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Love & Ruses

The DEA made Gretchen Seremitar a snitch. That wasn't their first mistake.

By Justin Berton

GRETCHEN SEREMITAR had never made a drug deal in her life. Yet there she stood on October 4, 1999, outside her car in a Home Depot parking lot in Campbell, waiting for two pounds of crystal meth to arrive in two paint cans.

Gretchen had a good feeling about the deal--not nervousness like she had expected. She'd convinced an old friend named Gary Siddall to let her borrow $12,600 in cash to buy the drugs, and on the other side she'd arranged for her house painter, Raul Martinez, to score the dope.

At first, neither Siddall nor Martinez wanted to make the deal with Gretchen. On several occasions Martinez flatly denied knowing anyone who could score two pounds of meth. And Siddall had to remind Gretchen, "I don't do that anymore." She pestered the two men for weeks.

Unbeknownst to her family and friends--and certainly not Martinez or Siddall--Gretchen was working as a confidential informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

She was smart and savvy, sure, but Gretchen had one glaring problem with her new job: street cred. She had none. She had grown up in a comfortable, middle-class home in south San Jose, attended Gunderson High School, married her teenage sweetheart, had a kid. She was bright, thoughtful and cheery. She worked in banking.

But now, in her charade as drug dealer, Gretchen couldn't persuade anyone to do business with her. She grew frustrated. So, she came up with a new plan.

When Gretchen met Siddall for lunch one day, she made sure to wear a tan tank top that, she would later admit, made her "tits look just huge." She pulled in close to him at the table, even though, she noted, he "grosses me out." The plan, Gretchen said, was to make Siddall believe "he's getting a piece of fucking ass."

Gretchen also hinted to Martinez, as well as Siddall, that after she completed the stressful deal, she'd like to enjoy his companionship for a weekend getaway in Hawaii.

The DEA agents who supervised Gretchen had warned her not to use her body to illegally entrap the suspects. But Gretchen didn't take the warning seriously. She later explained that she believed the DEA agents were tuned in to her scheme--that they'd simply "paint their own picture" once the case went to court.

When the case finally did arrive in federal court in San Jose last month, the picture was, indeed, tarnished. The defense portrayed Gretchen as a woman so desperate she would "lie every chance she got."

The defense raised one simple but very good question: What was a person like Gretchen Seremitar doing snitching for the DEA?

I. Dealing

ALTHOUGH she didn't know it, Gretchen's stint with the DEA would stem from an incident that occurred three years earlier, on January 3, 1996. DEA agents in San Jose followed a runner from a Western Union office into a suburban home owned by a man named David Leonti. The runner had signed for a cash wire sent from Honolulu for $7,500 and delivered it to David, the leader of his very own transpacific drug operation.

David had distinguished himself to DEA agents that year by cooking up white bricks of methamphetamine in San Jose, mailing them to Honolulu via UPS and getting the money wired back through Western Union--a seemingly "clean" operation. He shipped out at least 50 pounds during 1995 and made more than $100,000 in cash.

When the agents finally ended David's "business," they confiscated two 12-gauge shotguns, a rifle, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, two Jet Skis and $10,000 in hard currency stashed in David's grandmother's Cupertino home.

The electronic paper trail of David's dealings put a red bow on the case for the assistant U.S. attorney in Hawaii, Thomas Muehleck. The large quantity in the bust, a previous drug conviction--where David got nabbed with $137,000 in cash in an L.A. motel room--and strict drug laws all had David staring at a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. There was no way out.

On April 21, 1997, David pleaded guilty and, by all normal legal and legislative procedures--federal statute Title 18, should have been incarcerated immediately.

But then David cut a special deal with the U.S. government. At the request of U.S. Attorney Muehleck and agents for the California State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, David agreed that if he was released on bail, he would try to rat out Bay Area drug dealers.

To get approval to work outside the law, U.S. Attorney Muehleck needed U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor to approve the deal. According to court transcripts, Muehleck plainly asked Gillmor to "ignore the provision" (Title 18).

"At this point, I'd ask the court to make an exception to the law in this case, allow him to stay out," Muehleck began. "I don't normally do that, Your Honor. [But] the position of the United States with these things is, if the defendant is cooperating and making cases or trying to make cases, which is what we believe the United States government's obligation is to do, the U.S. attorney's office, then we ask the court to take it outside the position of the statute and make the ruling that it doesn't apply in this case."

