Federal Agent Manufactured Case Against Guy... For The Purpose Of Spending More Time With His Mistress

from the damn dept

We've covered, repeatedly, the misdeeds of various law enforcement officials lately, but this latest story might be the most egregiously ridiculous case. Apparently EPA Agent Keith Phillips pushed heavily for a case against a guy named Hubert Vidrine, who was eventually charged with "knowingly storing hazardous waste materials without a permit." It later turned out that there were some serious problems with the case against Vidrine. First, he was storing oil, which was not considered hazardous waste, and second, there was no evidence that the storage was done "knowingly." Eventually, the feds realized the case was so weak that it dumped it. Vidrine fought back in court, claiming malicious prosecution, and the court hasn't just sided with him, but awarded him $1.7 million dollars for the malicious prosecution, detailing that Phillips provided false testimony and then "permeated the entire investigation with omissions, half-truths, overstatements, inflammatory language, misstatements, patent falsehoods, and tortured readings of regulations."

But where it gets insane is the reason behind all of this. It didn't even have anything to do with Vidrine at all. Apparently, Agent Phillips used the case as a way to spend more time with his mistress, who was also working on the case. Seriously:
One of the more distressing allegations made at trial, involved allegations of Agent Phillips’ sexual, extra-marital affair (and its subsequent “cover up”) with Agent Barnhill. The evidence strongly indicated Agent Phillips deliberately used his investigation and prosecution of Hubert Vidrine to foster, further, facilitate and cloak his extra-marital affair with Agent Barnhill, and perhaps, to exert improper influence over the manner in which she investigated and reported upon this case. Agent Barnhill candidly testified that she and Agent Phillips began a physical, sexual relationship while assigned to this matter, which lasted from approximately 1996 until January or February 2001. Agent Barnhill testified she and Agent Phillips were only physically intimate when working together on the Vidrine case — in other words, they did not meet to pursue their sexual relations on occasions when they were not working the case together. Thus, the case granted the opportunity for those rendez-vous, as well as providing justification for Agent Phillips wife.

During the investigation and prosecution, Agent Barnhill, who was single, lived in South Louisiana; Agent Phillips, who was married, lived in Dallas, Texas with his wife. Prior to and at trial, plaintiffs’ counsel consistently argued Agent Phillips used the Vidrine investigation as a cover, excuse and opportunity to facilitate his illicit affair with Agent Barnhill and to hide the affair from his wife. Plaintiffs consistently argued Keith Phillips manufactured a case, both in law and fact, against Hubert Vidrine, and carefully fed the AUSA and his supervisors only the information which would further that end and perpetuate the case, all to promote access to Agent Barnhill and perpetuate and conceal their illicit affair. Regrettably, the Court agrees with plaintiffs: this inappropriate and unprofessional behavior likely was, at least in part (if not in whole) a motivation for Agent Phillips’ continued pursuit of Hubert Vidrine, without probable cause, and certainly with a complete and total reckless disregard of Hubert Vidrine’s rights.
For all of this, Phillips was charged separately, leading to him recently pleading guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice. Obviously, this is an extreme case, and in no way representative. But the point that it brings up is that law enforcement has tremendous power, and if they choose to go after someone maliciously (or indirectly salaciously), they can make someone's life a living hell on their own whim. This is why we're so often concerned about making sure there's transparency and oversight -- and that those accused of things are able to effectively defend themselves.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    Puritan Hangover

    If only Americans didn't have stupid hangups involving idealized marriage scenarios and crap like "the gun is good, the penis is evil" this kind of thing wouldn't happen...

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:19am

      Re: Puritan Hangover

      To further confuse my fellow Americans, I've removed my penis and augmented myself with what I lovingly refer to as a Penistol. In keeping with my previous biology, it's quick to shoot but reload times are a problem....

       

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    Marcus Carab (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:12am

    Cherchez la femme
    (it holds true more often than you think)

     

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    PlagueSD (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:16am

    Sounds like a Hollywood movie plot.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:20am

    " Obviously, this is an extreme case, and in no way representative. But the point that it brings up is that law enforcement has tremendous power, and if they choose to go after someone maliciously (or indirectly salaciously), they can make someone's life a living hell on their own whim."

    Any man (or woman) with a gun has the same sort of power to make your life hell. Yet, we don't take the exceptional cases of abuse of a fire arm as a reason to turf the second amendment.

    It's an amusing story, but it doesn't really show anything other than that actions of one person. If he wasn't in law enforcement, he might have used his car to try to run the other guy over. Perhaps we should use that as a reason to slam the auto industry too?

     

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      E. Zachary Knight (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      The guy wasn't being attacked because of some grudge. He was being attacked as an excuse for the Federal Agent to cheat on his wife. That is the problem.

       

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:33am

      Re: Ratio

      Difference:
      Casual application

       

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:35am

      Re: Ratio

      Casual application of privileged Authority for personal gain versus lethal application of force.

      Yeah, those are totally the same; you are SO right.

       

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      Spaceboy (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:41am

      Re:

      "Any man (or woman) with a gun has the same sort of power to make your life hell. Yet, we don't take the exceptional cases of abuse of a fire arm as a reason to turf the second amendment."

      Any man or woman, with or without a gun can make your life hell. It was this agents BADGE, not gun, that empowered him and gave him power.

      Also, politicians are always grandstanding for more gun control. Every time someone gets shot the gun control advocates come out of the woodwork.

      This story shows the need for more scrutiny and transparency of law enforcement. If the agent in question was held to higher standards, or had is work double-checked, this whole situation might have been avoided.

