On November 21, 2011, the owner of a small North Texas trucking company thought his Truck 793 – a big red Kenworth T600 semi – was being repaired in Houston. Unknown to Craig Patty, the owner of the $90,000 rig, the DEA was using it to transport a load of marijuana in a sting operation.
The DEA had paid Lawrence Chapa, one of Patty’s drivers, to haul a load of marijuana from the Mexican border in an undercover operation designed to identify and put large scale traffickers out of business. The DEA never notified Patty that it was using his rig. Since it did not have the owner’s permission to use the semi, the DEA did in effect steal his truck.
To make matters worse, something went terribly wrong with the sting. On that November morning, a gang of men tried to hijack the truck and its load of marijuana near Houston. Chapa was shot dead in front of more than a dozen surprised law enforcement officers from several different agencies. In the ensuing gunfight, a Houston cop inadvertently shot a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. The truck was left riddled with bullet holes and was out of operation for 100 days.
Patty was the small business owner of a two-truck operation that hauled sand for use in hydraulic fracturing operations by oil and gas companies. The unauthorized use of his rig and the temporary loss of one of his two trucks nearly cost Patty his business. His insurance company refused to pay for the damages because the truck was being used in a law enforcement operation. Patty had to dig deeply into his savings to repair the truck so he could stay in business.
Let me paraphrase something President Obama recently said: Mr. Patty, if you lose your business, you didn’t do that. Somebody else, the DEA made that happen.
Now, some eight months later, Patty’s efforts to be compensated for the damage to his rig and business continue to be stonewalled by the DEA. The Houston Chronicle reports that ‘he is demanding that the DEA pay $133,532 in repairs and lost wages over the bullet-sprayed truck, and $1.3 million more for the damage to himself and his family, who fear retaliation by a drug cartel over the bungled narcotics sting.’
Patty asks, “How am I — a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from Texas — supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of confidentiality and secrecy?”
That is a good question. But don’t expect an answer from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano or Attorney General Eric Holder.