Agents cant keep hands off drug evidence
December 1, 1998
When federal agents broke the "Blue Thunder" heroin ring in New York City, they snared 34 men suspected of reaping millions in drug profits between 1986-1991.
Yet it turns out the biggest crooks included at least two agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who were involved in the arrests.
As members of a multi-agency task force, the agents, through illegal arrests and seizures, succeeded in enriching their own lives while destroying the lives of innocent people.
And prosecutors withheld information on the investigation of the agents during the trials of several targets of the Blue Thunder probe violating the defendants rights to information for their defense.
For example, Alfred Bottone was charged with being one of the leaders of the heroin conspiracy, but he never learned during his trial that the very officers who investigated him were being investigated themselves.
In fact, one of the agents would eventually end up in the same prison as Bottone, who is serving a life sentence.
Sammy Shalikar and his brother-in-law also were nailed by the Blue Thunder task force. Theyd both fled Iran in 1979 and founded Gallery 2000, a successful jewelry store in the Bronx.
On June 22, 1992, drug task force officers used false evidence to obtain a search warrant for Shalikars Great Neck, Long Island, home and his jewelry store, where several bags of jewelry and cash were seized.
The task force officers found no drugs.
Shalikar and his brother-in-law were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine based on the testimony of a government informant who later would be proven a liar. Shalikar spent six months in jail on Rikers Island as the case wound its way through the federal court system in Manhattan.
Finally, U.S. District Court Judge Pierre Leval dismissed all charges against Shalikar and his brother-in-law.
"It was a scandalous and terrible event when misconduct by law enforcement officers results in the filing of false charges," Leval wrote in 1993.
But that wasnt the worst of it.
Shalikar eventually learned that the task force officers who arrested him had themselves been under investigation for theft. One of the task force members, Robert Robles, admitted that he and his partner, Joseph Termani, sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry that was seized from Gallery 2000 during the raid.
Shalikar and his brother-in-law lost their store to bankruptcy.
Termani confessed to the thefts after he was confronted by Robles and others involved in the sale of heroin they stole and sold in another case this one related to Bottone.
Five years after being sentenced, Bottone says the same misconduct that led to Shalikars arrest was also present in his Blue Thunder trial, yet he says no one wants to listen because he has a criminal record.
Bottone figures if his appeal is ever heard, the evidence will show that all three agents who caused his imprisonment were corrupted long before his case began. And that prosecutors never gave him the opportunity to use that information to raise questions about their credibility on the witness stand.