|SPEAKING OUT: Former Saline County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jean Duffey is talking about the unsavory doings surrounding the county's drug task force.|
BY MARA LEVERITT
..... In 1990, Jean Duffey was a 45-year-old deputy prosecuting attorney with a good record for convicting drunk drivers. When money came down for the new drug task force, the men who were appointed to serve on its board—the sheriffs and police chiefs from Saline, Grant, and Hot Spring counties—asked Duffey to set up the new law enforcement agency and to serve as its first director.
..... Twice she declined. On the third request, Duffey accepted, but, she told the board, she'd only serve for a year.
..... That was in March. By November, the task force had seen its operations shutdown three times, often for weeks at a time. its books had been the subject of an Arkansas State Police investigation. Duffey's name had been dragged through the press, where Harmon linked her to some $4,000 in missing task force funds, phony drivers' licenses, and frivolous prosecutions. In November, the board fired Duffey. She found public support from three of the task force's six undercover agents, who, according to Duffey and one of those agents, Scott Lewellen, resigned their jobs in protest.
..... At a news conference announcing his resignation, Lewellen told reporters that Duffey's firing was an attempt to stifle the task force because of what it had been uncovering: a mounting pile of information that appeared to link certain public and police officials in the district with drug-dealing.
....."We discovered those connections through drug cases we developed," Lewellen said at the news conference. Two additional investigators later resigned.
.....But the protest was no match for Harmon's ferocity.
..... Duffey remained quiet, and the prosecutor's accusations dominated the news. Even years later, an article in the Arkansas Times by John Brummett typified what had become the media consensus. In a profile of Harmon, Brummett referred to the former task force director as "the discredited Jean Duffey."
.....Now Duffey thinks it might be Harmon who's looking a bit discredited. Back in Arkansas to respond, ironically, to a lawsuit she links to Harmon as part of an alleged personal harassment campaign against her, Duffey is ready to fight. As she begins throwing her punches, the dust she raises and its potential for damage may not be limited to Harmon.
.....Duffey says that when her boss, then prosecuting attorney Gary Arnold, spelled out the limits on the drug task force's scope—that it was not to investigate any public officials— the demand did not sound an alarm at first. That was because Duffey knew, as did Arnold and almost everyone who worked for the 7th Judicial District, that federal officials were at the time conducting their own investigation into public corruption there.
....."We'd heard the rumors about public corruption for years," Duffey, a native of Malvern, says, "but nobody inside the district seemed to be able to get at it. That federal investigation was our last hope."
.....By 1990, when Duffey's task force was established, many residents believed an independent investigation of district political figures was long overdue. Benton has long been regarded by police in central Arkansas as a hub of illegal drug activity, and suspicion that some of that activity has been sanctioned by public officials has been rampant.
.....During the 1980s, Saline County, in particular, experienced a series of unsolved murders, including those in 1987 of two teenagers who were beaten and run over by a train and of a police informant, a bouncer known for being able to fight, who was found dead in his driveway, stabbed 113 times. Numerous investigations into those murders, while failing to solve them, turned up several informants' statements that linked Harmon and other public officials to drug trafficking in the county.
.....In the late 1980s, Larry Davis campaigned for sheriff of Saline County on a promise to investigate those allegations. After he was elected, (and apparently saw that job was too big or too tricky for his own office to handle), he appealed to federal law enforcement officials. Chuck Banks, who was at the time the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, agreed to launch an investigation into public corruption in Saline County. He assigned the case to an assistant U.S. attorney, Robert Govar.
.....That investigation was going full swing when Duffey was invited to set up the drug task force. She says that in February 1990, the month before she began organizing the task force, Arnold showed her a copy of a memo written by Govar to Banks, that was dated two weeks earlier.
.....The memo detailed elements of the federal investigation. It contained statements that appeared to implicate a judge and a longtime associate of Harmon's.
.....But the most damaging statements in the memo concerned Harmon himself. One sentence read: "We have developed a pretty substantial amount of information concerning the drug use and dealing of Teresa Harmon [another former wife] and Dan Harmon." The memo, which was leaked to the press several months later, detailed witnesses' claims of having seen Dan Harmon using drugs, buying drugs,and watching while his wife, Teresa, sold drugs. [Authorities recently claim to have connected Teresa Harmon with an attempt to send methamphetamines by express delivery service.] In addition, there was mention of bribes and of cases being "fixed" in the memo.
