2 former IMPD narcotics detectives go on trial this week in corruption case
The IndyStar.com by Jon Murray - May 31, 2009
IMPD whistleblower’s tip got the ball rolling for FBI.
The IndyStar.com by Jon Murray - May 31, 2009
IMPD whistleblower’s tip got the ball rolling for FBI.
The way events unfolded the night of March 19, 2008, suggested an experienced, confident, highly efficient organization, a team of police officers skilled at hunting down drug dealers and their minions. But federal prosecutors say these officers weren’t out to fight the criminals — they just wanted to rip them off. For them, prosecutors say, the night’s work was routine. Word from an informant that a drug courier would have a bundle of $20,000 put the Indianapolis police officers in motion. A patrolman who had taken himself off the clock pulled the courier over on a side street off East Washington Street. While one narcotics detective served as a lookout in his black Mercedes-Benz, another in an unmarked car soon arrived. The two officers found and took the cash from the driver, then gave him some bogus case information and let him go, never reporting the stop. Later, prosecutors say, the officers split the cash with their tipster. Court documents filed by the U.S. attorney’s office suggest the shakedown was just one of the tactics the officers honed through years of graft. They also falsified search warrants and skimmed drugs from intercepted shipments for use by their own sellers, the documents say. The rip-off seemed to be running smoothly that night, except for a small detail the officers missed.
The FBI was watching. Two guilty pleas
Within months of that shakedown, FBI investigators would uncover the worst Indianapolis police corruption scandal in years, resulting in a federal indictment in June 2008 against the two narcotics detectives and the patrolman. This week, former Detectives Robert B. Long, 35, and Jason P. Edwards, 38, are set to face a jury on conspiracy, drug and firearms charges. Federal prosecutors have painted Long as the conspiracy’s leader. The trial likely will include hours of intercepted phone conversations and testimony against the former detectives by the patrolman, James D. Davis, 34. He has pleaded guilty and accepted the prospect of 10 to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors say they’ll present evidence of the detectives’ misdeeds in the three months after the March shakedown by Long and Davis, which was actually a test engineered by the FBI. Agents used a state trooper posing as a drug courier in an attempt to verify a tip about some bad cops. Before the FBI was watching, prosecutors say, the officers’ escapades ranged from $900 swiped during a patdown to $125,000 stolen from a Bentley luxury car that was a target of a federal drug investigation. The prospect of easy riches lured the officers back time and again, court documents say, despite close calls. Edwards had been suspended just before the shakedown on accusations that he cashed a $725 money order swiped from a suspect’s wallet. Edwards’ attorney, Kevin McShane, declined to comment on earlier conduct but did say that only incidents covered by the indictment should be presented to the jury. “We look forward to going to trial and defending those allegations,” McShane said. Long’s attorneys, Jeffrey Mendes and Ralph Staples, said they plan a vigorous defense. Long faces what effectively would be a life sentence if he is convicted on all counts; Mendes said prosecutors’ best plea offer so far is 35 years in prison. The lead charge against both defendants says they conspired to possess and intended to distribute at least 50 kilograms — or 110 pounds — of marijuana. The men were part of IMPD’s 19-member narcotics unit, a key organization combating a drug trade that is tied to so many other crimes in the city. Indianapolis attorney Martin Solomon represents Long’s cousin Kabec Higgins, a fourth defendant who pleaded guilty. Solomon says excerpts from wiretaps and other evidence in the case startled him. Prosecutors say the officers handed over much of the marijuana they stole to Higgins, who estimated he sold 100 pounds or more for the detectives. “I would read this stuff, and it was amazing,” Solomon said. “They were like common criminals. It’s like something you see on television. It’s unbelievable.”