Gillmor responded, "Well, I find your position interesting ... I don't have a problem with your reasoning, other than the fact that it doesn't seem to be something that Congress had in mind."

Yet Gillmor released David--"this one time," she said of breaking the statute--and then shared her wonderment at Muehleck's unusual request. "I must say I am troubled by the idea that I have a statute that Congress has told me to enforce and I have a U.S. attorney telling me, 'Well, don't follow the law.'"

With that utterance, David returned to San Jose on the promise that he'd make deals for the state's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.

Once back in his hometown, where he had graduated from Santa Teresa High School, David quickly returned to his high style of living. Though he worked as a subcontractor by trade, he made his real loot in the high-stakes, quick action of day trading. He had earned a dude's dude reputation in San Jose as a lady's man, one who put the make on every female he met, then boasted about his conquests. He stood only 5 foot 8, 190 pounds, but was filled with braggadocio, former friends say. He drove a Porsche.

A few months after his return, David met a guy in the construction business named Mark Falcone. David mentioned to Falcone that he needed a loan to buy a house. Falcone had been dating a woman named Gretchen for the past three years. Gretchen was divorced now and had since opened up her own mortgage lending company, California Lending, in a small suite on South Bascom Avenue. Falcone told David to call her. Maybe Gretchen could help him out.

II. Working

ONE DAY that September of 1997, David Leonti walked into California Lending's office, met Gretchen, filled out a home loan application and listed his occupation as a "sales manager" who made $9,150 per month. David was approved for a $244,500 loan.

A few days later, much to Falcone's surprise, Gretchen dumped him. "Somehow, the guy got a hold of her," Falcone now says from the office of
his own construction business. "Gretchen's a sweet, sweet girl. She's smart, but David's really manipulative. And once he got hold of her, he used her real good."

The two were, according to several acquaintances, an odd couple. Gretchen was diabetic and couldn't drink much alcohol. David liked to go out, show off, be seen. Gretchen had a son to care for. David had a son by another woman, but ignored the child in favor of his lifestyle. But the one thing they had in common was lust for money.

During their romance, the two worked as astute financial partners but quarreled as lovers. Gretchen's loan brokering business was worth an estimated $1.8 million and she benefited richly from the booming real estate market of the late '90s.

Bank records show Gretchen used her status at California Lending so that she and David could secure at least two loans on two homes in San Jose and sell them off for big profits. Cash rolled in so easily, Gretchen lent David $96,000 for his day trading obsession and accepted a verbal agreement as an IOU.

Court records also show the police had to respond to at least four disturbances when the two tangled. According to one temporary restraining order, Gretchen ended the relationship and David responded by "destroying the kitchen."

By May of 1999, after what looked like the final breakup, Gretchen sued David in Santa Clara Superior Court to recoup the $96,000 loan. Her suit claims she refinanced her home to get the money, then lent David the cash. He was supposed to put the money in a joint account, but Gretchen learned later, after the breakup, that David moved it all into one account: his own.

While the lawsuit loomed, David was preparing for his return to Honolulu the following month for his sentencing. In the two years of his freedom, David had failed to turn over even one drug dealer. And BNE agents had sent him a letter notifying him that he'd been dropped from the snitch program. There was no chance for leniency at his sentencing.

According to BNE reports, David made one last desperate attempt to rig a drug deal just days before he left for Honolulu. He called his house painter, Raul Martinez, and his old friend Gary Siddall. He called BNE agents, the ones who had dropped him cold, and pleaded for the bust. But both Martinez and Siddall told David they weren't interested and the BNE agents told him it was too late.

On June 12, 1999, David appeared before Judge Helen Gillmor again in her Honolulu courtroom. Gretchen, having rekindled the relationship despite the lawsuit, sat in the courtroom, along with David's mother. David's attorneys argued that David had recently provided "key information" and that some kind of deal was "still in the works."

Still, Gillmor was not pleased. "I thought the point of him staying out was to cooperate," she groused of David's two years on the streets. She reprimanded U.S. Attorney Muehleck for convincing her to skirt the law. Muehleck protested and said that his office originally wanted David put away.

"That's not how I remember it," Gillmor snapped.

Then Gillmor sentenced David to 22 years.

