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Ken Poston Says Client Misidentified In Operation Meth Merchant
posted July 7, 2005


Ringgold attorney Ken Poston said one of the defendants charged in "Operation Meth Merchant" had never been to the Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., convenience store where she allegedly sold items used in meth production.

He said Malvika Chirog Patel was held in jail for four days on the "false charge."

Attorney Poston held a press conference at his office on Thursday afternoon, accompanied by a tearful Ms. Patel and her husband.

Attorney Poston said, "Malvika Chirog Patel is a helpful wife and mother of two children. On April 22, 2004, she conducted her day as many mothers of young children do, driving from home to school to daycare to home again in her community of Cleveland, Tn., and then reversing the order of the same trip in the afternoon.

"But, according to the United States government, or rather, a jailhouse snitch representing the United States government, Ms. Patel was that very afternoon working behind the counter of a convenience store in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., knowingly selling him the components of methamphetamine; all this when she was 50 minutes away from her daily afternoon route of collecting her young children and taking them to their Cleveland home.

"Operation Meth Merchant was heralded in the government’s June 3, 2005 press conference as a strike on the growing problem of methamphetamine use in North Georgia and Tennessee. The undercover sting involved the use of a 'confidential informant' to go and purchase in most cases legal amounts of otherwise legal items available at most convenience or hardware stores, only with the undercover informant/witness in these cases allegedly making the convenience store clerks 'aware' of his intentions to manufacture methamphetamine with the purchased constituent components. The government allegation that store clerks knew of the purchaser’s intentions of what was to be done with the purchases, so the theory goes, implicates the sales clerk.

"There were immediate concerns expressed by many in the legal community in these cases with communication of the allegedly stated intentions of the informant/witness being such a critical element to the act being illegal; and it was noted that forty-three of the forty-nine arrested defendants are foreign-born persons working with English as a second language. That is, just enough English to handle basic convenience store transactions.

"But Malvika Patel is an American citizen, and she had a more compelling concern upon her arrest. She had never even been to the Fort Oglethorpe convenience store where she is now accused of working as a cashier, accused of knowingly selling the components of methamphetamine with the intentions of helping the informant/witness manufacture the illegal substance.

"The investigation went like this: The confidential informant in this and several other cases, and given the secret designation “CI 75-548,” was given over three hundred dollars of United States currency, wired with an audio recording device and sent into the Fort Oglethorpe store known as “Tobacco for Less” on April 22, 2004 at approximately 2:09 p.m. At the register he allegedly encountered what he described to investigators as a 'female, who appeared to be of Indian descent.' He completed a transaction at 2:11 p.m., and delivered the recording device and the purchased $30.00 worth of alleged 'pseudo ephedrine' back to the investigators.

"Interestingly, at this point the informant notified the agents that the woman at the register told him of the limitations of the amounts that he could purchase of the product, and that she even admonished him not to 'change clothes and come back' in an attempt to purchase more than the limited amount because she would 'remember the face' of the informant. Even though this sounds like a wonderful defense, it does not interest Ms. Patel because she was not the woman in the store on that date or on any date in history.

"Malvika Patel is married to a man who owns his own convenience stores and other business enterprises in Cleveland, Tn., - businesses that I must note were not the subject of the Operation Meth Merchant investigation. What little time she did work outside the home in the year 2004, it was in a supporting role for her husband’s Cleveland businesses. But most of the year she was a 'stay at home' Mom. It does not make any sense that she would ever work for another store, not owned by her husband, almost an hour drive away from her home and her duties as an active parent of young children. It makes even less sense how the government drew her into the investigation, and it is a cautionary tale of how improperly suggestive eyewitness 'identification' can jeopardize the freedoms of any American.

"The informant/witness known to no one but the government, 'CI 75-548,' was utilized in other purchases throughout Operation Meth Merchant, and other purchases at the store at issue in this case as well. At no other time at the Fort Oglethorpe location did he encounter the 'female, who appeared to be of Indian descent,' of the initial April 22, 2004 purchase. On that fateful day, while the informant was inside the store, detectives canvassed the parking lot for license plate numbers. A white van 'backed up to the front of the store' was noted, and most obviously was later focused upon due to only to the Indian-sounding names of the registered owners, Malvika Chirog Patel and her husband Chirog N. Patel. At that point it probably seemed all too easy for the government. Agents obtained drivers license photos of the owners of the van. At this point in the investigation, or rather nine months later, things began to go terribly wrong.

