Longform

Snitch Vs. Snitch

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Since then, according to federal records, the U.S. government has paid him almost $37,000 to gain the confidence of suspected drug dealers and help ensnare the targets of DEA sting operations. No doubt to Arroyo's great satisfaction, one of his first targets was De La Garza.

Arroyo approached De La Garza about laundering drug money -- cash that was actually to have been provided by the DEA. According to De La Garza's attorneys, the businessman saw in this offer a delightful opportunity to put Arroyo behind bars. Playing along, De La Garza told Arroyo that he did, in fact, know a banker who could fill his needs -- and then, says attorney Schaffer, De La Garza alerted the FBI, which was interested in running a sting operation.

The spy-versus-spy machinations came down to this: De La Garza didn't know Arroyo was working for the DEA, and Arroyo didn't know De La Garza was working for the FBI.

For some reason, though, Arroyo didn't produce the money to be laundered, and both plots fizzled. Still, Arroyo maintained contact with De La Garza, occasionally even borrowing money from the businessman to pay his rent. However much the two loathed each other, they stayed in touch.

In 1993, Arroyo once again approached De La Garza about finding a banker to clean some money. Arroyo was still working for the DEA, and this time around, his contact was Special Agent Norman -- De La Garza's former contact and archenemy.

According to De La Garza's attorneys, De La Garza contacted FBI agent Jan Lindsey, proposing that Lindsey snare Arroyo by posing as a dirty banker. But that scheme hit a snag: The FBI had lost interest. (Cogdell says he plans to call Lindsey as a defense witness at De La Garza's trial, but the Press was unable to contact the agent for confirmation.)

The attorneys argue that De La Garza still hoped to set up Arroyo someday, and so went along with Arroyo's scheme, planning to keep him on a string. In May 1993, Arroyo gave De La Garza approximately $100,000 in cash, and De La Garza in return gave him $93,000 in cashier's checks. Schaffer says De La Garza kept the 7 percent commission as part of his charade.

In February 1994, the pair repeated the exercise, this time with more money: Arroyo gave De La Garza approximately $275,000 in cash; two weeks later, De La Garza wire-transferred Arroyo approximately $261,000 from two different banks.

De La Garza's attorneys contend that he agreed to go along with Arroyo's (and the government's) scheme only because he wanted to bring Arroyo to justice. That argument was to be the essence of De La Garza's defense -- at least, it was until Schaffer and Cogdell met Arroyo in Houston's.

As the two lawyers drove away from the restaurant, they tried to figure out what had happened, and what their next move should be. "I was concerned that this silly motherfucker was going to say that we offered him money," says Cogdell. "At the same time, it's clear to me that he's trying to get us in a bidding contest with the DEA."

They decided they needed to report the incident to someone; the question was, to whom?

The feds were out. For all Cogdell and Schaffer knew, the DEA might have orchestrated their meeting with Arroyo, hoping to compromise the lawyers. Or, Schaffer noted, even if Arroyo was working on his own, he might claim they'd originated the offer of a bribe, and the feds would be inclined to believe him. Even if authorities didn't believe Arroyo, the lawyers figured, the FBI or the DEA would whitewash the whole affair.

Schaffer and Cogdell also didn't trust U.S. Attorney Gaynelle Griffin Jones. Both attorneys had had problems with Jones, and Cogdell's dealings with her had been particularly contentious. A year and a half before, while Cogdell was defending a client against federal bank-fraud charges, he says he tried to warn Jones that the prosecutors in her office weren't shooting straight with the defense team. According to Cogdell, Jones not only ignored his warning but encouraged the prosecutors to stay their course. (Jones did not respond to a request for an interview.)

The charges against Cogdell's client and nine other defendants were thrown out after a judge cited the two prosecutors for misconduct. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt wrote that "only a person blinded by ambition or ignorance of the law and ethics would have proceeded down this dangerous path."

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Steve McVicker