Witness' Testimony Key To Probe Of Botched Arrests Involving DEA Agent Lee Lucas
A man with ties to an imprisoned snitch and an embattled DEA agent has been arrested and ordered to testify before a grand jury investigating how a series of lies led to the arrests of 23 people.
Darren Transou's testimony on Tuesday is expected to detail his link to informant Jerrell Bray and describe Transou's role in a Mansfield cocaine case that imploded because of Bray's perjury and poor police work, according to interviews and court records.
Transou was picked up last month in Detroit on a warrant identifying him as a material witness in an investigation.
Defense attorneys say the seldom-used warrant and the immunity he has been given signify Transou's importance in helping officials understand how the case was built and ultimately collapsed.
His appearance before the federal grand jury in Cleveland is likely to corroborate Bray's statements about setting up people, many of whom were Bray's competitors in the drug trade, according to interviews with lawyers and court records.
Transou's appearance is expected to focus on Lee Lucas, an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, whose work with Bray led to charges against 23 people - charges that were later dismissed.
After being charged with attempted murder in 2007, Bray broke down and admitted that he had lied and worked with Lucas to put people in jail two years earlier.
A lawsuit accuses Lucas of protecting Transou by falsely identifying Mansfield native Lowestco Ballard as the dealer who sold crack cocaine to Bray in a videotaped drug deal. The suit was filed against Lucas and the government by James Owen, Ballard's lawyer.
After watching the tape with investigators, Transou identified himself as the person who sold the cocaine, Owen said.
Transou's testimony also could affect Blas Serrano, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case. Serrano failed to give defense attorneys an internal memo, written by DEA agent Robert Cross a month before Ballard's trial, that said a witness told investigators that Transou sold the drugs, not Ballard.
It marked the second time in the Mansfield investigation that Serrano failed to turn over a document that said police misidentified a suspect, defense attorneys said.
Serrano asked earlier this year to be transferred out of the office's major drug crimes unit, where he served for 19 years, said U.S. Attorney Bill Edwards. He declined to further discuss Serrano or the Mansfield case, citing the grand jury inquiry.
Lucas and Serrano also have declined to discuss the cases.
Transou, 41, of Detroit, was never charged in the Mansfield investigation, but he knew Bray. That's what linked him to Ballard.
Ballard was indicted on charges of selling 4 1/2 ounces of crack cocaine to Bray on Sept. 9, 2005, for about $3,200. The deal took place inside a green Ford Bronco, according to the indictment. The video of the sale showed the dealer was short and wore braided hair.
Ballard is 6 feet 5 and never wore braids. He was arrested anyway and accused of conspiracy, a charge that could have netted him life in prison.
In June 2006, a month before Ballard went to trial, a Mansfield man named Arrico Spires sat down with investigators and Serrano for an interview. Spires had earlier pleaded guilty to dealing drugs and was obligated by his plea deal to cooperate with prosecutors.
Spires said he bought cocaine from Transou every week for about a year. He said that Transou drove his green Ford Bronco to make the deals and that Ballard was not the seller, according to a DEA summary of the interview.
Under federal law, prosecutors must turn over information that could prove a person innocent. Serrano never gave the DEA summary to Ballard's attorney.
"That document went right to the heart of our defense," said Greg Robey, Ballard's lawyer at trial. "It's upsetting. It was a fight to the very end, and that could have helped us."
In DEA reports and in testimony at the trial, Lucas said he saw Ballard sell the drugs to the informant.
Lucas knew Transou and should have known he drove a green Ford Bronco, since that's what he was driving when Lucas and his task force had state troopers pull Transou over and then let him go.
Two days before Bray supposedly bought cocaine from Ballard inside the Bronco, Transou was driving a Bronco to Detroit when he was pulled over by state troopers. Lucas had ordered the stop to verify the driver of the Bronco, since many people had driven the vehicle. Bray was following in another car.
The troopers wanted to search the Bronco, attorney Owen said, but Lucas told them to let Transou drive away.
The issue came up at Ballard's trial.
"They let [Transou] go?" Robey asked.
"At my direction," Lucas said, according to a trial transcript.
Lucas testified that he believed Transou was headed to buy drugs. It is unclear why Lucas stepped in to help him, as the agent didn't elaborate, and Robey never asked.
Transou never testified. Based on the videotape of the drug deal, a jury took about five minutes to acquit Ballard.
Lucas' attorneys in the civil suits said the agent, who has handled more than 1,000 cases during his 18-year career, acted according to DEA protocol. He had no evidence that Bray was lying.
Bray pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced in December to 15 years in prison. He is cooperating with prosecutors.
To confirm what Bray has told investigators, special prosecutor Bruce Teitelbaum has spent 11 months bringing witnesses to the grand jury.
Because of his relationship with Bray, Transou could be one of the most important witnesses to appear before the panel. It is unclear how much longer the grand jury will investigate.
Pubdate: Sun, 26 Oct 2008
Source: Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH)
Copyright: 2008 The Plain Dealer
Author: John Caniglia
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