"A period of nine months elapsed between April 22, 2004 and the presentation of Malvika Patel’s drivers license photo to CI 75-548 in January of 2005. The photo was not carefully arrayed among photos of other Indian women, nor was it placed among photos of any other women of any race or culture. The photos of Malvika, her husband and another man were simply shown to the informant/witness, with the sole purpose of identifying the persons he had made the purchases from on different dates of the sting at the Fort Oglethorpe store. The witness allegedly identified Malvika Patel as the woman who had been working behind the counter at Tobacco for Less on April 22, 2004.

"A procedure where a single photo of a single individual is shown to an eyewitness is called a 'show-up,' and is so inherently suggestive that is has often been suppressed by the courts. Eyewitness identification in and of itself has proven so problematic in our legal history; and an entire science has evolved concerning the danger of this procedure. Since the establishment of The Innocence Project (the program where DNA evidence is used on older cases where convictions were based on other evidence), in over eighty-five percent of the recent exonerations of prisoners using modern DNA evidence, the wrong defendant had been originally convicted in part by so-called and so-accepted eyewitness 'identification.'

"It is also well established that a witness has a harder time accurately identifying a person not of his own race or culture. This 'They all look alike' rationale is not inherently racist, but rather a psychological fact that could happen to anyone of any race or culture trying to identify a suspect with ethnic physical features the witness is not familiar with. More sinister is the allegation by some lawyers responding to Operation Meth Merchant that Indian clerks were actually targeted in the sting. Malvika Patel makes no such allegation in her case, but is concerned that if the government witness was not Indian or familiar with that race or culture it would be all too easy for mistakes to be made. Considering the demographics of the area, and particularly of the area jail population, the informant/witness is likely a Caucasian male. His speech patterns indicate as much.

"Upon the arrest of Malvika Patel, both she and her husband protested her innocence so strongly, the investigators brought 'CI 75-548' back to again look this time at a live 'show up' of Malvika Patel. The snitch purportedly again 'identified' Ms. Patel. Again, a suggestive procedure disfavored by the courts was utilized to further engrain an obviously inaccurate image into the witness/informant’s head. And that last statement is made with the assumption that 'CI 75-548' was being genuine in his efforts to identify. More likely, the witness is an inmate facing his own methamphetamine charges, working for the government for some favorable treatment in his case; making his eagerness to help the government, and thus himself, all the more troublesome in terms of the identification testimony of this witness."

Attorney Poston said he has filed several motions in her case, including a demand that the government cease its prosecution of this improperly identified citizen. Poston has put the government on notice that under the federal “Hyde Amendment,” the government is liable for costs of the defense of a frivolous, vexatious and “bad faith” prosecution. Poston has also given the government a document titled “Notice of Alibi Defense, “ wherein the attorney shows the government where Malvika Patel was on the afternoon of April 22, 2004, picking up her children from school and daycare in Cleveland, Tennessee. Almost an hour drive away, and just like every other day.

He said, "The lingering question in every mind hearing this story is why a vehicle registered to Malvika Patel and her husband would be 'backed up to the front of' the Fort Oglethorpe convenience store on April 22, 2004. The facts are in the favor of the defendant: One of the companies owned by Ms. Patel’s husband in 2004 was 'Bluemax Solutions, LLC,' a company that consulted on, sold and installed security cameras and monitors for various businesses. Records indicate that the very convenience store at issue, 'Tobacco for Less,' was having security cameras and monitors installed by Bluemax, and doing so the very week of April 22, 2004. The technician/partner for Bluemax, Mr. Pinal Patel (no relation to the defendant) used the personal van of his partner Chirog Patel whenever he was hauling the large boxes associated with monitors and cameras and while installing the surveillance equipment for a customer. Furthermore, a person delivering boxes of security equipment would likely 'back in' the van to the 'front of the store.' An employee/clerk would be less likely to position a vehicle in this manner, and for the sake of customers would not likely park in the limited spaces directly in the front of the business at all.

"Fortunately, the daycare center Mrs. Patel’s child was attending at that time has a secure checkout system which recorded the exact moment Mrs. Patel picked up her child in Cleveland, Tn., on April 22, 2004. It would have been impossible for her to have been in both places, and this evidence has been submitted to the government in the form of a Notice of Alibi.

