A huge wiretapping operation aimed at curbing drug trafficking in Riverside County is being looked at by Department of Justice officials who say they’re concerned about the legality of the operation.
A USA Today investigation showed that Riverside County issues far more warrants for wiretap surveillance than any other jurisdiction in the United States. Even more interesting was the fact that most of these were signed off on by one particular state court judge. Federal agents often go to state courts instead of federal courts to obtain warrants for wiretaps because it’s faster and easier, and special protections offered by California state law give them even more latitude to protect the names and identities of the confidential informants used to help track the drug rings. Wiretaps are notoriously difficult to obtain warrants for, and the law states police may only resort to a wiretap when all other investigative tools have been exhausted.
Riverside County has become one of the busiest drug corridors in the U.S., according to the DEA, and they say the wiretapping operation has helped bring down suppliers and distributors across the county. However, the wiretaps are only supposed to be for crime in Riverside County, and information obtained from the taps has been used to make arrests on the East Coast.
Based on the evidence from the USA Today investigation, are the wiretaps in Riverside County legal? Does this story raise privacy concerns for you?
Brad Heath, investigative reporter for USA Today covering law and justice, co-author of USA Today enterprise piece on Riverside Co. wiretaps
Brett Kelman, investigative reporter for The Desert Sun, USA Today correspondent, and co-author of USA Today enterprise piece on Riverside Co. wiretaps
Mike Hestrin, district attorney for Riverside County
Randy Sutton, retired police lieutenant with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He was a narcotics detective for several years. He’s the author of multiple books on policing, including "A Cop’s Life" (St Martin’s Press, 2006)