In court explosion, New Orleans FBI accused of surveilling attorney Stephen M. Garcia for indicted DEA agent Chad Scott

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Putting surveillance on the family of attorney Garcia seems .... EXTREME.

In court explosion, New Orleans FBI accused of surveilling attorney Stephen M. Garcia for indicted DEA agent Chad Scott

A defense attorney accused a New Orleans FBI agent on Thursday of staking out his family's home in Florida — a courtroom eruption that exposed long-simmering tensions in the prosecution of indicted federal lawman Chad Scott. 

Scott's attorneys also accused the U.S. Justice Department of misleading the grand jury that indicted Scott on charges of perjury and stealing thousands of dollars in drug money.   

"The next time you want to surveil my wife and child, just come on in and we'll make you a cup of coffee," the attorney, Stephen M. Garcia, told FBI agent Richard "Chip" Hardgrave, one of the lead investigators on the case. 

"Will do," Hardgrave responded from the front row of the gallery. The veteran agent was seated next to an FBI colleague and two federal prosecutors who had traveled from Washington, D.C., for Thursday's hearing.  

The outburst came as Garcia took his seat at the defense table in U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo's New Orleans courtroom. It highlighted the mounting acrimony in a case that has roiled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and resulted in two former DEA task force members pleading guilty to federal charges.

The task force has been accused of shaking down suspects, dealing drugs and stealing cash during federal drug raids along the Interstate 12 corridor.

Another former member, longtime Hammond police officer Rodney Gemar, faces six counts including conspiracy and theft of evidence. Among other things, he's accused of discarding evidence — wallets, jewelry and cash seized from drug suspects — that the task force had stashed in a filing cabinet in violation of DEA policy.

The defense attorney for indicted former narcotics agent Chad Scott told a federal magistrate Wednesday that he remains "completely in the dar…

Among the allegations against Scott is that the former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office deputy took a $10,000 "illegal gratuity" in exchange for lobbying federal prosecutors to reduce the sentence of a convicted drug dealer. He faces counts of perjury, conspiracy, falsifying government records and obstruction of justice — charges that could land the veteran agent behind bars for up to 17 years. 

It was not clear when the FBI's surveillance of Garcia began and whether it continued after he enrolled as a defense attorney in Scott's case.

Hardgrave, who has been investigating Scott for more than two years, did not deny his role in the surveillance but declined to comment outside the courtroom Thursday. An FBI spokesman also declined to comment.   

Garcia, a partner in a California-based law firm that focuses on civil litigation, befriended Scott at water skiing events and later hired him as an investigator after the DEA stripped Scott of his badge in early 2016. The attorney also testified on Scott's behalf at a bail hearing last year. 

Garcia apparently was not aware that a reporter witnessed Thursday's confrontation and initially sought to disavow any knowledge of the surveillance. When pressed, however, he said outside the courtroom that he did not know when the stakeout occurred but that the government has known for months that he intended to serve as co-counsel in the proceedings.  

"They knew this was coming," Garcia said of his decision to enroll in the case, which Milazzo did not approve until last week. 

The defense attorney for indicted former narcotics agent Chad Scott on Wednesday accused the U.S. Justice Department of trying to conceal misc…

The contentiousness continued throughout a nearly two-hour hearing. Garcia and Matthew Coman, Scott's lead defense attorney, accused federal prosecutors of withholding evidence they insisted can help Scott's case. They asked Milazzo to throw out the charges or at least to order the government to provide more documents to the defense as it prepares for Scott's October trial. 

"There is clear, repeated and knowing misconduct on the part of the government and prosecutors here today," Garcia told Milazzo. 

At issue is an Oct. 11 email sent from a DEA administrator to prosecutors regarding an informant who contradicted one of the government's main witnesses against Scott. The government initially failed to turn over the email, Garcia argued, and did not investigate the informant's claim for months. He said prosecutors also denied the email existed when the defense asked the Justice Department to turn over all pertinent evidence. 

"The government did nothing with this information," Garcia said. "They buried it."

The defense attorney for indicted former federal narcotics agent Chad Scott has launched a counterattack on the U.S. Justice Department, accus…

Milazzo seemed skeptical of the defense's arguments, asking Scott's attorneys whether the law requires prosecutors to present all evidence — including a defendant's case — to a grand jury when seeking an indictment. 

"Maybe you will dazzle me with your brilliance and change my mind," Milazzo said at one point. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Miracle called the defense's claims "uninformed and ignorant speculation."

"The allegations in the motion (to dismiss) are irresponsible," Miracle said. "We've shared what we could under our pending investigation." 

Barring a dismissal of the indictment, Garcia and Coman argued that the government should be required to be more specific about the charges against Scott and to make evidence more available.

While the government has turned over more than a million documents, it has restricted some of the materials to a single laptop at the FBI's local office and has not allowed defense attorneys to make copies. 

Coman said the government did not notify the defense of the October email's existence until the defense sought permission to speak with a DEA agent who had spoken with the informant referred to in the email. 

"The only time they turn evidence over is when they get caught," Coman said.  

While held in open court, Thursday's hearing was shrouded in the same secrecy that has accompanied the case since its inception. Many of the documents in question were filed under seal, and attorneys for both sides referred to witnesses as "Individuals A," "B," or "C" to shield their identities. 

At the end of the hearing, Milazzo invited the attorneys into her chambers for a "frank discussion around a table" where she said she hoped the parties could hash out some of their disagreements.  

Source: The Advocate