ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – Federal agents paid a struggling addict in crack cocaine for his help with an undercover investigation into a Las Vegas, New Mexico drug operation, a new lawsuit claims.
According to court papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Aaron Romero, 38, was approached by DEA agents in 2011 to assist with drug deals in exchange for portions of the drugs obtained by authorities. But Romero’s participation in “Operation Smack City” reignited a previous crack addiction as he became a victim of recklessness on behalf of DEA agents, causing severe emotional and physical harm, the lawsuit said.
“The United States government and the defendants affirmatively and intentionally established a pattern of distribution of crack cocaine to (Romero) in order to utilize his addiction to crack cocaine to further the investigation and to ‘stack drug related charges’ against him,” the lawsuit said, which names five DEA agents.
Romero was later charged with distribution of drugs but federal prosecutors dropped the charges in January, according to his attorney, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson.
The lawsuit says the arrangement was in violation of DEA policy since the agency did not get prior approval from prosecutors.
Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said the office declined to comment on the case.
“He was targeted because he was a known drug addict,” Johnson said. “He is trying to get his life back together but he’s still afraid that the government will try to restart his addiction again.”
Johnson said news of the arrangement came out during Romero’s criminal case related to a 2012 indictment. She said Romero was not an informant but worked on behalf of informants and DEA agents.
The lawsuit seeks $8.5 million in damages for the loss of “love, familial relationships, and companionship” related to Romero’s ongoing crack addiction.
Johnson said Romero is now drug free.