Undercover work in jeopardy in Oregon

October 09, 2000
In November 1997, an undercover DEA agentmet a drug dealer in a room at the Heathman Hotel, exchanging $70,000 for 1.5 pounds of highly refined white heroin. 
     Operation White Horse was a success because it stopped anemerging drug pipeline, federal agents said. But today, such a meeting could violate federal and Oregon law. 
     An attempt by Congress to prevent unethical conduct by federalprosecutors and a recent Oregon Supreme Court disciplinary decision have collided, unintentionally curtailingpolice undercover operations in Oregon and leaving prosecutors scrambling for a fix. 
      Last year, Congress passed the Citizen Protection Act,which, among other things, requires federal prosecutors to abide by attorney ethics rules for any state in which theypractice. 
     In August, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Salem attorneyDaniel J. Gatti violated the Oregon State Bar's ethics rules when he posed as a doctor in two phone callsto a company he was preparing to sue. The justices said no Oregon lawyers, prosecutors included, couldengage in, encourage or sanction deceptive practices by police or other investigators. 
     Hence the problem for law enforcement. In conducting undercoveroperations of all kinds, police regularly lie.
     In cases ranging from corporate pollution to organized crime, fairhousing investigations to drug stings, police use insiders and informants to covertly gather information that'sused as evidence in court. They regularly go undercover, posing as criminals to expose lawbreakers andto root out corruption and conspiracies. And most do it with the advice ofprosecutors, who are lawyers covered by attorney ethics rules.