Crime paid dearly when federal and state authorities on Friday divided up $3.2 million, most of it seized during a court-approved burglary at an Akron stash house.
With a rarely used delayed-notice search warrant, or "sneak and peek" as it is sometimes called, two agents broke into the unoccupied house in early 2006 and discovered a half ton of marijuana and $2.8 million in cash.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said the idea was to make the search look like a burglary so the suspected drug trafficker, Chevaliee"Chevy" Robinson, would think he was the victim of a break-in and not the subject of a major law-enforcement investigation.
Robinson did not know the nature of the legal break-in until he was indicted in November 2007. He is serving 15 years in federal prison, according to U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach. A dozen others in the drug ring are serving sentences of various lengths.
The money recovered from the Drug Enforcement Agency-led investigation will be distributed to 10 law enforcement agencies throughout the region, Dettelbach and Cordray announced Friday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Bulford said delayed-notice warrants are uncommon and came into being at least 20 years ago to combat drug trafficking.
Some defense lawyers are critical of the warrants and say their use raises legal and public-safety questions.
Federal courts have allowed their use, Bulford said, but the federal Patriot Act gave the warrants additional legitimacy.
He said they are rarely used to look for contraband, such as drugs or money. Most often, they allow agents to enter a home, locate and copy documents and then leave them in place.
Authorities acknowledge that Robinson might have reasonably concluded that he was the victim of a rival drug dealer. According to Cordray, Robinson even tried to lift fingerprints from a fragment of broken glass to determine who took his drugs and money.
But, thankfully [Robinson] did not take any self-help measures to avenge his loss, said Cordray.
Still, Bulford said Robinson was not known to be violent.
Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander said Robinson was under constant surveillance just in case, including wire taps and GPS trackers on his vehicles.
This allowed Alexander's deputies to learn that Robinson trucked 650 pounds of marijuana in early 2007, leading to his arrest.
Gordon Friedman, a prominent defense attorney here, criticized the break-in tactic, calling it an example of how the government, aided and abetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, has totally eviscerated the notion of individual privacy.
Friedman said the practice creates dangers for both law enforcement and private citizens.
Henry Hilow, a former prosecutor who now does criminal defense work, said he expects the use of delayed-notice warrants to grow.
Alexander said the greatest risk is to law enforcement, only because they never know what awaits them when they execute a warrant of any kind.
But Keith Thornton, a former FBI agent who is Alexander's chief of investigations, said, We considered the risk [to innocent third parties]. The judge considered that and the U.S. attorney considered that.
In announcing the money distribution Friday, Alexander's drug unit gets $1.1 million, the largest share. Others receiving some of the money included the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, Medina County Drug Task Force and the Cleveland Metroparks rangers.
Most of the money came from the seized cash, with cars and the house accounting for most of the rest.
Saturday, June 12, 2010