Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
A one-time target of a federal narcotics investigation claims U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and informants “reignited” his crack cocaine addiction to help their undercover investigation into drug dealing in Las Vegas, N.M., during an operation called “Smack City.”
Aaron Romero claims in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that he was a longtime crack cocaine addict who was so poor he had finally stopped doing drugs for months until an informant working for the DEA approached him to broker drug deals in exchange for a portion of the drugs the informant purchased.
The lawsuit claims that getting Romero to use drugs again was part of the plan to investigate drug dealing in the area.
Romero, 38, was one of five people indicted by a federal grand jury in 2012 on drug charges, but the indictment was dismissed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Romero’s attorney, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, called the government’s actions shocking and said that providing crack cocaine to her client led to Romero suffering severe emotional and physical harm.
The lawsuit names five agents, including two who operate undercover, and seeks $8.5 million for personal injury and civil rights violations, claiming outrageous government conduct, negligence and violations of federal regulations.
Romero says he began using crack cocaine shortly before graduating high school and was addicted for 17 years. He entered at least one rehabilitation program but didn’t stay clean for long, the lawsuit states.
Ultimately, Romero’s addiction destroyed his relationship with his parents and siblings and cost him a job at his father’s business in 2008.
For the next several years, Romero bartered car repairs with drug dealers in exchange for crack cocaine to feed his habit. According to the lawsuit, he met a man identified only as “confidential source Cesario” and for a time brokered crack cocaine deals for Cesario in exchange for a portion of the drugs.
But Cesario stopped buying drugs through Romero and with no source for crack cocaine, Romero claims he stopped using the drug in the summer of 2011.
In November 2011, Cesario was working as a DEA informant when he approached Romero about rekindling a drug-sharing arrangement, according to the lawsuit.
Cesario would pay Romero a portion of the crack cocaine Romero was able to buy using Cesario’s money.
Romero claims he rejected Cesario’s initial invitation but succumbed when Cesario promised to provide a large amount of crack cocaine to Romero in exchange for brokering drug deals.
The lawsuit claims DEA agents working on the investigation were aware of the promise to pay Romero in crack cocaine but never sought approval from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to make the arrangement, and that failing to do so was a violation of DEA regulations.
Then the agents sought to cover it up by altering the amounts of cocaine purchased so their reports wouldn’t reflect the crack cocaine paid to Romero, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit references tape recordings made by the informants working for DEA agents that show the informants gave crack cocaine to Romero and that the agents were aware of the transactions.
From December 2011 through May 2012, Romero brokered two to three small crack cocaine deals a week for Cesario and another DEA informant for a share of the drugs.
Typically, the lawsuit alleges, Cesario would smoke crack cocaine with Romero after small deals, but not larger drug purchases, which would be recorded to provide evidence in a criminal case against Romero.
The lawsuit also makes reference to another pending claim with the DEA that involves the use of Edward Quintana as an informant. Quintana is facing murder charges in Bernalillo County.