CHICAGO - Federal prosecutors have made the rare move of seeking dismissal of a three-year-old drug indictment following testimony from a former Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor who said drugs in Chicago are "typically trafficked by Latino people."
The comments seemed to stun defense attorneys and catch the attention of U.S. District Judge John Blakey, who on Friday agreed to toss charges pending since 2019 against Leonel Hernandez-Rodriguez, Feliberto Flores-Ramos, Charlie Dotson and Francisco Carranza-Rosales.
The unusual move came more than a month after Keith Billiot, who is now retired but worked as a supervisory special agent for the DEA, testified about his role in the case during a March evidentiary hearing. He later walked back his comment following intense cross-examination, telling the judge race was "irrelevant" to the DEA’s work.
Billiot explained during the hearing what had led him to believe Flores-Ramos and Dotson had been involved in a drug deal Jan. 31, 2019. After naming other factors, including the behavior of the suspects, Billiot went further, according to a court transcript.
"In the city of Chicago for the five-and-a-half years that I worked here, typically — not always, but typically it is people of Latino descent are the ones that are supplying people of African American descent or Caucasians, or whatever," Billiot said, according to the transcript. "But it’s the — the fact of the matter is that the drugs come up from Mexico or come in from Colombia but they come through Latino countries into the cities throughout the U.S. and therefore they’re typically trafficked by Latino people. So all of that, when you put all of that together, it indicated a narcotics transaction to me."
Defense attorneys in the case — Thomas Anthony Durkin, Gal Pissetzky, Michael Leonard and Robert Rascia — all moved to strike Billiot’s testimony. Blakey said he’d strike the comment about race and added, "I’m going to permit vigorous cross examination on the issue, so fire away."
Billiot could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch, said that, "after reviewing the matter internally, we decided that moving to dismiss the indictment was the best course of action in this case."
A criminal complaint in the case said law enforcement saw Flores-Ramos leave a home in the 6500 block of South Kenneth the afternoon of Jan. 31, 2019, holding his hand against the left side of his jacket in a way that suggested he was hiding something.
It said Flores-Ramos then got in a Dodge Caliber and traveled to 63rd and Kilbourn while investigators followed. The Dodge parked behind a white Buick sedan, Flores-Ramos got out and climbed into the Buick’s passenger seat with his hand still pressed against his jacket, according to the complaint.
Dotson was allegedly in the Buick’s driver’s seat.
Investigators soon drove toward the Buick and parked next to it, records show. After ordering Dotson and Flores-Ramos out of the car, authorities said they spotted an open bag filled with what turned out to be $34,000 cash on the front passenger floorboard. The feds also said a closed backpack in the back seat later turned out to contain a kilogram of cocaine.
The other defendants were found at the home on South Kenneth, where the feds say they also found eight kilograms of cocaine and $600,000 cash in a dishwasher.
Flores-Ramos admitted after his arrest that he’d gone to sell cocaine to Dotson, according to the complaint.
Still, during the March hearing, Billiot found himself defending his comments about the ethnicity of typical drug suppliers in Chicago. He noted he’d also pointed out other key factors in the investigation.
"So it was not the mere fact — and to be quite honest with you, I’m offended by the whole racism thing," Billiot told Durkin. "It was not the fact that a Latino person met with a Black person. Absolutely not. Is that clear enough, sir, please? Can we get beyond that please?"
"I started with the probable cause that we developed upon your client and went all the way through the chain of events, sir," Billiot continued. "That’s including the car, the car is running, the lights are off. Why would that be, sir? So I painted the picture of the entire probable cause that we saw, all the — the things that we saw. We didn’t generate those things. The client — the defendants here did but I simply testified as to what we saw. There is no racism involved in this."
Blakey also questioned him about the comment, asking whether the ethnicity of the defendants played any role in his decision-making.
"It’s irrelevant," Billiot eventually told the judge. "Someone’s ethnicity — the clearest way for me to say this is someone’s ethnicity is irrelevant to us in all respects."
But Billiot pushed back once more against Durkin, telling the defense attorney, "this inference of racism is so phony."
"You know nothing about me," Billiot said. "Nothing. For you to infer that I’m a racist, I’m the godfather of an African-American child. She is — she is the daughter of a police officer and soldier who is one of my closest friends.
"There is nothing racist about what we do or how we do it. Nothing."