Gretchen watched as David was led away. She promised to help him any way she could. And she even had an idea.

Gretchen wrote a letter to the Honolulu DEA and asked to "fill the shoes" of David. She wanted to become a snitch. She offered to turn over David's former clients and in return get a few years shaved off David's sentence. The letter was forwarded to DEA agents in San Jose.

"My willingness to help is not the easiest decision to make," Gretchen wrote. "By all means, drugs are not any part of my life. David's crime was committed well before I met him, and the only reason I can help is the prospective sellers know me, thus, making me 'safe.'"

Gretchen Seremitar Here to Help: Shortly after her boyfriend's drug sentencing, Gretchen Seremitar wrote a letter offering to turn over his former drug clients in return for getting a few years shaved off his sentence. The letter was forwarded to DEA agents in San Jose.


III. Snitching

THE WAR on drugs, really, is held together by snitches. Testimony flowing out of an ongoing federal trial in Los Angeles is revealing many of the DEA's closely guarded secrets, including its heavy reliance on rats. For instance, we now know the DEA employs an estimated 4,500 snitches nationwide--the same number of sworn agents. So it makes sense that "A good snitch," says retired DEA veteran Mike Levine, "is a tightly controlled snitch."

Levine worked for the DEA for 25 years, up until the first Clinton administration, and spent most of his time supervising informants like Gretchen and the DEA agents who enlisted them. By Levine's estimation, "99 percent of all cases" rely on the use of confidential informants.

The most common error a snitch will make, Levine says, is to entrap their suspects; that is, persuade their suspects to agree to participate in illegal activities they wouldn't ordinarily partake in. The line is a blurry one, and one that gets violated by bad snitches and lazy DEA agents all the time. But solid DEA agents, the ones who want their efforts to hold up in court, press their snitches to play by the rules.

In the Los Angeles case, a DEA "super snitch," Andrew Chambers, is on trial for habitually lying over the course of his 16-year career with the DEA, compromising hundreds of cases. Chambers collected more than $2.2 million in payments from the DEA and worked for agents up and down both coasts and in the Midwest. Lawyers against Chambers argue that the DEA's reliance on snitches like Chambers is "a troubling pattern of complacency and complicity that has stained judicial proceedings across the country."

The Chambers case is indicative of how the reckless use of snitches has run amok. In the early '70s, when informant use was hatched as a weapon in the drug war, deal-making with the riffraff was highly suspect: the DEA's guard was still up. But once the War on Drugs was officially declared in the '80s, dependence on informants proliferated and just about anyone could jump onboard. By the time Gretchen Seremitar arrived in 1999, it was as easy as writing a letter.

"As a 25-year veteran federal agent and supervisor," Levine says, having reviewed the Gretchen Seremitar case, "with experience in many thousands of cases brought to me by every kind of informant imaginable, I have never been confronted with a drug case brought to me by a C.I. [confidential informant] who 'decided' to commit a felony 'in hopes' of getting a sentence reduction for a third party. It's ridiculous."

Gretchen's contact in the San Jose DEA office was special agent Larry Kahn Smith, himself a veteran drug enforcement officer. Khan Smith wouldn't respond to interview requests for this article, but Joycelyn Barnes, the DEA's regional public information officer in San Francisco, explained that controlling snitches like Gretchen is a troublesome task.

"We can't control an informant totally, only to a certain degree," says Barnes, who is familiar with Gretchen's work as an informant. "We ask them to check in with us, corroborate information. But we can only control them to a certain degree. We can't baby-sit them 24 hours a day."

IV. Planning

IN THE WEEKS leading up to Gretchen's deal, David called Gretchen from the inmates' phone bank inside the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Ore., a medium-security-level prison near the California-Oregon border. Those conversations, more than 100, were automatically recorded by prison wires and detail Gretchen's illegal plan--and David's guidance--to seduce would-be drug dealers.

Neither David nor Gretchen knew they were being recorded, even though a woman's monotone voice interrupts every few minutes to say, "This call is being made from a federal prison."

Gretchen: I don't want to get in trouble on the phone, either ... I mean, you checked, right?

David: Right.

Gretchen's girlie voice does most of the talking throughout the tapes and David's somber, husky voice continually responds in agreement. The tapes establish the couple's motive--to get David released from prison--and reveal Gretchen's own feelings about using her body to achieve their ends.