       

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      Jay (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      "It's an amusing story, but it doesn't really show anything other than that actions of one person. If he wasn't in law enforcement, he might have used his car to try to run the other guy over. Perhaps we should use that as a reason to slam the auto industry too?"

      When the FBI is known for cheating (of the non marital kind) and we promote stupidity, it's time to call a spade a spade. Yes, this EPA agent made one man's life a living hell. But it's indicative of a system and a set of rules that are liable for abuse.

      Perhaps, if we are to hold the police to a higher standard, the agents of the FBI, EPA, CIA, DoJ, and any other bureaucratic entity in our government, should be held to the rigorous rights granted by the Constitution.

       

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      Ben, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 11:05am

      Re: Yes, BUT...

      The same police agencies make it as difficult as possible for citizens to monitor the agencies' behavior.Like arresting people for filming them in action - a completely legal act that police routinely arrest and charge people for.

       

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      The eejit (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 1:18pm

      Re:

      The difference between a car and a Federal Agent is that the car needs someone else to commit the stupidity.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:30am

    A particularly bad career move. Reminds me of "The Man in the Iron Mask", where the king sent his prey's fiance to the front lines knowing that he would likely die so that he could have her all to himself.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Are we sure this is an extreme case? Hasn't government power always led to corruption?

     

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      Spaceboy (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:44am

      Re:

      It's only extreme because he was caught. There should be an investigation into how this was able to go on for so long now. Who did this agent report to and why didn't they catch on? Maybe the guy was exceptionally good at covering his tracks, or maybe his superiors were looking the other way.

       

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        DCX2, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 10:59am

        Re: Re:

        Superiors, and/or co-workers, and/or mistress.

        Anyone who knew is an accomplice and should be held to account as well.

         

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          hothmonster, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 11:03am

          Re: Re: Re:

          the mistress was a co-worker.

          As far as his superior goes; I like to imagine he was too busy fucking Phillips wife to notice that Phillips was handing in bullshit reports. It really rounds the circle nicely that way.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 11:36am

    "We've covered, repeatedly, the misdeeds of various law enforcement officials lately, but this latest story might be the most egregiously ridiculous case."

    "Obviously, this is an extreme case, and in no way representative."

    Contradicting yourself here, aren't you? This is absolutely a representative case of abuse of power, or even abuse of office, that seems to be almost endemic to those who hold positions in our government.

    To be very frank, I think its time to hold these individuals to a higher standard. If there are penalties for this type of behavior as a civilian, doing so as a government employee should have no less than double the punishment. Filing a false report, perjury, etc. are all criminal and carry jail sentences. None of our government employees and elected officials should be immune from this.

     

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    Richard (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    The power to make someone's life a living hell

     

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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Oct 13th, 2011 @ 2:52pm

    "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 3:34pm

    And that is why office romances are frowned upon everywhere.
    It makes people do stupid things.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 4:33pm

    There is something destructive about work related relationships.

    People do stupid things and I mean everyone, not only the "low" level employee's, CEO, Judges, Presidents they all have one thing in common, when emotion gets hold of them it overrides the better judgment of even the most intelligent person on earth no matter who they are, except maybe for Budisth monks that train their whole life to be master of their emotions, but even among them in a very small scale there are some stories about how this is important, like story about the boy who wanted to be a monk and was turned down, he persisted and the monk told him the only place he could be inside the monastery was for being a cook, he spent his whole life there being mocked and mostly ignored by others and when the master monk was about to die he named the cook as the head of the order, indignant monks asked why, and the answer was that the "cook" mastered the knowledge sufficient to do his job and not be overwhelmed by the temptations of life, he did all his duties, never complained once, was diligent in addressing issues with the food demonstrating he cared about others and by not complaining he was showing that he was in control of his emotions and would not let them drag him to a dark place he was happy just being there and being part of it, for him it didn't matter if he was the servant or the master his joy was equal in either position and that is why he will lead them all from now on.

    Going back to work relationships, everybody who worked at least five years may have seen what happens when people get involved in the workplace, most of the time, people end up fighting and don't speak with each other, creates a bad climate inside that place and ends up with one of both leaving, people stop doing their jobs that is the end of that path, it is different for married couples they already figure it out everything about each other and work as a team most of the time not always though.

    To highlight that I do recall recently that the CEO of Dell or HP was involved in a scandal about an affair where he issued bogus expenses to cover his spendings on his mistress.

    When it is people without power this behaviour is harmful and it is frowned upon, and even forbidden in certain places, but when you get power + work relationship that is almost always a recipe for abuse and disaster.

    The federal agent is only human it is understandable that he developed feelings for someone and act upon them, but I also know that federal employee's have training sessions explaining to them why relationships are off of limits, so if you fall into that trap you should pay the price, and if you put somebody else in risk you should really, really be punished for it, that shows complete disregard with your fellow human beings, a lack of humanity and empathy that should not be tolerated ever in places of power that depend heavily on people of good character for things to work properly, it is in the interest of justice that those traits be excised from the federal culture, you don't want somebody like him becoming the next president of the USA, nor you want him to go up the ladder.

    With that said I believe he should be dismissed, although I wished he was in jail, why? Because if it was me in his position I would appreciate(maybe not immediately) that someone explained to me how I was a jerk and my behaviour detrimental to others and give me some time to absorb that and change and this is giving him the benefit of the doubt by assuming what he did was not the result of malice but stupidity fuelled by his own ignorance, things would change if he was a second time offender though, than I would push for time in jail.

     

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