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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tapes Reveal Cops' Conversations About Drug Deals

Tapes played at trial reveal officers' conversations about drug deals
The Tulsa World by Ziva Branstetter and Omer Gillham - June 3, 2011

A Tulsa police corporal told an FBI agent posing as a drug dealer he could sell methamphetamine to multiple customers in Tulsa and "go on with your life," according to taped phone calls played during a police corruption trial Thursday. "I think part of the deal we made was you keep your expense money, we turn in the profit," Cpl. Harold Wells told the agent. The agent was posing as a Mexican drug dealer nicknamed "Joker" who came to Tulsa monthly to sell methamphetamine. "I don't want to hurt you, but I want to turn something in to make the district attorney happy," Wells said on the telephone call. During the same call, Wells said: "My word's more important to me than any bad guy getting locked up." The call was one of 10 between Wells and the undercover agent, Joe McDoulett, taped by the FBI between July 10, 2009, and Aug. 21, 2009. The call and several others were played by prosecutors during the third day of a police corruption trial in Tulsa's federal court for officers Bruce Bonham, 53, Nick DeBruin, 38, and Wells, 60, who is now retired. Wells' attorney later pointed out that officers often lie to informants during drug investigations. Wells, Bonham and DeBruin are on trial before U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane W. Duke, of eastern Arkansas, is prosecuting the case. The three men are accused of a combined 13 counts including conspiracy, drug possession with intent to distribute and planting drugs on people they had arrested. Wells, DeBruin and Bonham face several charges related to money they allegedly stole during an FBI sting May 18, 2009. Officer John K. "J.J." Gray pleaded guilty last year to theft of government funds for stealing money during the sting and testified Wednesday against the officers. The sting at a Super 8 motel on East Archer involved McDoulett, who officers were told had large amounts of cash and possibly drugs in his room. Wells, Gray, Bonham and DeBruin were among the officers present at the motel. A video played during the trial Wednesday showed Gray, Bonham and DeBruin placing in their pockets items that an FBI agent identified as cash. Wells and other officers had searched the room but were unable to find the methamphetamine an informant had said should be there. McDoulett testified that the conversation turned toward McDoulett "working" for Wells and Gray to provide them with a key drug dealer they could arrest. McDoulett also understood their agreement to mean he would sell meth in Tulsa without being arrested if he provided the officers with one of his customers to arrest. In return, the officers said they would supply him with a new customer, he testified. The officers eventually allowed McDoulett to leave the Super 8 without arresting him and turned in money seized at the hotel. Prosecutors allege the money was turned in after officers stopped a federal agent in the area and became suspicious that a sting had taken place. In the following weeks, McDoulett continued to have contact with Gray and Wells to discuss coming to Tulsa to sell more drugs, the taped calls indicate. During a call with Gray on May 19, 2009, McDoulett said Gray told him the new customer would be named Ryan. When McDoulett asked Gray if he should also talk to Wells, Gray responded: "We share everything. Calling me is like calling H," using Wells' nickname. In a call with McDoulett on July 10, Wells explained he would be in Costa Rica when McDoulett planned to come to town, adding: "You're not going to stop doing business just 'cause I can't play." In a July 25 call, Wells asks McDoulett: "How's business?" "Make it real, real simple," he tells McDoulett. "Plan here so we take off one (customer) and everybody's happy." In a call three days later, Wells tells McDoulett: "I just wanted to uh, run the game plan by you and uh, make sure everybody's on board ... and see how we can use what you normally do and make it easier for us to pick one off and get you on your way."

The FBI arranged for an informant to come to Tulsa and buy 1 pound of methamphetamine from McDoulett, posing as the new customer. McDoulett testified he sold the informant, Ryan Logsdon, the methamphetamine at a hotel near Catoosa on July 29, 2009, and the drugs were turned in to the FBI. After the deal, McDoulett talked to Wells and said he planned to send Logsdon "on his way,'' to which Wells replied, "OK." Logsdon was not arrested. McDoulett testified that later that day, a second FBI agent - posing as the customer Wells would arrest - met with McDoulett at the hotel. McDoulett called Wells to say the customer had not brought enough money to buy the methamphetamine and that he was leaving. Police stopped the undercover agent and seized about $9,000 but did not arrest him because they found no drugs, testimony indicated. Wells told McDoulett in the July 29 call that he had built up a network of trusted informants during his years as a police officer. "If I was to get killed in the line of duty today, I'd have six informants to carry my casket," he said in the taped call. Later in the call, Wells says he can persuade Tulsa judges to be lenient with people accused of crimes if they are helpful as informants. "I can get things dropped or attitudes changed." McDoulett testified he met with Wells in person Aug. 18, 2009, to discuss continuing their arrangement. McDoulett said he wore a wire and the conversation was taped as they sat in Wells' police car. During the meeting, Wells told McDoulett: "When we were selling dope and busting people, they usually pay, uh, a 10 percent back on that." He also said that "the police officer's the most powerful person in the system 'cause he can usually dictate which way the case is going." During cross-examination, Wells' attorney, Warren Gotcher, pointed to grand jury testimony that McDoulett had given earlier. During that testimony, McDoulett said he ended the relationship with Wells in August because "we weren't getting anywhere" and police would continue to turn in the money they seized. Gotcher also pointed out that it was common for police officers to lie to their informants. McDoulett said that occurred sometimes but that his practice was to limit information rather than lie. McDoulett also agreed with Gotcher that despite the fact that officers found no drugs during the May 18 search, they did not plant any drugs on him. During cross-examination by William Lunn, Bonham's attorney, McDoulett said he never saw Bonham that day and that his name never came up in the calls with Wells. McDoulett also said he had no interaction with DeBruin since the sting May 18, 2009. Former Tulsa police officer Bennett Forrest also testified Thursday about the undercover sting. Forrest said at one point, DeBruin said "he had money in his pocket and wanted to find a drug dog" to sniff it. Forrest said it is not a common practice for officers to separate cash they believe could be drug proceeds. He said the officers brought no evidence bags to the scene for placing the cash or drugs they found. Forrest testified about discovering a man driving a car in the area who was acting suspiciously. He said he and DeBruin stopped the man, who identified himself as an agent with the U.S. Office of Inspector General named Roger Bach. "The whole situation just felt odd," Forrest said.

Thursday's developments - Prosecutors played eight taped telephone calls and one taped meeting between Cpl. Harold Wells and an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer named "Joker." Wells discusses allowing the dealer to come to Tulsa and sell methamphetamine to customers who would not be arrested, provided that the dealer allowed one customer to be arrested.

Interesting moment - In a call July 29, 2009, Wells assures "Joker" he would keep to their arrangement not to arrest his customers. "My word's more important to me than any bad guy getting locked up."

The day's testimony - Bennett Forrest, former TPD officer: Testified about the traffic stop of a federal agent, Roger Bach, caught driving through the area during an FBI sting May 18, 2009. Forrest testified he saw no illegal activity by TPD officers during the sting. Chris Claramunt, TPD officer assigned to DEA task force: Testified Officer John K. Gray called him to ask what "OIG," or Office of Inspector General, meant. He also said he had never known Nick DeBruin or Wells to substitute drugs when they found none on suspects. Joe McDoulett, undercover FBI agent: Testified about numerous phone calls and conversations with Wells about allowing McDoulett to sell drugs in Tulsa.

Original Print Headline: Officer makes deals in calls
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306 Omer Gillham 918-581-8301
By ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor & OMER GILLHAM World Staff Writer

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