Early in their discussions, Gretchen says of the financier, Siddall, "He's being led to believe he's going to do more than business with me"--a smoking gun if there ever was one, Levine says. Gretchen also extrapolates that she doesn't want Siddall to "think about" why she's taken a sudden interest in him and why she's asking him out to lunch. She doesn't want him to trust her, she says. She only wants him thinking, "Do you want a piece of ass or not?"

Gretchen also makes known she holds some reluctance toward her role in the strategy.

Gretchen: The funny part is, I don't think I have ever used myself or my body like this before, or my looks, you know what I mean? I've never used them to get ahead. It's just weird because I know women do this all day long in different fields.

David: Yeah, but you're doing it to a certain extent.

Gretchen: I know, David. But even still, it's still weird.

Later, in another conversation, Gretchen plainly acknowledges her plan may be tainting the investigation. She also convinces David's mother to let her borrow $12,000 in "flash cash" to show a would-be dealer she's good for the money.

"You know, I thought about calling the DEA and telling him [Kahn Smith] everything and that I read all that stuff on the Internet. I thought, 'People do this in my position all day long. They manipulate the system. I'm manipulating here. I'm not getting everybody's permission ... and if this comes out later on, that's not my problem. I deal with it then. You know what I mean?"

Despite her awareness that she's now compromising the investigation, Gretchen also shows some excitement for her part in the game. In one conversation, Gretchen rambles on to David how a potential dealer, Enrique "Rick" Real, got smart to her ploy and asked to feel her up for a wire.

Gretchen: I did lunch for two hours [with Rick]. Did the best bait I could bait ... Before he started talking, he's all, "You wearing a wire?" I'm all, "Get real. Where am I going to put a wire?" He [says], "I don't know.'" So I stood up and go, "Do you want me to get naked right here in the middle of the restaurant?" He's all, "Yeah, OK." So I got up, took off my shoes, went for my buttons and he's all, "Oh my god! Sit down!"

David: You weren't going to, were you?

Gretchen: No! I mean, he wasn't going to let me. But he goes, "I can't believe you." I go, "I can't believe you. That I'm wearing a wire?" I go, "Touch. Touch anything you want." And he did. He went all up and down my thighs. He didn't go to my boobs. And he got up to my boobs and I go, "Don't even go there." And I go, "Check my ankles, check anything you want." I go, "Where the fuck am I going to put a wire?" And then he did it from the outside and I sat back down. Well, sat closer. He's all sitting on the bench with me. I got as close as I could get, with his BO. And he's all, "Let me feel." So I lifted up my tummy so he could see and I said, "Do you see a wire anywhere?" So he told me about all his deals.

Later, in the same conversation, Gretchen confides that the deceit is starting to take a toll on her.

"I get a little stressed," Gretchen says. "I'm just really burnt. I'm tired of using my body, my tits, you know, and my smile and my charm and it feels so fucking fake. It takes a lot of energy to pretend you like someone when you don't."

As the deal date with Siddall and Martinez draws closer, David tells Gretchen she has to be careful not to entrap--he whispers the word over the phone. Gretchen insists she's not and assures David she's not pushing too hard. "I'll be damned if I'm not going to push."

Initially Gretchen explains that DEA agent Kahn Smith explained the rules of engagement. Then, in a later conversation, she says that Kahn Smith is aware of her tawdriness and has a plan of his own.

Gretchen: The thing is, everybody, David, the thing of this is, everybody lies. Nobody's telling the truth.

David: Not even you.

Gretchen: Well [pauses] I mean, yesterday when Larry [Kahn-Smith] asked me about Gary, I clarified again: "No, Gary's doing this, and this is what he thinks he's getting." I mean, Gary doesn't think he's getting dope. Larry says, "Don't worry, we know that." [Pauses] They lie, David. They paint their own picture.

David Leonti Deep Conviction: David Leonti worried about Gretchen's exploits from behind bars. At one point he told her, 'He could get up and say, "Thank you for the piece of ass, fuck you. I'm out of here. I ain't giving you shit."'


V. Talking

JUST A few days before Gretchen sets out to make the deal with Siddall and Martinez, she confesses to David that the exchange, surprisingly, isn't making her nervous. "It's not like it's a real one," she says.

