Peter Gorman

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The fake-drug scandal that led to the arrest of more than 50 innocent people during the past two years on drug charges continues to rock the Dallas Police Department.
During the past three months, lawsuits against the department have been filed, the FBI has begun its own investigation, the two primary officers involved claim they were duped by drug dealers, and a likely source of the fake drugs has come to light.

The scandal, which first made news in December 2001, involved Enrique Martinez Alonso, an informant who worked for years for two Dallas narcotics cops, 10-year veteran Cpl. Mark Delapaz and Officer Eddie Herrera. During the last two years, Alonso's tips and the drugs he allegedly bought from those charged--mostly Mexicans and many illegal--were the primary evidence in over 70 drug cases that have since been dismissed because little or no drugs ever existed. Lab tests have shown that the dozens of kilos of "cocaine" and "methamphetamine" turned in by Alonso are nothing more than gypsum.

The fake drugs were first discovered in the fall of 2001, when defense attorneys asked that lab tests be performed on the evidence. By then, more than 10 people--whose lawyers had not requested the tests--had been jailed, others were awaiting trial, and more than two dozen had been deported to Mexico.

Since the scandal broke, Alonso, who was paid nearly $250,000 by the Dallas police for his work during the last two years, has claimed he was duped by drug dealers who substituted crushed Sheetrock for the real drugs, after field tests were done to assure quality. Delapaz and Herrera agree with Alonso, claiming they, along with Alonso and the other informants they used, never meant to rack up arrests with fake drugs.

During March, however, one of those other informants, Reyes Roberto Rodriguez, told FBI investigators that the gypsum claimed to be drugs actually came from pool-hall chalk purchased by Alonso's brother. Though Alonso claimed he had no idea how the alleged drugs turned out to be gypsum, the FBI, following Rodriguez's lead, discovered that 80 kilos of the chalk had been purchased in August from a pool-hall supplier just outside of Dallas, by a man whose name and car matched Alonso's brother. The man said he was planning to open a pool hall in Mexico. The FBI admits that in early April it confiscated large quantities of the chalk from the home of one of the informants in the case.

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Dallas Fake-Drugs Scandal [cont.]

HOW THE BUSTS WENT DOWN

How so many of the busts occurred without arousing the suspicion of either Cpl. Delapaz, Officer Herrera or their supervisor, Lieutenant Bill Turnage--who was promoted to deputy chief in September 2001--remains a mystery. In many cases, Alonso simply appeared with alleged drugs and claimed he'd bought them from people he'd evidently never even met. On other occasions he hired Mexican day workers to deliver cars for him, and when the workers arrived with the cars they were arrested with several kilos of alleged coke or meth in the trunk.

The first sign of things not being quite right occurred in August 2001, when a defendant's attorney asked that the "coke" be lab-tested. The tests came back negative. Alonso was questioned by his handlers and subsequently passed a polygraph, and the detectives were given permission by Lt. Turnage to continue working with him.

A civil-rights lawsuit against Delapaz and Herrera was recently filed on behalf of Erubiel Cruz--who spent five months in jail as a result of a fake drug bust--and others by attorney Don Tuttle. In their April response to the suit, both Delapaz and Herrera claimed that Alonso may have been duped by drug dealers into accepting fake drugs but that they had acted in good faith, and had never planted drugs, fake or otherwise, on anyone.

The city of Dallas, also named in the suit, responded by claiming the gypsum may have "been substituted by drug dealers without the informant's knowledge." It contends that "Officer Delapaz had reason to believe that the informant was credible because he had provided information in the past resulting in many valid drug arrests and seizures of... controlled substances."

Enrique Alonso, who has a criminal record, faces trial on unrelated fraud and immigration charges. Delapaz and Herrera were put on paid leave in January. Both claim that the seized drugs in all the cases dismissed to date tested positive in the field, and that they cannot explain how the substitution of the fake drugs occurred.