.....In light of Govar's investigation, Duffey says she took Arnold's demand that the drug task force was not to investigate public officials as an attempt not to cross investigative lines and duplicate the federal effort. She agreed to focus the task force's efforts on "street-level" drug-dealing in the district.
.....Duffey hired a fiscal officer, Kathy Evans, to manage the task force's funds, and six investigators to work the three-county area. She says problems developed almost immediately.
....."It didn't take but a few weeks before my undercover officers began coming back with information on public officials," she says. "They began developing their confidential informants, and in almost no time at all they started getting this information relating to Harmon [who by then had won the Democratic primary for district prosecuting attorney ] and other public officials. It all happened very quickly. It was amazing."
..... According to Duffey, information surfaced on other district officials as well. "We ran across situations where certain case files didn't reconcile with the arrest records," Duffey says. "There were instances where weapons, vehicles, drugs, and money had been confiscated, but the records didn't line up with the final court orders on the disposition of those items.
..... "Most of the time in the cases we examined, there was no disposition whatsoever of the confiscated property. At that time, it was mostly weapons and vehicles, that appeared to be the problem. But there were cases of missing money, as well."
.....Duffey says she channelled all the information relating to public officials to Govar at the U.S. attorney's office. "I'd type it up on the computer. I didn't even keep a copy. I'd write it. I wouldn't save it. I printed it out, and I closed it. Then I'd send it on to Govar.
....."We were busy enough with everything else we had to do. But as time went on it became impossible to focus on drug dealing in our district without including reports on public officials. We were beginning to realize we were not ever going to be able to go too much above street-level dealing without finding a public official."
..... As a prosecutor, Duffey says she began to realize the situation posed several peculiar problems. One of them was the matter of how to bring drug dealers' cases to court without involving the public officials with whom they appeared to be involved.
..... "I had said from the start I was only going to serve until the first of the year," Duffey says. "I figured we would conduct the investigations and then I would hand them over to someone else to figure out how you prosecute these cases and put the witnesses on the stand without bringing in the public officials."
.....Looking back, Duffey sees the situation as having been impossible from the start. The biggest obstacle, she says, was with the influence some officials had on the drug task force's board.
.....Duffey says one of her biggest problems was with Gary Arnold, the prosecutor who hired her. Arnold appointed the task force board of directors that had hired her to be administrator, but he was the only member who did not vote to approve her.
.....Duffey says she did not understand his apparent change of attitude. "Something happened," she says, "between December, when he asked me to be his chief deputy prosecutor and March when he didn't want me on the task force. He abstained. He refused to vote. The others voted for me unanimously."
.....According to Duffey, just as the task force got organized, and its undercover agents began working in the district, Arnold temporarily shut the operation down.
.....She says, "The first time we were shut down was for two weeks because Gary Arnold said he wanted to investigate our officers' liability insurance. But that didn't make sense. Our officers were sworn in as county deputies, as they were in other task forces in the state, and nobody else had problems with insurance.
....."But it kept our guys off the streets. At the end of two weeks, Gary Arnold determined the insurance was okay."
.....A second shut-down occurred when Duffey fired one of her six investigators. While she has high praise for the other five agents who signed on with the drug task force, Duffey says that one man, James Lovett, proved incompetent to the point of obstruction.
.....She fired Lovett, she says, after an incident when he was supposed to be staking out an undercover drug buy with another agent and he left the scene to buy a case of beer. The suspect arived while Lovett was gone, placing both the agent' s partner and the operation in jeopardy.
..... Duffey claims that as a result of her firing of Lovett, the task force was shut down "periodically" during the next two months, while the board considered Lovett's appeal. While Lovett did not dispute he left the scene to buy beer, he said the action didn't warrant firing, and he also alleged Duffey had fired him because he had refused to have sex with her, which she denies.
..... The beer incident had happened in June. The board discussed the matter until September, when it finally affirmed Duffey' s firing of Lovett. The delay had kept the young task force from being fully operational for another two months.
.....Despite those obstacles, and without trying, Duffey and her team were piecing together a picture of what she now describes as "public officials involved in drug trafficking."
