Former police informants claim they planted incriminating evidence on hundreds in what was, then, largest federal drug forfeiture case in U.S. history--one informant estimates 80% of those he helped convict were innocent

Michael Powell, in today's New York Times, reports on two former police informants who claim to have colluded with police and prosecutors to frame hundreds of tenants of New York City's Kenmore Hotel. In the 1990's, the Government, relying upon evidence of pervasive drug use within the Kenmore, acquired the property, through forfeiture, and chased out existing tenants:

''I planted drugs, I planted guns, I made false reports,'' Mr. Merritt said. ''I was given a list -- little stars by the list of tenants who I was supposed to set up.''
''I helped send hundreds of people out in handcuffs,'' he added, ''and I'd say 80 percent were innocent.''
Mr. Merritt, 70, who hobbles about with wrecked hips and two black canes, was an informer for nearly 40 years, according to federal and police records. The Manhattan district attorney confirmed that he had worked at the Kenmore; two officers said he was an excellent informer. He named dozens of people he said he had set up. Some served prison terms, records show. After the takeover of the Kenmore, he said, he undermined its tenants' association, again at the direction of federal agents. 
Mr. Merritt took his accusations to the Manhattan district attorney last year. He said an assistant prosecutor in the mid-1990s had directed him to swear falsely that he had witnessed certain crimes...."
...Robert Chaney also worked there as a confidential informer. As pressure increased, narcotics officers plotted. ''They would get really upset when they busted into a room and found nothing there,'' he said. ''They gave him drugs and maybe a gun and he'd plant it.''
Asked about this, Mr. Merritt nodded. ''They would tell me which rooms to target, and I would slip crack behind a mattress or under the sink.''
Detectives taught him to set small fires, he said. Firefighters would batter down doors; the police would find crack and guns. He got $50 per arrest, and $100 every time he testified to a judge. Prosecutors guaranteed Mr. Merritt that he would not have to testify in public. They had suspects over a barrel: Serve six months in jail and leave the hotel -- or we'll imprison you for 20 years..."
...Mr. Merritt described being driven to the Manhattan district attorney's office on a rainy evening. A prosecutor was typing statements for him, which he was going to swear to before a judge.  
''Read this carefully and don't stray from the statement,'' the prosecutor told him, he said. ''You're going to have to swear to this. Do you have a problem, Tony?'' 
He said he looked at the prosecutor and asked: ''So you want me to commit perjury?''
''I don't want to hear that,'' the prosecutor replied, according to Mr. Merritt.
After the takeover, Mr. Merritt said, federal marshals and the police told him to disrupt the tenants' association. He and Mr. Chaney tore down notices and interrupted meetings and shrieked. An officer, he said, told him to vandalize Mr. Crispino's car. ''He was very skilled and very scary; he could get you arrested in about five minutes,'' said Sal Martinez, a tenant leader. ''I complained and a federal agent yelled at me: 'Merritt is working for us. Don't get in our way.' ''
Read the full story @ Michael Powell, Takeover of Hotel: Informer Recalls His Complicity, 2014 New York Times(2014).

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