"But the witness/informant known as 'CI 75-548' made an even more glaring mistake in suspect identification. Shown the driver’s license photos obtained from the State of Tennessee of Malvika Patel and her husband Chirog N. Patel, the informant quickly identified Chirog Patel as the man working at the store when he made a controlled purchase in early December, 2004. Mr. Chirog Patel was in India attending a relative’s wedding on the date carefully noted by the government that the informant claims he dealt with Mr. Patel. Mr. Patel’s passport proves his exit and reentry dates. He was in India."

In his Demand for Dismissal, attorney Poston "suggests a reason the government may be reluctant to admit the inadequacies concerning the accuracy of identifications made by 'CI 75-548,' the 'confidential informant' in this and other cases:
That a possible and likely motive for the government continuing to prosecute this defendant with such weak and questionable identification issues is that to admit the witness/informant was in error in this case would conceivably bring into question and jeopardize other purported identifications made by the same informant/witness, in this and other indicted cases. If the government is simply continuing the prosecution of this defendant until other defendants and cases involving the same informant/witness are disposed of, or in any degree continuing this prosecution in order to bolster or salvage the credibility, reliability or accuracy of the informant/witness in other cases, that is the very definition of a prosecution in bad faith.

"It is time for the United States government to do the right thing and acknowledge the inadequacies of the purported eyewitness identifications made by this undercover informant, without concern of what this admission may do to other cases in “Operation Meth Merchant.” The government should investigate the promises made to this informant as an incentive for his reckless identification of suspects. Finally, the United States government should dismiss the charges against Malvika Patel and issue a formal apology to this innocent American citizen, her husband and their family."




Federal Government Drops Another Charge In Meth Merchant
John Madewell
October 6,2005


    ANOTHER CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY SURFACED IN A FEDERAL STING IN GEORGIA.
AND THIS TIME, EYES TURN ON THE INFORMANT AFTER CHARGES WERE DROPPED AGAINST THE MAN ARRESTED IN A MAJOR ROUNDUP LAST SUMMER.
NEWSCHANNEL 9 TAKES YOU INTO THE UNDERCOVER WORLD OF DRUG BUYS AND HOW IT WORKS WITH CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS DROPPED ITS CASE AGAINST SIDHHARATH PATEL FOR MISTAKEN IDENTITY.
THIS IS THE THIRD MISTAKEN IDENTITY IN THIS STING AND WE DO KNOW THE INFORMANT WHO MADE THE WRONG IDENTITY IS THE SAME PERSON IN EACH CASE.
IN AN UNRELATED DRUG CASE, A DEFENSE ATTORNEY ASKED THE INFORMANT IN HIS CASE IF HE WAS THE SAME INFORMANT FROM OPERATION METH MERCHANT.
THE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT DID NOT DIRECTLY ANSWER.

HOWARD CHEAVES JUNIOR MADE UNDERCOVER DRUG BUYS FOR THE GBI AND NORTH GEORGIA SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT. CHEAVES TESTIFIED HE HAD MADE MORE THAN TEN BUYS, BUT NOT MORE THAN 100
. HE'S ALSO BEEN ARRESTED FOR SEVERAL DIFFERENT CRIMES AND SERVED MANY YEARS IN JAIL.
THIS AFTERNOON IN A DRUG CASE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY BILL SLACK ASKED HIM IF HE WAS THE INFORMANT IN THE FEDERAL STING OPERATION METH MERCHANT.
THE PROSECUTION OBJECTED, CITING A FEDERAL PROTECTIVE ORDER TO KEEP THE INFORMANT IN METH MERCHANT SECRET.
THE JUDGE UPHELD THAT OBJECTION.
YOU MAY RECALL MOST OF THE PEOPLE ARRESTED IN THIS SUMMER'S FEDERAL STING WERE OF INDIAN DESCENT.
MALVIKA PATEL SPENT ALMOST FOUR DAYS IN JAIL, FOUGHT A LONG LEGAL BATTLE, BUT NEVER WAS AT THIS FORT OGLETHORPE STORE SELLING DRUGS NEEDED TO MAKE METH AS THE GOVERNMENT CHARGED HER.
THE INFORMANT FALSELY IDENTIFIED HER, AND HER HUSBAND.
SO IS THAT INFORMANT CHEAVES?
HE DID NOT DIRECTLY ANSWER IN COURT IF HE WORKED THAT CASE, BUT DID UTTER, "I THINK I'M RIGHT," ON MAKING IDENTIFICATIONS.
WE ASKED HIM DIRECTLY. BUT CHEAVES WOULD NOT COMMENT AND WALKED BACK INTO COURT WHEN WE ASKED IF HE WAS THE INFORMANT WORKING CASES IN OPERATION METH MERCHANT.


