Another Operation Meth Merchant Case Dismissed On Misidentification

Thursday, October 6, 2005

A dismissal of the federal criminal charges against Sidhharath Patel was filed Thursday morning by the Clerk of the United States District Court at Rome, Ga.

The order was signed late Wednesday afternoon by District Judge Harold Murphy upon a motion by the United States Attorney after defense attorney McCracken Poston of Ringgold had repeatedly demanded that the government dismiss the charges, saying there was a misidentification.

Mr. Patel, who had just appeared in Atlanta with his attorney, was elated. He said, “I can finally call my new bride and tell her that it is finally over.”

The 20-year-old American citizen was arrested at an airport in New Jersey on July 18 as he returned from his own wedding in his native India. He was held for 12 days in various facilities in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Attorney Poston said Mr. Patel was working in a Subway sandwich shop in Hicksville, N.Y., on July 23, 2004, when government agents claimed he was in a Varnell, Ga., convenience store selling matches, Coleman fuel and other items the government said can be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Attorney Poston said, "This makes the third citizen of Indian heritage that was misidentified by the same undercover informant who was utilized in almost all of the government’s ‘Operation Meth Merchant' cases.

"Sidhharath Patel’s plight, along with that of Cleveland, Tn., resident Malvika Patel, has illustrated the dangers of government reliance on 'eyewitness identification,' and of the particular errant informant utilized in these cases.

“These individuals were completely innocent and were nowhere around the location of the alleged criminal activity.”

He said both Malvika and Sidhharath Patel (unrelated), along with Malvika’s husband Chirag “Chris” Patel, "were falsely accused by the same undercover government informant, one with a history of fraudulent acts and criminal convictions. The three misidentified were wrongfully accused by government documents to have been working as clerks in convenience stores in Fort Oglethorpe and Varnell, Ga."

While attorney Poston thanked the United States Attorney for “doing the right thing” in finally dismissing another misidentified defendant’s charges, the Ringgold attorney questioned the continued use of this particular informant, who according to attorney Poston has “wrought so much pain and suffering on innocent families” with his “at best negligent and irresponsible, and at worst maliciously reckless attempts at identifying suspects.”

The informant, according to attorney Poston, was paid by the government for his services. A federal protective order sought by the government restricts anyone from revealing the name of the informant.

Attorney Poston said, "The confidential informant system can be an effective tool for law enforcement in some cases, but not as utilized by government agents in this operation which spanned six Northwest Georgia counties and targeted Indian-owned convenience stores.

"There were ethnic generalizations, premature conclusions and bad information utilized by those involved. This creates a dangerous situation for all Americans, no matter of what heritage.”

Just as in the cases of Malvika and Chris Patel, the government did not issue an apology to Sidhharath Patel, attorney Poston said.

“An apology to all of them and their families would be nice, and I think they deserve it,” said attorney Poston. “Ultimately, however, the dismissals are the most important things, and we have obtained that.”

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