....."To what extent, I didn't know," she says. "And how it was all connected, I didn't know . It's impossible to get in and figure out the structure of an operation in the small amount of time I was there. And in the small amount of time I was there, we kept getting shut down.
....."At the time, I couldn't understand why we kept getting shut down for such ridiculous reasons. But now I understand. They didn't want us operating."
.....The coup de grace fell in September. After learning that the task force had been charged for 35 bank overdrafts, that state and federal financial reports had been filed late, and that her agents had been having trouble getting expenses reimbursed, Duffey says she began checking up on the records being kept by her financial officer, Kathy Evans.
.....After her own, secret audit of the books, Duffey says she reported to Gary Arnold that she'd found several discrepancies, including checks made out only to "cash," and instances in which Duffey's name had been forged. Arnold called the Arkansas State Police and asked them to investigate.
.....That investigation disclosed that Evans had indeed forged Duffey's name to checks; that she had charged more than $300 in personal long distance phone calls to the task force; and that she had rented a car one weekend and charged it to the task force account. There was no information in the investigative report linking Duffey to any of the unaccounted-for $4,000 or to any financial misdeeds.
.....As to the area of task force operations over which Duffey exercised direct control, a state police investigator noted: "All evidence was accounted for in accordance with the evidence log, crime lab sheet, and case files."
.....Despite those findings, the final state police report that was sent to the task force's board left the question of blame for the missing funds unresolved, reporting its investigation as having been "inconclusive."
.....Meanwhile, the task force was again shut down. 'There was no rationale for our investigators not to be going out while the state police were investigating the books," Duffey said. "We weren't accused of mishandling any evidence. But that was Gary Arnold's decision. He said, 'Give them a paid vacation while this is going on.' "
.....Duffey was coming under personal pressure as well. At the same time the state police were checking the task force's books, someone reported Duffey to state child-welfare officials for suspected abuse of her children. She says it was the lowest blow leveled against her in an increasingly nasty vendetta. The report was checked out, and a case-worker filed a report in October stating that,'There was no credible evidence of abuse or neglect."
.....There were other allegations, too, and some of them were partly true. Duffey learned that her daughter, who was 17 at the time, had been provided with a false drivers license, showing her age as 21, that had been authorized through Duffey' s office by Evans. (Drug task force officials are allowed to request fake IDs for under-cover officers .) When Duffey learned of the incident, she says she reported both Evans and her daughter to the state police. Neither was ever prosecuted.
..... In another instance, Duffey was criticized for allowing a county work-release prisoner to work for her husband's moving company and on occasion slept in the basement at her family's home. That did happen, and the impropriety was widely reported. What was not reported, Duffey claims, is that the trustee was also working as an informant for the drug task force and that the arrangement for him to work for Duffey's husband had been approved by Sheriff Davis.
.....By this time, however, in the fall of 1990, the accumulation of accusations and innuendos against Duffey, however unsubstantiated, had achieved a critical mass. On Nov. 9, the board voted unanimously to fire her. It cited as its reasons the task force's financial problems, Duffey's "failure to heed warnings to avoid confrontations with individual board members," and "a consensus opinion" that Duffey could "no longer achieve task force goals."
..... Except for the resignation by her undercover officers, Duffey received almost no public support, other than her family. Nor did she help herself by speaking out at the time.
.....Today, she says the reason for her silence was that Govar at the U.S. attorney's office kept assuring her that indictments resulting from the federal investigation and from information her office had provided it were imminent. She says she remained quiet believing that Harmon and others responsible for what she calls "the bludgeoning" she was receiving in the press were about to be brought to justice and that to talk about the alleged pending indictments might jeopardize them. When they came, she believed, so would her vindication.
.....But again, Duffey's expectation proved wrong. In December 1990, one month after she was fired, U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks removed Govar from the Saline County corruption investigation. Though the investigation supposedly continued, the indictments Duffey says she'd been led to believe were imminent were not brought before the federal grand jury.
.....In January 1991, Harmon took over as prosecutor. One of the first things he did was to summon his own grand jury to investigate corruption in Saline County. He subpoenaed Duffey to testify.
..... "When I heard about the subpoena, I called Bob Govar and asked him what I should do regarding the information I'd passed on to the U.S. attorney's office. He said I should ask Chuck Banks to file a motion to excuse me from testifying before a county grand jury because it could conflict with a federal investigation."