HE TESTIFIED POLICE USUALLY PAY HIM $50 TO $75 A BUY, BUT UP TO $150
.
HE WOULD NOT SAY IF HE MADE BUYS IN OPERATION METH MERCHANT IN NORTH GEORGIA AND POSSIBLY IDENTIFIED THE WRONG PEOPLE.
MEANWHILE, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT DISMISSED ITS CASE AGAINST SIDHHARATH PATEL WEDNESDAY BECAUSE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY.
HIS ATTORNEYS SAY THEY PROVIDED INFORMATION TO THE GOVERNMENT TO HELP LOCATE THE REAL SUSPECT, HE WAS PICTURED IN UNDERCOVER SURVEILLANCE TAPE.

BUT THE INFORMANT IN THE FEDERAL CASE, KNOWN AS CS-1, (Confidential Source 1,) IDENTIFIED SIDHHARATH PATEL AS THE MAN WORKING BEHIND THE COUNTER AT DEEP SPRINGS SUPERETTE IN VARNELL, GEORGIA.
SIDHHARATH PATEL PROVED HE WAS IN HICKSVILLE, NEW YORK AT THAT TIME BY HIRING ATTORNEYS, A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR AND DELIVERING AN ALIBI TO THE GOVERNMENT. IT SHOWED HE WAS WORKING IN A SUBWAY RESTAURANT IN HICKSVILLE WHEN THE INFORMANT SAID HE WAS IN GEORGIA. THE GOVERNMENT DROPPED IT'S CASE. PATEL'S ATTORNEY KEN POSTON SAID, "IRONICALLY, THE GUY WHO DID THIS TERRIBLE ACT THAT THE GOVERNMENT CHARGED PATEL WITH, GETS IMMUNITY. PATEL, WHO IS TOTALLY INNOCENT, NOWHERE NEAR THE SCENE OF THE ALLEGED OFFENSE, HAD TO SPEND 12 DAYS IN JAIL, AND SPEND A LOT OF MONEY DEFENDING HIMSELF."

Poston, who represented all three misidentified people, says his clients do not plan to seek recourse from the federal government.
But they haven't ruled out civil action against the informant who falsely identified them.
Again, Howard Cheaves did not directly answer if he was that informant, although he did utter he thought he was right in making identifications when answering a cross examination question objected to because of the federal protective order.
Another Operation Meth Merchant Case Dismissed On Misidentification
posted October 6, 2005

posted October 6, 2005


A dismissal of the federal criminal charges against Sidhharath Patel was filed Thursday morning by the Clerk of the United States District Court at Rome, Ga.

The order was signed late Wednesday afternoon by District Judge Harold Murphy upon a motion by the United States Attorney after defense attorney McCracken Poston of Ringgold had repeatedly demanded that the government dismiss the charges, saying there was a misidentification.

Mr. Patel, who had just appeared in Atlanta with his attorney, was elated. He said, “I can finally call my new bride and tell her that it is finally over.”

The 20-year-old American citizen was arrested at an airport in New Jersey on July 18 as he returned from his own wedding in his native India. He was held for 12 days in various facilities in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Attorney Poston said Mr. Patel was working in a Subway sandwich shop in Hicksville, N.Y., on July 23, 2004, when government agents claimed he was in a Varnell, Ga., convenience store selling matches, Coleman fuel and other items the government said can be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Attorney Poston said, "This makes the third citizen of Indian heritage that was misidentified by the same undercover informant who was utilized in almost all of the government’s ‘Operation Meth Merchant' cases.

"Sidhharath Patel’s plight, along with that of Cleveland, Tn., resident Malvika Patel, has illustrated the dangers of government reliance on 'eyewitness identification,' and of the particular errant informant utilized in these cases.

“These individuals were completely innocent and were nowhere around the location of the alleged criminal activity.”

