Texan demands DEA pay for damage from drug sting
HOUSTON -- The owner of a North Texas trucking company has demanded compensation from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, saying its use of one of his drivers as an undercover agent ultimately led to the employee's death and damage to his truck.
Truck company owner Craig Patty said he didn't know Lawrence Chapa was a DEA informant until he got a call saying the driver had been shot eight times in the truck's cab. Patty's company hauls sand for the oil and gas industry's hydraulic fracturing operations, but he said Chapa used his truck to bring marijuana from the border as part of an undercover operation.
The DEA has not confirmed Chapa worked for the agency, but the Houston Chronicle reported that comments prosecutors made in court confirm the agency had been paying Chapa as an undercover agent.
Patty has demanded the DEA pay him more than $130,000 for truck repairs that his insurance company refused to cover because it said the vehicle was used by the federal government. He's also seeking an additional $1.3 million in damages.
"When you start a new business, there are obvious pitfalls and you go through a learning curve," Patty told the Chronicle. "But who would ever be ready to deal with this?"
Lisa Johnson, a spokeswoman for the DEA Houston Division, confirmed Patty's demands had been received and would be investigated.
Patty said after the incident, his company -- which operates two trucks -- was on the brink of collapse because one vehicle could not be used for 100 days. Patty said he drew from his retirement fund to pay for the repairs.
"I was not part of this," Patty said. "I had absolutely no knowledge of any of it until after it happened."
According to the Chronicle, Chapa was shot dead in northwest Harris County in front of more than 12 law enforcement officers who were taken by surprise when carjackers tried to steal the $90,000 truck and the drugs. In the confusion, made worse because officers in the operation did not all know each other, a Houston police officer shot and wounded a deputy from the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
GPS information from the truck revealed the vehicle made an unauthorized 1,000-mile trip to the Rio Grande Valley in the days before Chapa was killed. Most disturbing to Patty is that his family now lives in constant fear that drug cartels may recognize the truck and be able to find them.
Mark Bennett, a Houston lawyer advising Patty, said if the claim is not resolved, Patty plans to sue.
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