..... Duffey says she went to Banks with that request. She says of that conversation, "Chuck Banks told me to tell Harmon and his grand jury everything I knew."
..... Duffey says that at that point she figured she had three options. "One: I could have gone and turned over to Dan everything I had on him and other public officials. I believe doing that would have jeopardized the safety of every one of the almost 30 witnesses who had provided statements against those people. So I wasn't going to give them that information.
..... 'Two: I could have appeared and refused to give the information, at which point I would have been held in contempt of court and jailed. I didn't consider that an option because, at that point, I was concerned about my safety.
....."My third alternative was to just not go— which is what I chose. I went into hiding and avoided being served with the subpoena. So I was charged with failure to appear. That's an unclassified misdemeanor, the lowest level of misdemeanor there is . But a felony warrant was issued for my arrest. Judge [John] Cole called me a fugitive in a statement to the Arkansas Democrat."
.....Duffey says she's still amazed by the fury of the attacks that were leveled against her and her office. But she says she understands why the volleys came with such intensity.
.....'They could have just sat still and quietly let me go away on Dec. 31, as I'd said from the beginning I planned to do. But we were building cases, so I had to be discredited. Everything we did had to be discredited. And it was."
..... In June 1991, Banks announced that all the allegations his office had investigated against public officials in Saline County "were based on rumors and innuendo and didn't have merit." As a result, he said, no indictments would be sought.
.....Two months later, in August, Banks announced that Harmon would be charged with failure to file income tax returns for four years, from 1985 through 1988. When Harmon appeared in federal court to plead innocent to the four charges, he was told that, under federal law, in order to be released, he would have to submit to a drug test by urinalysis.
.....Harmon refused, complaining that the requirement violated his civil rights. He was subsequently jailed for 18 days.
.....Harmon's personal grand jury investigation into possible official wrong-doing in his district never uncovered any mischief, either.
.....Duffey and her family eventually moved to Houston, where she now teaches high school algebra. This month she will be back in Arkansas for a trial that stems back to 1990 and to her chaotic stint as the drug task force administrator for Arkansas's 7th Judicial District.
.....The upcoming trial is only remotely related to that job, however. It involves an exchange student from Norway who had been living with the exchange program's coordinator in Hot Spring County, a woman named Kathy Fitzmaurice.
.....When the student left Fltzmaurice, alleging that Fitzmaurice had been taking money the student's parents had been sending her from Norway, she was taken in by Duffey's parents. Duffey became involved when she as a prosecutor signed a warrant to have Fitzmaurice arrested for allegedly taking the student's money, an action Duffey says resulted in the restitution of some of the student' s money.
.....Fitzmaurice later sued Duffey-for false arrest over the incident. Now that the case is about to reach court, Duffey says she's looking forward to what will be brought out at the trial.
.....Moreover, she says, she's enjoying, for a change, seeing the public spotlight turned on Dan Harmon and on her successor at the drug task force, Roger Walls. The more their credibility is questioned, she figures, the better hers begins to look.
....."I would like very much for my name to be cleared," Duffey says. "Particularly for my family's sake.
..... "The reason I did not speak out before was that I did not want to jeopardize what I thought was a competent federal investigation. If I'd started answering allegations and discussing why Dan Harmon was brutalizing me in the press, I would have had to explain I had gathered information on him through the drug task force.
....."At the time, Govar was telling us that indictments would be coming 'any day.' But, of course, that never happened.
..... "I'm talking now because I think it's getting pretty obvious to the public that there are [some] elected officials in the 7th Judicial District who are involved in drugs. I hope the public will start asking questions as to why the federal investigation was shut down— especially when the feds have known about illegal activities going on in this district for years.
..... "I was fired because our task force was uncovering information on public officials," Duffey said. "There is supposed to be a federal investigation going on, so I'm not going to spout off about who's doing what."
|Harmon on Duffey:|
......Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon of Benton had this to say about Jean Duffey's allegation he and other 7th Judicial District public officials are involved in drug use and drug-trafficking: "Ms. Duffey is insane."
Reproduced with permission
Copyright © 1996 Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. All Rights Reserved
For Subscription Information call 501-375-2985