He said both Malvika and Sidhharath Patel (unrelated), along with Malvika’s husband Chirag “Chris” Patel, "were falsely accused by the same undercover government informant, one with a history of fraudulent acts and criminal convictions. The three misidentified were wrongfully accused by government documents to have been working as clerks in convenience stores in Fort Oglethorpe and Varnell, Ga."

While attorney Poston thanked the United States Attorney for “doing the right thing” in finally dismissing another misidentified defendant’s charges, the Ringgold attorney questioned the continued use of this particular informant, who according to attorney Poston has “wrought so much pain and suffering on innocent families” with his “at best negligent and irresponsible, and at worst maliciously reckless attempts at identifying suspects.”

The informant, according to attorney Poston, was paid by the government for his services. A federal protective order sought by the government restricts anyone from revealing the name of the informant.

Attorney Poston said, "The confidential informant system can be an effective tool for law enforcement in some cases, but not as utilized by government agents in this operation which spanned six Northwest Georgia counties and targeted Indian-owned convenience stores.

"There were ethnic generalizations, premature conclusions and bad information utilized by those involved. This creates a dangerous situation for all Americans, no matter of what heritage.”

Just as in the cases of Malvika and Chris Patel, the government did not issue an apology to Sidhharath Patel, attorney Poston said.

“An apology to all of them and their families would be nice, and I think they deserve it,” said attorney Poston. “Ultimately, however, the dismissals are the most important things, and we have obtained that.”

Another Operation Meth Merchant Case Dismissed On Misidentification
posted October 6, 2005

posted October 6, 2005


A dismissal of the federal criminal charges against Sidhharath Patel was filed Thursday morning by the Clerk of the United States District Court at Rome, Ga.

The order was signed late Wednesday afternoon by District Judge Harold Murphy upon a motion by the United States Attorney after defense attorney McCracken Poston of Ringgold had repeatedly demanded that the government dismiss the charges, saying there was a misidentification.

Mr. Patel, who had just appeared in Atlanta with his attorney, was elated. He said, “I can finally call my new bride and tell her that it is finally over.”

The 20-year-old American citizen was arrested at an airport in New Jersey on July 18 as he returned from his own wedding in his native India. He was held for 12 days in various facilities in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Attorney Poston said Mr. Patel was working in a Subway sandwich shop in Hicksville, N.Y., on July 23, 2004, when government agents claimed he was in a Varnell, Ga., convenience store selling matches, Coleman fuel and other items the government said can be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Attorney Poston said, "This makes the third citizen of Indian heritage that was misidentified by the same undercover informant who was utilized in almost all of the government’s ‘Operation Meth Merchant' cases.

"Sidhharath Patel’s plight, along with that of Cleveland, Tn., resident Malvika Patel, has illustrated the dangers of government reliance on 'eyewitness identification,' and of the particular errant informant utilized in these cases.

“These individuals were completely innocent and were nowhere around the location of the alleged criminal activity.”

He said both Malvika and Sidhharath Patel (unrelated), along with Malvika’s husband Chirag “Chris” Patel, "were falsely accused by the same undercover government informant, one with a history of fraudulent acts and criminal convictions. The three misidentified were wrongfully accused by government documents to have been working as clerks in convenience stores in Fort Oglethorpe and Varnell, Ga."

While attorney Poston thanked the United States Attorney for “doing the right thing” in finally dismissing another misidentified defendant’s charges, the Ringgold attorney questioned the continued use of this particular informant, who according to attorney Poston has “wrought so much pain and suffering on innocent families” with his “at best negligent and irresponsible, and at worst maliciously reckless attempts at identifying suspects.”

The informant, according to attorney Poston, was paid by the government for his services. A federal protective order sought by the government restricts anyone from revealing the name of the informant.

Attorney Poston said, "The confidential informant system can be an effective tool for law enforcement in some cases, but not as utilized by government agents in this operation which spanned six Northwest Georgia counties and targeted Indian-owned convenience stores.

"There were ethnic generalizations, premature conclusions and bad information utilized by those involved. This creates a dangerous situation for all Americans, no matter of what heritage.”

Just as in the cases of Malvika and Chris Patel, the government did not issue an apology to Sidhharath Patel, attorney Poston said.

“An apology to all of them and their families would be nice, and I think they deserve it,” said attorney Poston. “Ultimately, however, the dismissals are the most important things, and we have obtained that.”

 
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