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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

Feds say drug-sniffing dog with faked credentials may have been trained

Federal prosecutors pursuing a drug money case based in part on a police dog whose certification has been questioned said in court filings this week that the dog might actually have been properly trained.

The case stems from the seizure of $122,000 in suspected drug money at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport last fall. An attorney for a woman who claims the money is hers asked a judge to throw out the case, alleging that prosecutors used a faked K-9 training certificate produced by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police to bolster their case.

Those allegations led to an investigation by MdTA Police.

Prosecutors acknowledge that the certificate was a "reproduction" and want to depose a former trainer with the agency, arguing that his testimony could help demonstrate that the dog was trained and that the problem was one of record-keeping.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stefan D. Cassella wrote that the issue is important to him and the others involved the case. The woman has accused MdTA Police "of falsifying the certification records of K-9 Falco, and has accused two Assistant U.S. Attorneys of breaching their duty of candor in failing to disclose all of the facts known to them about that matter," he wrote.

"The issue has apparently attracted the attention of the media and has cast a shadow on the reputations of the individuals involved and the agencies they represent."

The woman's attorney, C. Justin Brown, had filed a motion to block a subpoena issued to the former trainer, Ted Cox, whom he planned to use as an expert witness. Brown wrote in the filing that his client would have to pay for him to travel for the deposition to South Dakota, where the trainer lives, which he argued would be an unnecessary and improper expense.

The MdTA Police, which is responsible for security at BWI and other transportation infrastructure, said earlier this month that it had launched an internal probe into the training of its drug-sniffing dogs and assigned extra commanders to oversee its K-9 unit.

In the case of the suspected drug proceeds, a Transportation Security Administration screener discovered the $122,000 in a man's checked baggage, according to court documents. A police dog named Falco sniffed the cash and gave a positive response, suggesting the money had come into contact with drugs.

The man told police that the money belonged to his wife, Samantha Banks, and was to be used in a real estate deal. She is now seeking to get the money back.

As the case proceeded, Brown deposed an MdTA police trainer who said officers had been unable to find the training records for Falco, so another trainer created the certificate on his home computer and backdated it, according to a transcript of the deposition.

As Cassella wrote, "The parties … take dramatically different views of the significance of these facts."

"Central to resolving this dispute are these questions: when were Falco and his handler trained, who trained them, was the team properly certified in September 2013, was there an original certificate that was lost, and was the new certificate merely a replacement for a lost document?" he wrote.

Interviewing the former trainer, who prosecutors believe worked with the dog, could help clear everything up, Cassella argued.

Brown, in his filing seeking to block the subpoena, wrote that Cox is prepared to testify that the training of the K-9 unit was deficient. Nonetheless, he said Thursday he was glad prosecutors want to get to the bottom of the certificate issue.

"We welcome a full investigation into this matter," he said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/iduncan

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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