Former federal drug agent Darnell Garcia was sentenced Monday to 80 years in prison for money-laundering and drug-trafficking, by a judge who declared that "perhaps the DEA itself should have been indicted" for allowing the corruption to go on so long.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. said the Garcia trial smacked of "a B movie," its evidence showing that, from 1983 to 1987, Garcia and two other Drug Enforcement Administration agents broke the law right under their supervisors' noses.
"How could the DEA have looked away for the length of time they did?" Hatter asked before pronouncing the 80-year sentence--20 years longer than the term recommended by prosecutors.
"We've been served poorly by that agency," he said of the DEA's lack of vigilance in this case.
As for Garcia, Hatter's choice of words also showed his anger toward the former DEA agent. Garcia had repeatedly lied, Hatter indicated, forcing a long trial rather than pleading guilty like two of his fellow agents.
The judge recalled that after jurors returned their guilty verdict in April on five counts of drug trafficking and money laundering, they met with him and said they were amazed at Garcia's lying.
"All 12 jurors said to me, and I concurred with them, that they've never seen such lying in their lives," Hatter said before pronouncing sentence.
"How could you, Mr. Garcia . . . sit on the stand and concoct the story that you did?" the judge asked.
This was a reference to Garcia's defense that the $3 million he amassed in a Luxembourg bank account was from jewelry smuggling commissions rather than drug trafficking, as the government successfully argued.
Garcia, 44, of Rancho Palos Verdes, was convicted in April on five counts.
He had showed no emotion during the more than four-month trial, and he showed none Monday.
Standing before Hatter in blue prison garb, he declined to make a statement. "Your honor," he said, "I have nothing to say."
Under the sentence, which includes a fine of about $1.16 million, Garcia will be eligible for parole after serving one-third of the term, or almost 27 years.
After leaving the courtroom, one of his defense attorneys, Mark Overland, said Garcia "was flabbergasted" by the 80-year sentence. Overland called it "ridiculous."
One of the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joyce A. Karlin, said she was not completely surprised by the judge's castigation of the DEA.
"I understand how agents tend to trust each other," she said. "And in this case, law enforcement agents trusted each other more than they should have."
By any measure, Garcia's trial was a remarkable one, exposing the DEA's worst scandal.
The government charged that Garcia and another DEA agent--John Jackson, 41, of Claremont--audaciously stole narcotics and cash from the drug agency's vault and cashier's office in its district headquarters. A third agent, Wayne Countryman, 48, of Walnut, was indicted as an accomplice in much of the years-long spree.
Jackson and Countryman pleaded guilty and testified against Garcia. For their cooperation, the government recommended maximum prison terms of 15 years and seven years, respectively. Hatter has yet to make a final sentencing decision.
Their plea bargain last year provoked angry words from Overland, who branded Jackson--not Garcia--as the ringleader.
And he argued Monday that Garcia should be given only the same sentence as Jackson. He recounted the thefts, which the other agents admitted but which Garcia steadfastly denied. One, in 1985, was referred to in court as "the Big Rip." The three took 180 kilograms of cocaine from some drug dealers' "stash house" in Pasadena. It made the three agents virtual overnight millionaires, as they channeled cash into secret Swiss bank accounts.
"Jackson was the dominant figure," in the thefts, Overland told Hatter, arguing for a shorter sentence.
On the witness stand, Garcia testified that his personal logbooks provided solid evidence that he could not have been present when the drugs and cash were stolen. He insisted that the logbooks proved he acquired his fortune by smuggling jewelry for an Italian firm.
Garcia was caught in Luxembourg in July, 1989, seven months after he was indicted and fled the United States.
In urging a 60-year sentence, Karlin called Garcia "the epitome of corruption," even beyond the 14 separate thefts of cocaine, heroin and drug cash in which the government argued that he participated. One of Garcia's most flagrant crimes, she said, was harboring two fugitive drug dealers in his apartment in Bunker Hill Towers, a few blocks from the DEA's offices.
Karlin urged Hatter to use a stiff prison sentence to send a message to would-be corrupt law enforcement officials.
"We know with absolute certainty that the law enforcement community is listening today," she told the judge. "A harsh punishment . . . will serve as a deterrent to those who are tempted to violate their oath to make an easy buck."