David tells Gretchen to offer Rick Real a steamy weekend with her in Mexico or Hawaii if she needs to, but then the discussion disintegrates into a movielike plot line: should Gretchen sleep with Real if it means making a good deal for the DEA and springing David from prison a few years early?

David: You're awfully quiet.

Gretchen: Yeah?

David: When I talk about this stuff, like Rick ... your tone of voice ... when I voice my opinion, you get really defensive. You get angry and defensive--

Gretchen: You want to know why? Because I'm doing this for you. I'm doing the best I can. It's only for us ...

David: [Quieting] I know, I know.

Gretchen: [Angry] Do you think I want to get N-A-K-E-D with someone?

David: No. Not with anybody, I hope. I just want you to reassure me--

Gretchen: No, think about why I even know this person [Rick]. I know this person for only one reason and one reason only and I'll tell you what ... No, I won't tell you.

David. C'mon, tell me.

Gretchen. You'll get upset.

David: I'm dying to know.

Gretchen: I only mean it jokingly ... [Pauses] If I could get three kilos out of it, I'd get naked. Because it'd be a good bust.

David: Are you joking?

Gretchen: Yes, I'm joking.

David: I hope you are.

Gretchen: [Pause] You value that way too much.

David: You mean ... S-E-X?

Gretchen: Uh-huh.

David: You see, that goes back to you telling me, "If it happened, oh well, it's no big deal; you got time off."

Gretchen: I guess we value it differently.

[Pause in tape]

David: Are you saying that I value it to where if it got me time off and you did it, that that's OK? And it's justifiable?

Gretchen: I don't know; do you think it is?

David: No!

Gretchen: OK then. That answers that, then.

David: Well, do you? I'm asking you.

Gretchen: Yeah, I do. Honestly. I mean, if you really want to know my opinion, yeah, I do. If I could get what I wanted out of it, is it a matter of closing my eyes and getting through it for an hour?

David: Oh God. You're making me sick. I can't deal with that. If that happens ... you're freaking me out.

Gretchen: David, you asked me my opinion. I told you. I told you my honest opinion. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. So chill, OK?

David: Oh God.

Gretchen: We talked about being honest here, right?

David: To be honest with you, I would rather ... If that was the case, I would rather try to do Gary by myself or a different way than [have to] deal with that in the back of my head--you doing something like that--for the rest of my life.

Gretchen: Then I know what your thought process is. And I know what the limits are.

David: Honey, you know what they are already. You know, two months ago you said, "You know what, I'm going to play this guy so hard. I'll go to dinner with him, this and that, and I'll get out of him what I want out of him. I'll wear a low cut top or something like that ..."

[Pause in tape]

Gretchen: You already know how I feel about the subject anyways. It's not about hurting you. Or not loving you. Is that what I want to do? Absolutely not. But--

David: But look at the flip side of this. First of all, if that is what you had to do, right. If he [Rick] said, "I'll bring the stuff over right now if you go to bed with me," and you did--he could get up and say, you know what, "Thank you for the piece of ass, fuck you. I'm out of here. I ain't giving you shit."

Gretchen: He could. But there is a whole method to the madness here. The method to the madness is to get Gary and Raul and line them up, OK? Lined up and done.

David: [Pause] Gary and Raul ... yeah.

VI. Busting

ON THE EVENING of the "deal," Gretchen calls Siddall on his cell phone and asks him to meet her at the Home Depot parking lot at 7pm. DEA agents, including Kahn Smith, sit in surveillance cars sprinkled throughout the lot. In DEA transcripts, Siddall complains that he had trouble getting the money--he went to three separate banks to get a loan--but that he finally got the cash. He says he's headed to Safeway to buy his mother some milk and two Lean Cuisine dinners. He asks Gretchen to change the meeting spot and catch up with him at Safeway instead.

"No," Gretchen says. "I need to meet you at Home Depot. I'm going to be there in, like, two minutes. And Raul's waiting for us."

Siddall agrees and drives into the lot. DEA agents watch him as he gives Gretchen the money and accepts a piece of paper from Gretchen in return. Since Siddall is letting Gretchen borrow the money, he writes out an IOU and has her sign it.

While they chat, Siddall reminds Gretchen about the Hawaiian vacation. She plays along. And after a few more kind words, Siddall says goodbye, kisses Gretchen on the cheek and drives away.