A decade together
Long, Edwards and Davis met at the Indianapolis Police Department training academy in 1998. Edwards and Long would become partners in IPD’s narcotics unit, but Davis dropped out of the academy. He joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in 2004 and became an officer on the merged metropolitan police force in 2007. Since 2001 or 2002, according to a trial brief filed by prosecutors May 18, Davis had heard Long and Edwards talk about “cuffing”: swiping money, firearms, jewelry and even flat-panel televisions during drug searches. In 2006, according to Davis, Long — a former Marine — asked him to help for the first time. Davis said he helped control the crowd outside the scene of a drug raid as Long carried a box of about 30 pounds of marijuana to his trunk, intending for a relative in Detroit to sell it. On the night of his arrest last year, Edwards gave a slightly different account of the time frame, telling investigators he and Long began stealing drugs and money from dealers in 2007. “Edwards and Long used James Davis as a uniform officer to stop drug dealers using Davis’ IMPD marked police car,” says a summary of Edwards’ statement, filed in February with a prosecution motion. “James Davis also assisted as a uniform presence during bogus search warrants conducted by Jason Edwards and Robert Long,” the summary continued. By then, all three men were married and had school-age children. Long and Edwards used some of the money they were bringing in to travel, including a first-class trip to Hawaii taken by Long and his wife, the trial brief says. How else the money may have been spent or how much the officers might have obtained has not been spelled out. Edwards told investigators that in 2007, the officers stole 30 to 40 pounds of marijuana and an ounce or two of cocaine from dealers and intercepted parcels, often turning to Higgins, nicknamed “Spank,” to sell the drugs. Marijuana, provided a few pounds at a time, would sell for $200 to $500 a pound, according to Higgins’ statements in the trial brief. He sold a half-kilogram of cocaine — a little more than a pound — for $12,000 in January 2008. Higgins, now 32, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He told prosecutors he was seeking a fresh start in 2004 when he moved to Indianapolis from Kentucky, where he had drug convictions. Soon, he said, Long was providing him with small amounts of marijuana for his own use and enlisting his help.
There were close calls before last year, court documents show. In December 2006, federal investigators were concerned by a search the officers made of a house in the 5200 block of Southeastern Avenue. Edwards, Davis and Long used a search warrant and took a few thousand dollars but left more money behind, according to the trial brief. The feds, who were investigating the same suspect’s involvement in a methamphetamine ring, heard panicked chatter about the unexpected IMPD search on tapped cell phones. Investigators questioned Edwards, who defended the search. Davis told prosecutors that Long and Edwards jeopardized a major investigation for a lucrative payoff. In June 2007, while Davis was out of town, Long took part in drug raids that involved IMPD, the FBI and other agencies. There was talk of a Bentley packed with cash. Long and Edwards found it first. They broke into the trunk and stole about $125,000, the prosecutors’ trial brief says. Eventually, Edwards may have picked on a victim willing to speak up. During the search of a home in December 2007, according to a probable cause affidavit, Edwards took the money order from a suspect’s wallet and cashed it. The suspect complained, and Marion County prosecutors charged Edwards with theft and forgery in March 2008. The case is still pending. The IMPD suspended Edwards. Long and Davis continued to work. Even then, the larger investigation was only starting. A tip from inside IMPD brought deeper scrutiny of the trio. Chief Michael Spears would not elaborate on the whistleblower. U.S. Attorney Timothy M. Morrison would not comment about the case last week. But the tip was enough to spur the FBI to try its test later in March. That, in turn, would serve as the FBI’s basis for wiretaps on Long’s and Edwards’ phones, recording thousands of conversations through June 2008. “Long and the other cops were so dirty that they didn’t even see that they were being set up,” said Solomon, Higgins’ attorney. “One honest cop doing his job tipped off the feds.”
FBI sets up stings
During the trial, prosecutors could cite some incidents that allegedly occurred before the FBI started surveillance to buttress their arguments, and it is possible new names could surface. But Edwards’ and Long’s charges are based solely on conduct under the FBI’s watch, sometimes in new setups. Among those actions, a law enforcement officer in Arizona alerted Long to an inbound shipment of marijuana, and prosecutors say that by the time the 50-pound package reached IMPD’s property room, only 20 pounds remained. Long also is accused of whipping up a fake search warrant for a Southside apartment in a quest for a major dope haul. “Dog, if this (expletive) work out right, it be equal damn near last summer,” Long told Edwards on one call, the indictment says. “It’ll blow last summer out of the water. ..... All together, the next two weeks, and I’m retired.” But the search by Long and Davis was fruitless, and the three officers would chart only one more mild success. Five days later, prosecutors said, the officers busted into a Near-Northside house and found $18,300 and 5 pounds of marijuana. Davis wiped their fingerprints off the door, but he didn’t need to bother. It was the FBI that stashed the loot in the house, and agents were less than two weeks from closing in.
