, filed a federal lawsuit against the state attorney general’s office, alleging that certain whistleblower laws and his right to free speech had been violated. The suit claims that Horvath was harassed and ultimately fired after he reported the incident to the head of the narcotics bureau.

According to the suit, an informant purchased drugs from Williams in a controlled buy in May 2013. But when the informant returned, some of the heroin was missing and agents found a needle hidden in his boot. A supervisor allegedly flushed the needle down the toilet.

That buy was just one of six used to justify the raid on Williams’ home. Ultimately, he was not arrested for selling drugs to the informant, but for what was discovered in his home during the raid. He pleaded guilty to one possession charge and was sentenced to four to 23 months behind bars.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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