A lawsuit waged against the Federal government by a Houston businessman alleges that the Drug Enforcement Administration “commandeered” his freight truck and destroyed it during a shootout with members of the Zeta drug cartel.
Steven Craig Patty is suing the Federal government, Houston DEA Chief Javier Peña, Harris County, Harris County Det. Mark Reynolds and 12 John Doe law enforcement officers in Federal Court for using him as a pawn in a drug sting operation that could have been taken “straight out a television script.”
Patty quit his job of 15 years and started a trucking company with his father in July 2011 in hopes of capitalizing on the ongoing Texas oil and gas boom.
“He purchased a truck and hired a man named Joe Lopez to drive it,” the lawsuit says.
As the business grew, the businessman bought a second truck, a 2006 Kenworth.
“That same month his driver Lopez was sharing a room with [Lawrence] Chapa at a truck driver seminar in Fort Worth,” according to the complaint. “Through Lopez, Chapa approached Craig about being hired to drive the second red Kenworth. Patty checked Chapa’s record with the Department of Transportation. The record was free of criminal convictions. … It is alleged that the Drug Task Force officers named herein arranged to have a clean record and orchestrated his hiring by Patty.”
Chapa, however, wasn’t just an out-of-work guy looking for a job; he was an undercover DEA agent.
“Therefore, although Patty was paying Chapa’s salary, providing the truck for him to drive, and paying for the gas, instead of pursuing Patty’s legitimate business interests, Lawrence Chapa was actually working in an undercover sting operation for the Drug Task Force,” the lawsuit states.
“On or about November 21, 2011, in furtherance of their plan for the sting, officers of the Drug Task Force arranged for Lawrence Chapa to drive Patty’s truck to Rio Grande City, Texas.” The suit continues, “Chapa told Patty that he was having the truck repaired in Houston for a return drive to California. In fact, on orders of his Drug Task Force handlers, he drove it to Rio Grande City instead, where it was loaded up with marijuana, and, perhaps, other illegal narcotics or contraband.”
If being lied to and having his truck essentially stolen by authorities weren’t bad enough, things then took a turn for the worse for Patty’s property.
From the lawsuit: “When the red Kenworth arrived in Houston, all hell broke loose. The plan for the sting was for Lawrence Chapa to rendezvous with the bad guys so that a transfer of the illegal drugs could be made. At that point, the Task Force officers would swoop in and make arrests. But the officers of the Drug Task Force were outwitted by the Mexican drug lords. On Monday afternoon, November 21, 2011, the truck was intercepted in northwest Houston by outlaws from the Zeta cartel, driving in three sport utility vehicles. An intense firefight ensued. An undercover Harris County sheriff’s deputy was wounded, and Lawrence Chapa was shot eight times and killed. Patty’s red truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes.
“It was a major fiasco; and a major media event on the evening news. For example, KTRK ran a six and a half minute story on the shooting. The footage clearly depicted the license plate of Patty’s truck, making him fear, of course, that his identity would be discovered by the Zeta cartel and that they, believing he had cooperated with Chapa and the Task Force, might seek retribution.”
A Houston Chronicle story from July 2012, described the fear that Patty and his family now endure because of the government misadventure:
Panic at the Patty home these days can be triggered by something as simple as a deer scampering through the wooded yard or a car pulling into the driveway. One morning as his wife made breakfast, one of his young sons suddenly bolted across the house yelling, ‘Get the guns!’
A Bronco sport utility vehicle had pulled into the driveway past a broken gate. The dogs were barking in the darkness. Patty grabbed a pistol and headed for the front yard.
The Bronco pulled away, leaving a shiny object by the front walkway. It turned out to be the morning newspaper wrapped in a plastic bag reflecting a neighbor’s floodlight.
The whole ordeal has forced his children to grow up more quickly than he’d like, Patty said.
‘I wanted to keep them young as long as I could,’ he said. ‘I’ve gone to great lengths to keep my son believing in Santa Claus, and now I’m talking to him about death, mayhem and drug cartels.’
After his truck was destroyed, Patty alleges that police called him and ordered that he remove the vehicle from the scene of the crime or be charged a daily storage fee by the cops. The lawsuit also indicates that the police — who put Patty in the predicament to begin with — then ordered a search warrant for the truck that they had taken.
“Patty’s truck contained a tracking device known as a ‘Tele a Tracker.’ It is akin to a black box that records the locations where the truck has been. When the law enforcement officials learned about this device, Detective Reynolds demanded that Patty sign a search warrant, and threatened him with seizure of his truck and trailer if he did not cooperate. Amazingly, the search warrant that was tendered included an authorization to search the Pattys’ home.”
After having his truck taken and damaged by the State, Patty was informed that he would be footing the bill for the damages to his vehicle.
“The government never paid to have Craig Patty’s truck repaired,” according to the complaint. “Nor did his insurance company. The insurance company took the position that the damage was caused by ‘unauthorized’ or ‘illegal’ activity. Consequently, Patty ultimately had to take money out of his 401k retirement funds to pay to have the bullet holes and other physical damage to his truck repaired and to have the blood and other stains removed from the cab.”
The businessman is seeking $1.48 million in damages.