More than 60 drug suspects won’t be tried

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 22, 2010



HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said Monday that cases against more than 60 suspects arrested in a year-long undercover drug operation will have to be dropped because of credibility issues plaguing the lead undercover investigator.

Just seven months after concluding the sting operation, dubbed “Krewe of Dope,” that netted nearly 100 suspected drug dealers, Champagne and St. Charles District Attorney Harry Morel said at press conference at the St. Charles Courthouse all pending charges related to the operation will have to be dropped because of allegations that the lead investigator, a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s deputy, lied about his arrest record on two separate occasions.

“We are doing this in the interest of justice,” said Champagne. “It is the right thing to do. It would be a waste of time for prosecutors and our court system.”

The investigator in question is Deputy Elijah Gary, a five-year veteran detective of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Champagne said Gary was “borrowed” for the drug operation and executed all of the undercover buys with suspects arrested. Champagne added it is common practice for smaller communities like St. Charles to share manpower with other agencies in an effort to make sure the operation stays undercover.

“Many of the dealers in the community know our deputies,” Champagne said. “Gary was not a familiar face, so he was able to build a relationship with the suspects.”

Following the conclusion of the drug operation in February, Champagne’s office learned that Gary had been arrested on a simple battery charge against his girlfriend in 2004 in Jefferson Parish. Champagne said although Gary had pleaded guilty to the charge in 2005, he denied the arrest when questioned by St. Charles deputies and a pair of assistant district attorneys.

The office later confirmed that arrest.

In April, Gary was charged with violating a restraining order taken out by the same girlfriend and later lied about the incident when questioned by Plaquemines Parish internal affairs.

This incident led to a two-week suspension and demotion by the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said Gary has been reassigned to the parish jail, where he works as an unarmed corrections officer.

Since defense attorneys in trials against these suspects would likely question Gary’s integrity, both Champagne and Morel believed he couldn’t possibly be a credible witness in any of the cases.

“A lot of them are guilty, but we wouldn’t be able to convict them,” Morel said. “We have a detective in these cases who was not forthcoming and truthful with us. I believe the outcome, although distasteful, is that we have to dismiss these cases. Hopefully this won’t happen again.”

Champagne said the operation netted 97 individuals suspected of street level drug dealing in St. Charles Parish, with most individuals dealing crack cocaine and marijuana. Champagne’s office even received a Law Enforcement Award for the operation from Crimestoppers in March.

Of those 97 arrests, Champagne said about 20 suspects had already pleaded guilty to charges related to the sting operation.

He said he did not know what would happen in those cases. As for the other 77, Champagne said many have bonded out, but some still remain incarcerated at the St. Charles Parish Jail on new drug charges. And others are facing federal charges for different incidents.

“These are chronic offenders in our parish,” Champagne said. “We are confident that many will re-offend. This incident will not hamper our drug enforcement initiatives in the parish. It also does not affect our relationship with Plaquemines Parish or any other jurisdiction with which we share forces.”