Drug Money

Narcotics task forces in Texas spend millions of dollars each year busting low-level users and dealers. Is it money well spent, or are officers just addicted to easy cash?

"What they wanted was to put an undercover officer in a high school," says Markham. "They had searched high and low throughout the county looking for somebody who was young enough." Or someone who looked young enough. And although she was 23, Markham could easily pass for a 17-year-old.

After a crash course in narcotics law enforcement and armed with fake transcripts from Wichita Falls High School, Markham slipped unnoticed into Wylie, in Collin County. She enrolled in summer school and began hanging out with the kids -- throwing Frisbees and riding skateboards. Little by little they took her in.

"My goal was not to bust the kids, but to bust who was selling to them," says Markham. "That's the way I ran my operation." When Markham was pulled out of the school six weeks later, 20 suspects were arrested on charges of delivery of a controlled substance. All but two were adults.

Corvian Workman was accused of selling drugs in Hearne. At the time of the alleged crime, he was actually cooking chicken-fried steaks.
Steve McVicker
Corvian Workman was accused of selling drugs in Hearne. At the time of the alleged crime, he was actually cooking chicken-fried steaks.

After Wylie, Markham was assigned to Princeton High School, east of McKinney. There, things did not go so well, as news of her arrival preceded her among the students. For the next few years Markham continued to infiltrate student bodies in North Texas in search of drug dealing. But now she was pushing 30, and she'd had enough.

"I was almost old enough to be their mom," says Markham.

From high school, Markham went to working the bar scene in small towns around Dallas before settling into a patrol job with the Colony Police Department in 1988. When The Colony decided to join an antidrug task force that was forming in the area, Markham was selected as the department's representative, and she was happy to be working drug cases again. But after she'd spent a few months with the task force, department officials decided Markham had been working narcotics for too long. They reassigned her to patrol in 1997. In retrospect, Markham admits that she should have done exactly what she was told. Instead, she signed on with the now-defunct Northeast Area Drug Interdiction Task Force based in Rockwall, something she calls "the worst mistake I ever made in my law enforcement career."

From the beginning, says Markham, she was troubled by the focus of the Rockwall task force. "The thing I started noticing was that they were only going after blacks," says Markham. She also got crossways with her new boss.

"He wanted me to take a load of [marijuana] to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and drop it off there," says Markham. "When I told him I couldn't do that" because it was against the law, "I got fired."

Rockwall task force commander Mike Box III declines to address Markham's allegations. He does acknowledge, however, that the task force's emphasis on low-level dealers and users is merely a response to the concerns of the community. Residents, he says, routinely call sheriff's departments in the four-county area to complain of the drug traffic in their neighborhoods.

After Rockwall, Markham's next stop was the Narcotics Trafficking Task Force of Chambers and Liberty Counties in 1995. Once again, Markham found what she describes as racial profiling.

"Basically, it came down to that white America was no longer touched," says Markham. "If you were white, you didn't have to worry much about task forces, because they were going after crack. But it doesn't take any skill to make a crack bust. All you have to do is drive up and roll down your window. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. But the drug problems in these various counties do not just involve black people, and it's not just crack. But that's about all they're turning out now. It's just ridiculous."

According to Markham, the problems in Chambers and Liberty counties run deeper than racial profiling. In 1997, after two years on the job, Markham discovered that the task force members and their confidential informants were setting up people for arrests. She became aware of the practice when she and an informant went to a house in Anahuac in Chambers County to buy some pot. Markham says that while she and the informant were able to obtain the dope from the woman who lived in the house, the woman refused to take their money. Nevertheless, the informant later put in his report that the woman had in fact taken the money. Markham questioned the informant about the discrepancy, but she says the informant told her that it was the task force's standard procedure to falsify statements -- that he had done at least 150 cases the same way.

When she took the problem to her superior, Markham says, she was told not to worry, that it would be the informant, not her, testifying in court. Soon afterward, she was handed a list of 22 reprimands and was fired. Markham filed a lawsuit against the task force and eventually settled out of court. She received a mere $8,000. However, she refused to cash the check when she realized that one condition of the settlement called for her to remain silent.

Mike Little, district attorney for Chambers and Liberty counties and the task force project director, did not return phone calls from the Press.

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