Undercover Officers Ask Addicts to Buy Drugs, Snaring Them but Not Dealers

The McDonald’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Bryan L. said an unkempt-looking woman, who was an undercover officer, asked him to buy drugs for her. Credit: Michelle V. Agios/The New York Times.

The McDonald’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Bryan L. said an unkempt-looking woman, who was an undercover officer, asked him to buy drugs for her. Credit: Michelle V. Agios/The New York Times.

New York Times, April 4, 2016 || By: Joseph Goldstein.

The 55-year-old crack addict counted his change outside a Harlem liquor store. He had just over a dollar, leaving him 35 cents short of the cheapest mini-bottle.

The 21-year-old heroin addict sat in a McDonald’s on the Lower East Side, wondering when his grandmother would next wire him money. He was homeless, had 84 cents in his pocket and was living out of two canvas bags.

Each was approached by someone who asked the addict for help buying drugs. Using the stranger’s money, each addict went to see a nearby dealer, returned with drugs, handed them over and was promptly arrested on felony drug-dealing charges. The people who had asked for drugs were undercover narcotics officers with the New York Police Department.

A review of the trials in those cases and two others illuminates what appears to be a tactic for small-scale drug prosecutions: An undercover officer, supplying the cash for the deal, asks an addict to go and buy $20 or $40 worth of crack or heroin. When the addict - perhaps hoping for a chance to smoke or inject a pinch - does so, he is arrested.

It is tough for addicts to say no.

“For him to put the money in my hands, as an addict, let me tell you what happens,” he said. “I like to think I could resist it, but I’m way beyond that. My experience has shown me that 1,000 times out of 1,000 times, I will be defeated.”

At one trial in January, a defendant testified that he had shown an undercover officer track marks on his arm. At another trial, in December, the defendant testified that he had even told an undercover officer about his desire to get clean. “You know what? We got to stop getting high,” the man, Mitchell Coward, testified. “That’s what I told him.”

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