For the past year, the U.S. Justice Department has grappled with the fallout from a New Orleans-based narcotics task force accused of peddling painkillers, threatening confidential informants and swiping cash during drug raids.
The scandal has upended a growing number of federal criminal cases and prompted felony charges against two members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force, including a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who quickly pleaded guilty to his role in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy.
The FBI continues to review a host of allegations — some too old to be prosecuted — against Chad Scott, a veteran DEA agent and former leader of the task force who has been stripped of his gun and badge.
But even as the full scope of the inquiry remains unclear, new questions are emerging regarding the oversight of the task force and a series of red flags that officials appear to have overlooked for years before launching a secretive investigation in early 2016.
Interviews with four current and former law enforcement officials and documents reviewed by The Advocate show the DEA had been warned more than a decade ago by its own agents, confidential informants and other sources of information that task force members, including Scott, were playing by their own rules, disregarding DEA policies and at times even profiting from an illicit drug trade.
One former colleague of Scott’s said the embattled agent had enjoyed virtually free rein as the leader of the task force, and that because of the large number of drug cases he made, supervisors had been quick to defend him in the face of misconduct allegations.
“The DEA allowed it, if not promoted it,” the official said, describing a “cowboy” culture that permeated the task force. Like the other officers interviewed for this article, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.
Shortly after former task force members Johnny Domingue and Karl E. Newman were taken into custody last year, the Justice Department quietly agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a veteran DEA agent who claimed that Scott, in a bid to boost his own arrest numbers, had allowed confidential informants to sell drugs and commit other crimes in exchange for intelligence, according to three sources familiar with the settlement. The veteran agent alleged he repeatedly faced retaliation after reporting Scott to the agency’s higher-ups, the sources said.
Among other allegations, the whistleblower reported to the DEA in late 2003 that Scott had maintained a “stash room” at a hotel in Hammond that he used to store illegal drugs and cash, and that Scott had sold ecstasy in college, the law enforcement officials said.
The agent also expressed concern in 2004 that DEA management regularly allowed Scott to circumvent policy because of the volume of drug cases he generated, and that the DEA had been turning a blind eye to corrupt law enforcement in Tangipahoa Parish, according to internal documents reviewed by the newspaper.
That same year, one of Scott’s longtime informants told the DEA he had been provided 100 pounds of marijuana and two kilograms of cocaine by another former DEA task force member and a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy, according to DEA records.