House Investigates Charges That Rep. Waters, Reno Squashed Drug Probe

Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:27pm EDT
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( - The House Government Reform Committee concluded hearings Thursday into whether Attorney General Janet Reno called off an investigation into the alleged drug-dealing activities of a prominent rap promoter and did so under pressure from a leading Democratic House member.

James Prince, founder of Rap-A-Lot records, was the lead target of a 1999 probe into drug activities that netted nearly 20 convictions, including one for murder. But the Drug Enforcement Agency official leading the probe, Jack Schumacher, testified Wednesday that he was told by Houston field office commander Ernest Howard in September 1999 that the investigation was being shut down under "political pressure."

"He looked at his watch and told us the time and date and said, 'It's over,'" testified Schumacher.

On August 20th of that year, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent Attorney General Janet Reno a letter accusing Schumacher and several other DEA agents of racial profiling and other civil rights violations, including the beating of suspects.

The letter stated, "Simply put, Mr. Prince believes strongly that the Department of Justice must intercede into the questionable practices of DEA and provide him with the necessary protection to ensure that his life and livelihood are not subjected to ongoing harassment and intimidation."

Four days later, the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility conducted a deposition of Price in Waters' congressional office, with a court reporter, attorneys and Waters' husband present.

At the conclusion of the deposition, then-DEA chief inspector Felix Jiminez told Waters "We've been sitting here and haven't heard [of] any violations [from] the agents. . . . I mean I expected to hear something that was a credible violation."

The OPR concluded its investigation in March of this year, but did not make its findings known until October - several months after Schumacher had been removed from the case and transferred out of Houston. Schumacher and all other agents of the DEA were cleared of civil rights violations.

Three Houston police officers, who had cooperated in the investigation, corroborated Schumacher's testimony.

Howard also repeated his assertions in an e-mail, saying, "In any case, it's over . . . we have to bow down to political pressure." Much of Howard's testimony on Thursday centered on that e-mail.

"By political I meant the total environment - the press, the OPR investigation, everything," said Howard, a 20-year veteran of the DEA. "Everything we do is political."

Under prompting from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.), Howard denied being told by DEA officials, Waters or Reno to shut down the case. "I suspended the case because I was afraid for the safety of my men," he said, referring to death threats he, Schumacher and several other DEA agents received.

"We didn't write the e-mails, you did," fired back Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) "It is clear that someone can put political pressure on the DEA and the DEA will stall an investigation."

Shays also had tough words for R.C. Gamble, the chief inspector for the DEA. "Do you know of any case in which accusations from the target of an investigation have been sufficient to shut the investigation down?" he asked.

"No sir, none that I know of," replied Gamble.

Republicans on the committee also attacked DEA administrator Donnie Marshall's assertion that while an OPR deposition has never before been taken in a congressperson's office, he would allow it again "if it was appropriate."

"I am sorry to hear you answer in that way," said Shays. "The DEA does not look good in all this."

Shays also hinted that Marshall's confirmation hearings, which were held in the spring of 2000 during the OPR investigation, may have "compromised your ability to stand up to a member of Congress," a charge Marshall denied.

Marshall testified that he was told by Howard in August or September of 1999 that the investigation was continuing, and only learned that it has come to halt in recent weeks. The DEA is awaiting the committee report to see "if corrective action should be taken."

After complying with early requests from the Government Reform Committee for documents related to the investigation, Marshall testified he was told by Reno not to return phone calls from committee chairman Dan Burton. Addressing Burton during his testimony, Marshall said, "I was told . . . that the [Attorney General] would return your call."

"She didn't," Burton snapped.

"If there is one area we don't want to have undermined by partisan politics, it is our drug laws. Unfortunately, that's what appears to have happened in this case," said Burton, a frequent critic of Reno and the Clinton Administration.

Waters did not testify at the hearing and did not return phone calls asking for comment.

This week's hearing is not the first time Prince has been mentioned in political proceedings. In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole cited an album by the rap group, the "Geto Boys", which depicted the shooting of a police officer, as an example of declining Hollywood morals. A video from that album, "Crooked Officer," was banned by MTV.

During the OPR investigation, Prince released a new album by rap artist Scarface, who was convicted of drug charges by the DEA, and whose lyrics bragged about his ability to derail DEA investigations: "Can't be stopped, not even by a badge ... There ain't enough [expletive] in the states to come stop this Rap-A-Lot mafia." The song goes on to mention Schumacher by name:

But I can\'b9t get no peace
Cause Schumacher's been chasin' me
Tryin' to set me up, bustin' down my streets
Lockin' up my dog, to see if he can catch me
But I don\'b9t sell no dope
[Expletive] the DEA
[Expletive] these undercovers that lock me up for weed. . . .
I'm down with Rap-A-Lot 'till the day that I die.

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