THE INDICTMENTS: DETAILS
The roles of key players in the scandal, according to a federal indictment:
- The ringleader: Ex-Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Detective Robert B. Long. An FBI sting caught him pulling his unmarked car up behind a uniformed officer's traffic stop of a drug courier. The officers took $20,000 and split it with the informant who had tipped Long off.
- The partner: Ex-IMPD Detective Jason P. Edwards. Suspended on suspicion of theft, he was doing surveillance for Long when the FBI sting took place.
- The uniform: Ex-Patrolman James D. Davis. His marked car and IMPD uniform helped detectives stop dealers in traffic and control the scene during thefts.
- The dealer: Kabec Higgins. The detectives turned to Long's cousin, who had been convicted of several drug offenses, to sell the marijuana they stole.
- Country Club Apartments -Acting on a tip from an informant, Long and Davis use a bogus search warrant to enter a unit of the Southside complex in the 300 block of Troy Avenue, the indictment against them says. Before entering the apartment, according to the indictment, Long tells Edwards in a wiretapped phone call: "Dog, if this (expletive) work out right, it be equal damn near last summer." They expected to find cash stuffed in trash bags, the indictment says, but came up empty.
- Kenwood Avenue home -Tipped by an informant, according to the indictment, Long, Edwards and Davis enter a vacant house in the 2200 block of Kenwood Avenue on the Near Northside. They find $18,300 and 5 pounds of marijuana.
OTHER ARRESTS OF IMPD OFFICERS
- Several Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers have been arrested in the past year and charged with misconduct or corruption-related crimes.
Jan. 13, 2009: James Ingalls, 41, faced charges of official misconduct and patronizing a prostitute after officials said he used his access to a Westside elementary where he moonlighted as a security guard for trysts with a prostitute. He pleaded guilty last week to official misconduct and received a year on probation and community service.
Aug. 21, 2008: Marion County prosecutors filed charges of rape, criminal deviate conduct and other crimes against Anthony S. Smith, 37, saying he forced a 19-year-old woman to have sex with him or go to jail. The case is pending.
Aug. 14, 2008: Christopher Poindexter, 35, was arrested after, police say, he filed a false report to cover up an accident in which his fiancee sideswiped a vehicle while driving his department-issued cruiser. A judge acquitted him of the charge in February.
July 2, 2008: An Indianapolis police officer and his wife were accused of running a prostitution ring out of their Greenwood home, and a former top criminal justice agency official was arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute. Officer Jeremy Lee, then 30, was fired after Johnson County prosecutors filed a felony charge of aiding in promoting prostitution against him. His wife, Lori Vernon-Lee, then 36, faces five felony counts of promoting prostitution. The case is pending.
June 27, 2008: Jason S. Barber, 32, a narcotics investigator, was arrested and charged with two felonies, accused of selling a handgun to a convicted burglar. The case is pending.
April 4, 2008: Noble Duke pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court after admitting he tipped off an acquaintance to a June 2007 drug raid; that information later reached some of the investigation's targets.
A trial begins Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, before Judge Larry J. McKinney, and likely will stretch into next week. Former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department narcotics Detectives Robert B. Long and Jason P. Edwards face charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 50 kilograms -- or 110 pounds -- of marijuana. They also face other drug and firearms charges.
- Long: If convicted of all counts, he could face 55 to 95 years in prison.
- Edwards: If convicted of all counts, he could face five to 40 years in prison.
FALLOUT OF THE CASE
The indictments of Long, Edwards and two others had far-reaching effects inside and outside IMPD. After their arrests:
- Marion County prosecutors dismissed at least 20 pending cases investigated by Long and Edwards, most involving drug dealing and possession.
- IMPD brass announced an "integrity plan" that included mandatory performance evaluations and better recruiting. Some items were tailored to the case, including random polygraph testing for officers in narcotics, vice, intelligence and the property room; and tighter oversight by supervisors over searches and evidence collection.
U.S. attorneys have indicated they might call an FBI special agent to testify about code language used by the officers during intercepted phone calls. Among the terms:
- Cuffing: The theft of property by police officers during a search.
- Ticket: The price charged for marijuana.
- Flip it: Distribute or sell seized marijuana.
- Get a legit one: Obtain a legal search warrant.
- Print one out and put some (expletive) on it: Create a fictitious search warrant.
- Cake: Money.
- Strap: A gun.
Sources: U.S. District Court documents, Star archives