Texas trucking company owner sues DEA, sheriff over botched drug sting

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 11/1/2013

A Texas trucking company owner is suing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement agencies in connection with the November 2011 shooting death of a company employee.

Craig Patty, owner of Craig Thomas Expeditors, is suing Javier Pena, head of the Houston DEA office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and at least a dozen or more unknown government employees for their role in orchestrating a botched drug sting that ended in a gun battle.

The suit, which was filed Oct. 29 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, describes what it calls “a bizarre set of facts that, were they not true, would almost seem implausible.”

“It seems obvious to us as lawyers and as human beings that if one party, the government, private citizen, you name it, hurts them in the course of their business or personal life, that the right thing to do is either repair the property or reimburse them for any losses they’ve sustained,” Patty’s attorney, Fred Shepherd said in a phone interview with Land Line.

“In this case, you’ve got the government using the private commercial property of a small truck owner, using it for their own means and ends, effectively destroying it. Then when he asked for them to repair the property, they tell him it’s his problem, not theirs,” Shepherd said.

According to the documents, one of Patty’s trucks was being driven by a man who was allegedly a confidential informant for the DEA.

 “I want to be as crystal-clear as I can on this point,” said Shepherd. “Craig Patty had absolutely no knowledge that either his driver or his truck was being used by any government agency in the furtherance of their law enforcement mission. He had no knowledge of it, and he did not consent to it.”

The truck – which had a load of marijuana concealed in it – was attacked in broad daylight in Houston on Nov. 21, 2011, by three SUVs reportedly full of members of a Mexican drug cartel. The ensuing shootout, which occurred under the surveillance of the DEA and other local law enforcement agencies, left the driver dead in the bullet-riddled cab of the truck. An undercover Harris County Sheriff’s deputy was also wounded by a Houston police officer.

“Once the shooting started, everybody started shooting,” Shepherd said. “One police officer shot another undercover officer because he didn’t know he was in the area. It was just a horrible mess.”

Patty’s suit alleges that “without either the knowledge or consent” of the plaintiff, agents of the federal and state government commandeered his business property and used it for a sting operation against Mexican drug lords. He is seeking damages of more than $133,000 for lost time and repairs to the truck, as well as a multimillion-dollar claim for damages to himself and his family, which Shepherd said has been living in fear of retaliation from the cartel.

“These are violent folks,” he said. “They sent hitmen to kill his driver in Houston in broad daylight. He was concerned that they would just assume he’d had some part in this. That he’d OK’d it. That he was complicit in the law enforcement investigation. … He was terrified they’d send somebody after him or his family, when he had nothing to do with it.”

“When the government’s plans went awry, and Patty’s commercial truck was riddled with bullet holes, wrecked, and his driver killed inside the truck, instead of apologizing to this law-abiding citizen and paying for the damage to his property and his business, the government, which had betrayed him, actually turned on him,” the lawsuit stated.

The actual lawsuit makes numerous references to the dramatic nature of the events, as well as literary references to “The Wild, Wild West” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

In July of 2011, 50-year old Craig Patty and his father, Thomas, started their own trucking company called Craig Thomas Expeditors. The company purchased a truck and hired one driver. In September, Patty’s company bought its second truck, a 2006 Kenworth T600, and hired a man named Lawrence Chapa as the driver.

According to the lawsuit, Chapa, unbeknownst to Patty, had a history of arrests including one for cocaine possession. Patty’s suit alleges that a check of Chapa’s record with the Department of Transportation was free of criminal convictions. The suit alleges that the DEA arranged for Chapa to have a clean record and orchestrated his hiring by Patty.

The suit contends that the plan was for Chapa to orchestrate a drug deal with members of the Mexican Zeta drug cartel, who were purportedly smuggling illegal drugs from Mexico into Texas.

In the aftermath of the incident, Shepherd said the agency demanded that Patty sign and authorize a search of his own home and business, including the seizure of a GPS monitoring device on the truck. Shepherd said Patty ultimately authorized a search of his business but not the home. He maintains that despite the GPS monitoring device on the truck, Patty was unaware of any unauthorized trips Chapa may have taken while driving the vehicle.

“The government took possession of that information,” he said. “I don’t know how many trips, unauthorized trips, Mr. Chapa took to south Texas or other places. We do know that he went to Rio Grande City, (right before the shooting incident). We do know that happened.”

Shepherd said the next step is to wait for formal responses to be filed in court from the agencies named in the suit.

“We’re very interested to read what they say,” he said. “What their response is to this, because we can’t fathom what the justification may be for destroying this man’s truck, his business, and part of his family life and not making it right.

“We have constitutional rights and liberties,” he said. “Expectations of privacy and freedom from government intrusion in our lives. … This was a national law enforcement agency that was spearheading this operation. They did it to this one citizen in Texas, but what’s to stop them from doing this to somebody else in any other state?”

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