Robert Tharp, Staff Writer
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006 The Dallas Morning News
Five years after a police scandal caused dozens of innocent people to be arrested and jailed, the Dallas officer at the center of the controversy was handed new felony convictions Friday for falsifying a police report and lying in his last trial.
The two guilty verdicts make a total of three felony convictions against former narcotics detective Mark Delapaz, whose work with crooked drug informants in 2001 caused the fraudulent arrests.
Mr. Delapaz, 37, had already been sentenced to five years in prison, but he's been free on bond while his April 2005 conviction for lying to a judge in a search warrant is under appeal.
Jurors return Monday to consider his punishment for the new convictions, which ranges from two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for each of the two cases.
In this week's trial, prosecutors charged that the August 2001 false arrest of mechanic Jose Vega could not have occurred without the lies that Mr. Delapaz wrote in his reports.
The informants have admitted making the fake drugs and setting up the arrests in order to receive large cash payments from Mr. Delapaz for their work.
"They can't operate their little scheme if Mr. Delapaz is doing his job," prosecutor Toby Shook said in closing arguments.
"If he's not lying in police reports, they can't do it."
Based on Mr. Delapaz's information, police recovered 49 pounds of suspected cocaine that had been planted in an unlocked junk car outside the west Oak Cliff mechanic shop where Mr. Vega worked. The illegal Mexican immigrant faced the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison.
Mr. Vega spent three months in jail before lab tests concluded that the suspected cocaine was crushed pool chalk.
The trial hinged on a single sentence in a police report and a brief statement he made from the witness stand during his last trial, saying that he watched his informant negotiate with Mr. Vega to purchase drugs.
Mr. Vega, the informant and Mr. Delapaz's former partner, Eddie Herrera, each testified that the meeting never occurred. A surveillance tape of the arrest also does not show such an encounter.
But Mr. Delapaz said that the informant, Mr. Vega and Mr. Herrera were lying and that the meeting occurred inside the garage in an area that could not be seen by the video camera. He maintained that he did watch his informant approach the mechanic but described it as a "brief second" as he turned his head while driving away from the shop at a distance of about 70 yards.
Mr. Vega said he was pleased with the jury's verdict and hoped Mr. Delapaz will receive the maximum punishment. He said he felt insulted that Mr. Delapaz's attorneys described his ordeal as an "inconvenience" and suggested that a monetary settlement from a civil lawsuit had resolved the matter.
Abel Santos, who was also wrongly arrested by Mr. Delapaz, said the passage of time has not lessened the importance of prosecuting the cases.
Mr. Delapaz still has more than a dozen related indictments stemming from the bogus arrests, including a charge that he stole between $20,000 and $100,000 in police money that he claimed to have paid to his informants for their work.
Jurors in the trial will probably hear details of those other offenses during the punishment part of the trial Monday.
"It is important to every person who went through the jail process," Mr. Santos said. "They want to see justice in the system - that's why everybody's here."
PHOTO(S): Mark Delapaz
Ex-Texas officer convicted of two more felonies