A businessman in Scotia arrested earlier this month for allegedly selling cocaine out of his shop has been cleared of all charges against him, his innocence proved by his own security cameras, officials said.
The case has resulted in the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office reviewing practices for law enforcement agencies working with confidential informants in drug investigations.
The case involved the April 6 arrest of 24-year-old Donald Andrews, owner of Dabb City Smoke Shop, 125 Mohawk Ave. in Scotia.
Andrews was accused by a confidential informant of selling cocaine out of his store during an undercover operation conducted by the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department in March.
The problem was, the informant, Schenectady County sheriff’s officials later realized, pulled the evidence out from down the back of his pants, authorities say. Andrews never sold the informant anything except two completely legal pipes, they now say.
Authorities seized and later viewed Andrews’ store’s security system, which proved his innocence and led to the charges being officially dropped Thursday. Attorney Michael Horan represented Andrews.
After his arrest, Andrews spent a weekend in jail before he could post the $30,000 bond. He saw his shop closed for nearly two weeks and lagging in business after it reopened.
And his name was tarnished.
“They apologized to me, but their apology really isn’t enough,” Andrews said Monday, back at work at his shop. “My business has slowed down drastically. My whole character, everybody’s looking at me different, as a criminal, as if I did something wrong.”
Now law enforcement officials are tasked with making sure such a mistake doesn’t happen again — as well as informing defense attorneys of other cases the informant was involved in.
“We’re undertaking a review, not only of our practices, but the practices of different police agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department,” Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Monday.
That includes contacting other district attorneys about their practices and requirements, Carney said.
Carney said his office is also in the process of researching what other cases the informant did work on, then informing defense attorneys representing those defendants.
Carney said there could be a substantial impact on some cases.
Informants used in such operations are searched before and after the operation, to ensure they don’t bring drugs in or take drugs out.
They become informants, making undercover drug buys, generally because they’re looking for favorable treatment in a case, or they get paid for it.
Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino described his department’s searches as “very extensive” of both the person and any vehicle they may be using.
“We try to take every precaution to minimize incidents such as these,” Dagostino said. “We’ve just got to be vigilant and extra cautious.”
As far as he’s been able to determine, Dagostino said, his officers acted within the confines of department procedures in the Andrews case. In that case, Dagostino said he believes the informant was paid.
As for the informant, whom Dagostino declined to name Monday, he is wanted on drug charges and for perjury.
Andrews’ shop was raided April 6 by the Sheriff’s Department and Scotia police. Scotia Police Chief Peter Frisoni could not be reached for comment Monday.
Andrews opened his shop in January on Route 5 in Scotia, selling pipes, T-shirts, hookahs, incense, ashtrays and other items.
He said he’s now looking for better safeguards in the use of confidential informants. He’s also meeting with a civil attorney this week to explore further legal options.
“I feel like the way they do it, the way they’re using the confidential informant, I honestly don’t think that they should do that,” Andrews said, “because there could be plenty of people in my situation who don’t have cameras, who aren’t in an establishment where there are cameras and there would be no way to prove their innocence.”
In all, Andrews’ shop was closed from April 6 to April 18. His attorney, Horan, said Andrews could have reopened earlier, but his recording equipment, seized by authorities, hadn’t yet been returned.Horan’s advice was to wait until the cameras were working again.
“I told him, ‘Until you replace the DVR box for the security cameras, I wouldn’t take the chance on opening up,’ ” Horan recalled Monday, “ ‘You don’t know what’s going on out there and the only reason you’re not in jail is because of those cameras,’ ” he told Andrews.