FBI Must Search for Coke Dealer’s Lost Notebooks

     (CN) – The FBI must comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for notebooks that may clear a Mexican man convicted of drug trafficking in 1991, a federal judge ruled.
     After Adolfo Correa Coss, then a lawful U.S. permanent resident, was convicted of drug trafficking in 1991, he returned to Mexico and tried to prove his innocence.
     A private investigator allegedly confirmed Coss’s suspicion that an alleged witness, Guillermo Casas, had falsely informed police that he bought cocaine from Coss three separate times on May 8, 1989.
     Coss also claims to have learned that a jury relied on Casas’ notebooks of his drug transactions to find him guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine in 1992.
     Hoping that the notebooks would help his case, Coss filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago on July 17, 2013.
     While the U.S. Attorney’s Office told Coss to send his request to the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), the FBI issued a Glomar response, claiming that it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of records involving a third party, Coss says.
     The FBI allegedly said Coss must either obtain approval from the third party – Casas – prove his death, or show that the public interest outweighed his privacy interests.
     Coss says he then sent a new request to the Executive Office and the FBI on Aug. 6, 2013. The Executive Office then issued its own Glomar response, which Coss appealed Oct. 15, 2013. Though the office claims it sent Coss a letter on Dec. 31, 2013, asking for fees to search nine boxes which might contain the notebooks, he says he never received this letter.
     The Department of Justice allegedly told Coss on April 30, 2014, that since he had not replied to the 2013 letter within 30 days, the Executive Office considered the matter closed.
     Once Coss sent the office a check to pay the search fees on May 6, 2014, the Department of Justice assigned his request a new FOIA number on May 30, 2014, he claims.
     But Coss says he has since not heard back from the Executive Office, so he sued the Department of Justice and other authorities in D.C. Federal Court on July 13, 2014.
     The Executive Office says it then sent Coss a letter on Sept. 23, 2014, explaining that it could find no responsive records in the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office.
     Both sides moved for summary judgment, and U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied the FBI’s portion of the defendants’ motion Wednesday.
     “As Coss simply seeks the notebooks that were admitted in Casas’ and his co-defendants’ trial, this is not a case in which plaintiff is endeavoring to unmask the identity of an informant or to compromise anyone’s security,” Boasberg wrote. “He has made clear on multiple occasions, furthermore, that all personally identifying material that does not refer to him may be redacted. Refusing to acknowledge whether or not the notebooks exist borders on foolishness.”
     But the Executive Office has already complied with the FOIA, the ruling states.
     “The sole argument plaintiff can muster in opposition is to complain that the agency searched for documents using incorrect spellings of his and Casas’ names,” Boasberg wrote. “He is wrong. The [liaison in the Civil/Criminal Division of the Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office, Sharon] Getty, declaration shows that defendant searched for both names with correct spellings.”
     The judge later added: “Because the Getty and [Executive Office FOIA Attorney-Advisor, Vinay] Jolly, declarations establish that EOUSA (1) identified where the relevant notebooks might be stored, (2) searched the nine boxes, and (3) certified that there were no records systems or locations not searched where the notebooks might have been found, the agency has complied with FOIA.”

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