By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
Were it not for the tequila haze, Kristen Pain might have realized she was about to be busted. During her five years in the Harris County District Attorney's office, she'd learned to look for lies and little inconsistencies. She knew how criminals got caught, and she knew the penalties they paid. But on that Saturday night in late November, she was thinking not as Kristen Pain, prosecutor, but as Kristen Pain, hard-partying civilian.
Pain and her boyfriend, Scott Langham, arrived at Churrasco's around 9 p.m. The Montrose restaurant was jammed with its usual upscale crowd, but even amid that stiff competition, Pain and Langham made a striking couple. Pain, 31, is athletic and has long blond hair; Langham, 33, was born with dark good looks and has achieved the sculpted physique of a personal trainer. A few months before, he'd abandoned a job as a stockbroker to become, as he liked to describe himself, "a performance facilitator."
The couple waited to meet a new client of Langham's, a man who called himself Mauricio Espindola and claimed to be a native of Bogota, Colombia. Among Langham's clients, Espindola stood out. He'd told Langham he was in the exotic automobile business, but he also occasionally alluded to his involvement in money laundering and spoke vaguely of corrupt judges both in Houston and his homeland. He also seemed more interested in socializing with Langham than in developing a workout regime or exploring the power of positive thinking.
Espindola had frequently mentioned that he and his girlfriend, Jennifer, liked to "party"; he begged Langham and Pain to join them some evening, saying that he'd turn them on to some of the best cocaine around. But then Espindola said something had happened to his coke connection, and he asked whether Langham knew where to find some coke. After Espindola pleaded for a couple of weeks, Langham finally made a buy, and agreed to meet Espindola and his girlfriend at Churrasco's.
Despite the crowd, the foursome was seated within five minutes of their arrival; Pain thought their good luck was a bit odd, but didn't question it. She was already busy drinking.
The usually easygoing Espindola hurried through his meal. After the check was paid, Pain and Langham followed Espindola and his girlfriend to an apartment complex on Bering Drive, in the Galleria area. Espindola had often spoken of his house in River Oaks; he explained to Pain and Langham that he'd leased the apartment because he had many girlfriends, and didn't want them showing up at his house unexpectedly. Again, Pain didn't question the strangeness.
Langham had left the coke at his townhouse on Briar Forest, a few miles away. As he and Espindola left to retrieve the three and a half grams, he cautioned Pain to stay out of the apartment's back rooms; he said they were a mess. Pain in turn cautioned the men to put the coke in the trunk of the car in case they were stopped by police.
The two women talked as they waited impatiently at Espindola's sparsely furnished apartment. Pain had met Jennifer once a few weeks earlier over dinner and drinks at Cabo's, a trendy spot in Shepherd Plaza. Jennifer had spent much of that evening whining that she wanted "nose candy"; she and Espindola had seemed quite deflated when Langham said he couldn't provide them any that night.
Now, in Espindola's apartment, Pain began to tell Jennifer how she'd started using drugs while a student at Texas A&M. She volunteered the details of a weekend trip to South Padre Island, when she and some college friends had each smuggled a small amount of cocaine across the border into Matamoros. On the way back into Texas, Pain said, her friends dumped whatever they hadn't used, but she made it back through customs with the remainder of her stash hidden in her dress.
At last Langham and Espindola returned. Pain took the bag of powder from Langham and ordered that a framed picture be removed from the apartment's wall and placed on the table in front of her. The picture showed the spines of several books, including The Interpretation of Dreams. Pain joked that she wanted to do some coke with Freud.
She poured a portion of the bag's contents onto the glass covering the picture, then used a credit card to shape the powder into several small straight lines. She rolled a dollar bill into a straw and quickly inhaled some of the coke. "That's good shit," she said.
As the words were leaving her mouth, about a dozen officers from the Houston Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation burst out of the back bedroom and ordered Pain and Langham onto the floor. They were handcuffed and read their rights.
Suddenly, the evening's minor oddities made sense. Through her tequila-and-coke fog, Kristen Pain realized that nothing was what it had seemed. "Espindola" was not an exotic car dealer, but an FBI informant. "Jennifer" was not his girlfriend, but an undercover agent.
And suddenly, Pain herself was not a prosecutor, but a criminal.
"I led a double life, and it wasn't any good," admits Kristen Irene Pain. She speaks rapid-fire, in a high-pitched voice, and runs her hands through her hair. Fresh from the tanning salon, wearing a jeans skirt and a black leotard top, she hardly looks like someone who's just spent 45 days behind bars. She's also a far cry from the stereotypical hard-driving, hang-'em-high assistant D.A.
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