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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Former Police Officers Set to Face Drug Trial

Former South Bend police officer Jamie Buford and former St. Joseph County police officers Andrew Taghon and Ryan Huston are set to face trial Monday.

The Tribune by Erin Blasko - January 27, 2009

A 2007 federal indictment charges the three with aiding and abetting wire fraud and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute the drug. Taghon also is charged with selling a firearm to a felon and sale of a stolen firearm. A fourth man, Daniel Alvarez, also is included in the indictment. Alvarez pleaded guilty in February 2008 to selling two stolen guns linked to Taghon and has agreed to testify for the prosecution. On the eve of the trial, the documents outline to a degree not previously known the intricacies of the alleged conspiracy, including its origins, the players involved, and the twists and turns that led to its eventual unraveling. What unfolds is a tale of greed, betrayal and gross abuse of power.

The Trailers

The case against the three officers centers on the alleged theft and subsequent sale of drugs and other items from two South Bend trailers — one located in Clear Water Mobile Village and the other near South Bend Regional Airport. William Speybroeck, a childhood friend of Taghon and a convicted felon, allegedly assisted the men in the criminal enterprise. He fenced many of the items by placing them for sale on eBay, prosecutors allege, and then split the profits with the officers. He also allegedly attempted to locate people willing to take drugs off the officers’ hands. In October 2007, Speybroeck spoke to The Tribune from prison about his role. At the time, David Capp, acting U.S. attorney for Northern Indiana, would neither confirm nor deny Speybroeck was involved in the conspiracy. Prosecutors allege that in July 2004, Buford visited one of the trailers and attempted to serve a phony warrant to its owner, a man he knew to be a possible drug dealer. He was allegedly accompanied by another officer, and a third officer arrived later. Without proof of the warrant, however, the man would not let the officers inside and they eventually left. Later that same month, the owner of the trailers was arrested. While in custody, Taghon and Huston allegedly broke into both trailers and stole several items. The two allegedly brought the items to Speybroeck’s home in a police vehicle. They told him from where they came, prosecutors allege, and Speybroeck agreed to buy two desktop computers and two flip-down television monitors. Huston allegedly kept a plasma television. He hung it above his fireplace, and Speybroeck later helped him connect to it a surround-sound system. Before leaving, Taghon and Huston allegedly told Speybroeck items of value remained in the trailers, and suggested he loot them.

Beaten to the punch

Soon, Speybroeck enlisted the help of another man, prosecutors allege, and with Taghon guiding him by cell phone, drove to the Clear Water trailer at night. When the two arrived, however, several people were already removing items from the trailer. Taghon, by cell phone again, allegedly told Speybroeck and his accomplice to wait for the people to leave and then follow their vehicle. They did, but were eluded. The two then returned to the trailer and broke in, prosecutors allege, but found nothing of value inside. The next day, Speybroeck allegedly enlisted the help of another man and drove to the second trailer during the day. Finding it locked, they allegedly called Taghon and were told Taghon’s "partner" was on the way to assess the situation. While waiting for the partner, however, several people arrived and, as with the first trailer, began removing items. Speybroeck and his accomplice left, prosecutors allege. They met Taghon in a parking lot, where he allegedly told them he had already taken some items from the second trailer.

The cocaine

About a week later, Taghon and Huston allegedly visited Speybroeck again and asked whether he knew of anyone who might be able to take some cocaine off their hands. They then allegedly opened the trunk of their squad car and revealed to Speybroeck cocaine they claimed had been stolen from one of the trailers. Daniel Alvarez, the fourth indicted person, was allegedly contacted by Speybroeck about buying the drugs at a very low price, but eventually declined. Alvarez later pleaded guilty to selling two stolen guns traced back to Taghon. The weapons were allegedly used in the shooting of an undercover South Bend police officer in 2004. The gun charges against Taghon allegedly stem from his original sale of the weapons to a known felon. Several days later, Buford allegedly contacted a confidential informant about selling the cocaine as part of the informant’s ongoing work with police. On two separate occasions, prosecutors allege, the informant was given 9 ounces of cocaine. After selling the drugs, he handed the proceeds over to Buford and Huston.

The recordings

Speybroeck allegedly continued working with Taghon and Huston throughout the summer and fall of 2004. He listed stolen items for them on eBay, and then transferred money from the sales to their accounts, committing wire fraud. In 2005, however, Speybroeck learned he was under investigation by federal authorities for interstate transportation of stolen property. When Taghon learned of the investigation, he allegedly advised Speybroeck to seek leniency by informing on a firearms dealer who illegally sold a gun to Speybroeck. The plan backfired, prosecutors allege, and instead of leniency, Speybroeck found himself facing gun charges as well.

In May 2005, Speybroeck was charged with firearms and interstate theft offenses by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana. He pleaded guilty and agreed to provide information concerning other crimes in the district, including those involving the officers. Speybroeck and his wife were both given concealed audio recorders, and over several months allegedly recorded phone and face-to-face conversations with Taghon, Alvarez and Speybroeck’s two accomplices in the trailer burglaries. His wife’s recorded conversations were mostly with Taghon, prosecutors allege, and occurred during the time that Speybroeck was still in state custody, before he reported to federal prison. The conversations mostly consisted of Taghon’s efforts to help the family out financially by purchasing from them stolen goods, prosecutors allege. But Taghon also allegedly inquired routinely about the extent to which Speybroeck was cooperating with federal authorities to "work some of his time off." Speybroeck’s recordings were allegedly made between September 2005, when he was released from state custody, and mid-October 2005, when he reported to federal prison. To get Taghon to talk about the conspiracy, Speybroeck allegedly lied and said he had heard a county police officer had testified against him to the federal grand jury, and that he feared that officer might be Huston.

In the recorded conversations, the two allegedly talk not only about Huston, but Buford, Alvarez and several others involved either directly or indirectly in the conspiracy. At the same time, Taghon allegedly continued to press Speybroeck about his time in custody and the extent of his cooperation with authorities. The two last spoke on Oct. 10, 2005, the day before Speybroeck was scheduled to report to prison, prosecutors allege. At one point during the conversation, Taghon allegedly passed a note to Speybroeck that read, "Do me and (Huston) have anything to worry about?" Speybroeck allegedly said no, and Taghon asked if he was sure. When Speybroeck asked why Taghon had posed the question in writing, Taghon allegedly said, "Well, you were asking some pretty f-----’ weird questions the other night, man …" Speybroeck allegedly explained he had been trying to determine who had testified against him to the grand jury. "It ain’t me and it ain’t Huston," Taghon allegedly said. "It ain’t nobody else." The next day, Speybroeck went to prison. Two years later, federal agents arrested Taghon, Huston and Buford. Staff writer Erin Blasko: (574) 235-6187

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