A heroin-addicted FBI agent ingested the evidence against at least 28 alleged drug dealers, leading the agency to dismiss dozens of charges—and as many as 150 defendants could go free as a result, the Washington Post reports.
The agent, Matthew Lowry, worked on a heroin task force, which enabled him to steal seized heroin from the evidence room for his own personal use for more than year, investigators say. According to the Post, Lowry was allegedly able to hide his thefts for at least 14 months, in part because of lax FBI regulations that enabled him to transport the drugs, alone, in his personal vehicle.
Lowry's system was basically quite simple, according to the FBI documents and a summary of his statements to investigators, in which he told them how he took drug evidence from cases with code names including Broken Cord, Family Matters, Tequila Shot and Smellin Like a Rose.
He checked out drugs from cases he had worked on the pretense of taking them to a lab to be tested for trial. He kept the drugs — sometimes for days or weeks, other times for months — and used a little bit nearly every day, he told investigators. He eventually submitted the drugs to the lab and took them back to the FBI office when testing was done.
Lowry described for investigators a painstaking process used to circumvent rules and procedures and avoid detection, court documents state. He said he forged signatures of supervisors to authorize withdrawals and of colleagues to reseal evidence bags he had cut open, taking time to practice the signatures. He often targeted cases that were already resolved, making it less likely another agent would need the drugs and notice that evidence was missing.
Lowry told investigators he routinely used a filler to repackage bags of heroin. He said he often added an over-the-counter laxative but also used creatine, a chemical commonly mixed with heroin before it hits the street. An FBI memo said Lowry used a digital scale — taken from a drug house — to ensure that he repackaged the drugs at close to their initial weight.
And Lowry isn't the only one circumventing the legal chain of custody required to prosecute criminal cases: according to the Post, a recent FBI investigation "found that every one of the nation's field offices had problems tracking gun and drug evidence and that in some cases, drugs disappeared for months without notice."
"I think that over time the controls begin to loosen. It never occurs to them that somebody would make off with the drugs and steal the money," a retired Justice Department inspector general tells the Post.
[image via AP]