CHICAGO (CN) - A federal judge said Monday that fictitious stash houses used to ensnare would-be criminals should be "relegated to the dark corridors of our past," but stopped short of issuing a ruling that could have curtailed their use.
In his ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo in Chicago called out false stash houses, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, used as part of its sting operations in the two criminal cases under Castillo’s review. The ruse has been in existence since the 1990s.
Law enforcement agents use false stash houses to lure alleged potential criminals into stealing drugs from them. Agents would pose as couriers for drug cartels. Neither the drugs nor the houses existed but instead would be used to round up targets in elaborate stings, according to court records.
Even though the drugs and stash houses were pure fiction, defendants could face more severe charges because of hypothetical drug quantities used as part of the sting. Suspects could even face charges for dealing nonexistent drugs, according to the Associated Press.
Critics say that fake stash houses overwhelmingly target Hispanics and blacks. Dozens of criminal defendants have challenged their use as racially biased.
On Monday, Judge Castillo strongly condemned the ruse and said the government's "lucrative trap" also ensnared people with minor criminal records who might never have otherwise been drawn in.
"These sting operations have used tremendous public resources to investigate and prosecute a large number of principally minority individuals for fictitious crimes," Castillo wrote in his 73-page ruling.
The judge noted that the defendants charged in the ATF’s stash-house stings in the Chicago area were 78.7 percent black, 9.7 percent Hispanic and 11.7 white, even though the general adult population in the area is 18 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 63 percent white.
“These numbers generate great disrespect for law enforcement efforts. Disrespect for the law simply cannot be tolerated during these difficult times,” he wrote. “It is time for these false stash house cases to end and be relegated to the dark corridors of our past. To put it simply, our criminal justice system should not tolerate false stash house cases in 2018.”
While he called for an end to stings involving fake stash houses, Castillo found that his decision on whether to dismiss the indictments against Abraham Brown and Antonio Williams did not turn on if the use of fake stash houses is "honorable or fair," but whether the defendants could establish that the ATF had discriminated against them.
Castillo ruled Brown and Williams failed to meet their "heavy burden" to throw out their criminal charges, finding they had did not establish discriminatory effect or intent on the part of the ATF.
Castillo said that the future of Brown and Williams’ cases is in the hands of new Northern Illinois U.S. Attorney John Lausch. A status hearing is slated for March 21 to determine dates for jury trials.
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