By Joseph Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - The lawyer for a New Mexico man has filed an $8.5 million civil lawsuit accusing the U.S. government and five members of the Drug Enforcement Administration of supplying her client with crack cocaine during an undercover investigation.
Erlinda Johnson said on Wednesday she filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on behalf of 38-year-old Aaron Romero, who she said became an unwitting part of a DEA operation dubbed "Smack City" from November 2011 to August 2012.
The 18-count complaint alleges that DEA agents supplied Romero with crack cocaine in return for information on drug dealing targets in his hometown of Las Vegas, New Mexico, a busy shipment route for narcotics from the U.S.-Mexico border.
The DEA office in Albuquerque referred enquiries about the lawsuit to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
Johnson said in the complaint that Romero had a long history of crack cocaine addiction.
But she says he had kicked the habit by the fall of 2011 when he met a DEA-sponsored informant who encouraged him to sell crack in exchange for a small amount for personal use. He relapsed, she said, eventually destroying his personal life.
"As a consequence of the distribution of the large portion of crack cocaine to Aaron by the United States government, Aaron consumed crack cocaine over a period of two days, which resulted in the resurrection of the crippling addiction," Johnson said in the complaint.
"There is established law that prohibits federal agencies from exploiting a known addiction to further an investigation."
Johnson said Romero was arrested in May 2012 and charged with seven federal counts of distributing crack cocaine near a school, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years and as many as 40. He spent several months in jail, but the U.S. Attorney's Office eventually dismissed the charges.
(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)