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U.S. District Judge Blows Open ATF Fake Stash-House Stings, Wants to Know Why They Only Target Minorities

by Dale Chappell

“Psst ... Wanna make some easy money? I got this drug dealer who owes me big time. You help me rob him, and I’ll split it all with you — drugs, money, everything. You in? Good. Meet me at the High School at 10. Oh, and bring guns and some friends. This house has armed guards.”

We all know what happens next. The guys show up at the meeting place, and they’re taken down by agents in military gear. They’re charged with conspiracy to rob the stash house, plus they get hit with whatever amount of drugs the government says would’ve been in the nonexistent house. And because they brought guns, at the government’s urging, firearms charges are piled on, often with lengthy consecutive sentences.

It’s called a fake stash-house sting, and it’s the government’s laziest form of law enforcement. It’s no secret that fake stash-house stings target minorities. Lots of people have argued this point, but now one federal judge is demanding that the government turn over some evidence that fake stash-house stings don’t target minorities.

Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”) has ordered the government to provide defendants in a fake stash-house sting with “(1) all DEA manuals, circulars, protocols, and the like that provide guidelines for how and when reverse stings should be originated; and (2) all notes, memoranda, or other investigative material showing how defendants were identified and evaluated as targets.”

The defendants in that case presented evidence that not one single defendant in a fake stash-house sting in the SDNY in the past decade was white. They brought in an expert who testified that, according to the racial makeup of New York and Bronx counties, the chances of every one of the fake stash-house defendants “randomly” selected being a minority was “highly unlikely.”

This expert, Dr. Crystal S. Yang, is a Harvard law and economics professor.

While selective prosecution claims in fake stash-house stings have largely been shot down over the years, Judge Rakoff established when discovery should be allowed for such claims: “The appropriate standard is that where a defendant who is a member of a protected group [i.e., racial group] can show that that group has been singled out for reverse sting operations to a statistically significant extent in comparison with other groups, this is sufficient to warrant further inquiry and discovery.”

It’s unlikely the government’s documents will say, “Target minorities with this fake stash house operation.” But the government will still have to explain why all of its fake stash-house stings netted nothing but minorities. If Judge Rakoff isn’t satisfied that the government is playing by the rules, the defendants’ claims of selective prosecution will get to move forward. See: United State v. Lopez, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 196848 (S.D.N.Y. 2019). 


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Related legal case

United State v. Lopez



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