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AUGUSTA — Attorney General Michael E. Carpenter on Monday released a special investigative report which cleared state drug agents of any wrongdoing in their probe of alleged drug use by District Attorney Janet Mills.
But Carpenter stressed that the special investigators — two law professors from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland — were barred by federal law from probing the activities of federal drug agents involved in the case.
“I am very comfortable with the conclusion of the report,” Carpenter told reporters. “This report today goes as far as we can go. As far as this event goes, I think we’ve answered as many questions as we’re ever going to be able to answer.
“It’s very difficult to say that this exonerates the agency. … It’s as close as you can come to clearing the agency.”
The investigation of Mills by the Bureau of Intergovernmental Drug Enforcement, now the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, was terminated by U.S. Attorney Richard Cohen when drug agents failed to turn up enough evidence to prosecute Mills.
News of the probe of Mills was leaked to a Portland television news reporter and first broadcast publicly in December 1990. When Mills, a prominent Democrat and BIDE critic, complained she was being targeted unfairly by political opponents (Cohen is a Republican), the case got widespread publicity.
Mills, district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, has notified the state she may file a civil suit against BIDE and state officials, on grounds the news leak about the case unfairly damaged her reputation.
“I’m pleased my reputation has been cleared by these investigators,” Mills said Monday. “They say this whole thing was very unfair and unfortunate. This was very damaging to me, to my family, to my office.
“Some of this foolishness was started by street talk, by street people. I applaud these professors for doing what they could.”
Mills said she still is trying to obtain BIDE’s investigative reports on her under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
“As a citizen, my family and I have a right to know who started this dirty talk,” she said.
Because BIDE employed both state and federal drug agents, as well as local and county officers, it crossed jurisdictional lines in trying to coordinate Maine’s war on drugs.
The special investigators — Professors David P. Cluchey and Melvyn Zarr —
stated in their report they were unable to get cooperation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the federal Drug Enforcement Administration during their three-month probe of the Mills case.
Asked if he could say whether federal agents acted improperly in the case, Carpenter said, “No, I can’t and I’ll never be able to say that. … There is a gap there. We knew we would come up against a wall with the federal offices. My only responsibility is to see if state officers acted inappropriately.”
Cluchey and Zarr concluded that state BIDE agents did act appropriately.
They said the investigation of Mills was justified because “information had come to state and federal law enforcement officials from a number of persons involved in the drug culture that District Attorney Janet Mills had purchased or used cocaine.”
“The credibility of these persons was uncertain, but the number of the statements justified a referral of this matter for investigation. An extensive investigation failed to reveal a prosecutable case, resulting in the United States attorney’s sound decision to terminate the investigation.”
Cluchey and Zarr found no evidence that state BIDE agents had leaked the story of the federal grand jury investigation to the press. They said a large number of law-enforcement officials knew of the investigation, some of whom did not work for BIDE.
“The universe of such persons probably included persons who harbored a grudge against District Attorney Mills,” said Cluchey and Zarr. “The possible motive of the leakers may have been to use the media to act out their malice against District Attorney Mills.
“Whatever the motive, the leak was highly damaging to District Attorney Mills and deprived her of her right to grand jury secrecy.”
The report said BIDE agents did not exceed their authority in investigating Mills, and that they did not use improper investigatory techniques. They said they could not comment on techniques used by federal officers. The report also said there was no evidence that state BIDE agents acted in a way to drag out the investigation.
Carpenter said a recent law change by the Legislature would ensure that any future investigations into the activities of state officials would be headed by the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that such investigations are open to public view.
The Legislature conducted its own exhaustive investigation into BIDE operations as a result of the Mills case. A proposal to dissolve BIDE and return drug-enforcement functions to the Maine State Police was killed. The agency was renamed the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Legislature will play a more active role in scrutinizing its operation.