Archive for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Drug informant’s tab includes payment for rent, beer, food

April 11, 2002


Douglas County investigators paid a drug informant's rent, helped him buy birdhouse supplies and a six-pack of beer, according to documents unveiled Wednesday by a Lawrence attorney.

But what has attorney John Frydman angry is that testimony from the informant, Justo Culian, helped keep Frydman's client Lee Sanders in jail for three months that Sanders could have been free. Prosecutors on Monday dismissed aggravated kidnapping charges against Sanders.

Frydman, who has practiced here 17 years, said it was the first time he has seen proof that Douglas County investigators pay informants.

"I think it's a misuse of our tax dollars," Frydman said. "I think it's laughable."

The county's top law enforcement officer said paying informants is rare but sometimes necessary. And prosecutors say Sanders may not yet be off the hook they want to delay charges until another trial in the kidnapping case is settled.

"A judge has made the decision that we had enough evidence to proceed," said Assistant Dist. Atty. Dave Zabel.

Lee Sanders, 34, was not available for comment. He was arrested in January with Lionell Sanders, 23, Quincy Sanders, 20, and Kim Sanders, 23.

The family members were charged with kidnapping Culian on Jan. 3 and taking him to an apartment where they accused him of being a drug informant. Lionell Sanders was accused of hitting Culian during the incident.

Frydman said Culian had little credibility, in part because Culian had been hospitalized for mental illness and substance abuse before becoming a confidential informant last fall for the Tri-County Drug Unit. The unit consists of officers from law enforcement agencies in Douglas, Jefferson and Franklin counties.

Frydman produced for the Journal-World drug unit expense reports provided by prosecutors during the discovery phase of court proceedings.

The reports show the unit reimbursed Culian $600 for rent between October and December, at the same time he made at least seven "controlled" drug buys on behalf of investigators. The unit also paid Culian $41.55 for some other expenses at the time, including the purchase of birdhouse materials and a six-pack of beer.

After Culian was attacked, investigators paid another $404.26 to put him up in a motel and buy food.

Paying informants raises doubts about the credibility of drug investigations, Frydman said.

"The problem with doing something for money when you're otherwise homeless is that you have to deliver or you're useless," he said.

Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp oversees the drug unit locally. He would not comment on the Culian case.

But he said payments to informants are rare and never contingent on convictions. Instead, the payments reimburse informants for living expenses incurred during investigations.

"Particularly if it's a long-term investigation, we need to keep them in the area and provide them with a means to live," Trapp said.

Informants are rarely clean-cut, Trapp said.

"These are individuals who are not of the most savory character," he said. "You have to utilize people who can interact with these" drug suspects.

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