"Ick, yuck," Gretchen says into her wire. "Oh God, I have to go to confession now. Lord, I hope you guys got all of that on tape."

A few minutes later, Martinez arrives in his red pickup truck.

Gretchen acts "natural" and asks Martinez about his kids--"Do they have papers?," "Are they going to college?"--and his home life--"How's your wife?"

When they get down to business, Martinez tells Gretchen that his dealer added a little bit more than usual, and if she wants, the dealer has another pound for sale. But they have to make the deal that night. Martinez would need more cash right away.

Gretchen says she's not sure. As they speak, Martinez lifts two paint cans from a plastic cooler from his truck and puts them in the back of Gretchen's car. Gretchen makes the "signal" that she's got the drugs.

The DEA agents, guns drawn, spring out from their cars and tackle Martinez to the pavement.

Gretchen screams out, "Oh my god!"

Quinciera Photo
Picture Perfect Raul Martinez, one of the fall guys Gretchen set up for a drug deal, with his wife, Rosa, at their daughter Isis' quinciera. When Martinez went to court for peddling two pounds of chrystal meth to Gretchen, the feds conceded 'the appearance of entrapment.'

VII. Sentencing

Last month, on February 22, housepainter Raul Martinez arrived in Judge Ronald Whyte's fourth-floor courtroom at the corner of First and Santa Clara streets to learn his fate. Fourteen members of Martinez' family and friends filled the back three benches. None of them knew who Gretchen Seremitar was or why she was working for the DEA.

Martinez insisted it was the first time he had ever dealt drugs--and it was only because Gretchen persisted and he needed the money for his family. "Think about it," Martinez' court-appointed lawyer, John Reichmuth, said in the hallway. "We're all about three phone calls away from making a drug deal."

Both Siddall (who was arrested at home a few days after Martinez) and Martinez were facing minimum sentences of 10 years. During the discovery period of the case, Reichmuth's office subpoenaed the tape-recorded phone conversations from FCI Sheridan. Reichmuth also found that Gretchen had declared bankruptcy in 1995 and then filed a few successful loan applications falsely stating otherwise--a federal offense.

The U.S. attorney trying the case against Siddall and Martinez, Jane Shoemaker, conceded that the tapes gave the two defendants a "strong" case for entrapment. In a memo to the court, Shoemaker writes, "It was quickly learned the witness [Gretchen] had engaged in contact that the case agents had specifically told her she was not permitted to do, and did so behind their backs.

"What previously appeared to be a small, simple, buy-bust case requiring minimal resources," Shoemaker concluded, was now taking up "an inordinate amount of time and financial resources to prosecute." Since her entire case hinged on Gretchen, Shoemaker was saying, she had nothing.

Siddall, the financier of the deal, settled for six months house arrest and two years probation. Jose Horta, Martinez' supplier of the two pounds, was spared from deportation to Mexico and got two years probation.

But strangely, Raul Martinez was still on the line for prison time. Shoemaker agreed to toss Martinez' mandatory sentence of 10 years, but asked that he serve two years instead. Shoemaker argued first that despite the "appearance of entrapment," Martinez had already received a "substantial break." His ability to score two pounds of meth also seemed a strong indication of guilt. "That's not something somebody who's never been involved in drugs can find easily."

When he was called to the front of the courtroom, Martinez kissed his wife, Rosa, his three daughters, Isis, Shuyuem, Julie, and his son, Raul Jr., and took his place next to public defender Reichmuth.

Judge Whyte sat silent during Shoemaker's arguments, with his hand over his mouth, his long fingers spread out, making it look as if he were hiding behind a wiry mask. When Shoemaker was finished, Whyte spoke from between his fingers. "I don't like a lot about what I've seen in this case."

Reichmuth, in a bit a courtroom theater, attacked the principles of the drug war in a dramatic performance. First, he said, the 10-year mandatory minimum was created as if it were picked out of a hat. "Ten years? Ten years comes from a completely different world from the one we're in right now," he said, with an exaggerated wave of his hand toward Shoemaker. "This should be a zero-year case."

He pointed at Martinez and raised his voice. "This man is not a drug dealer. And he was not going to be a drug dealer if he did not run into"--here, he paused-- "these two unmanageable informants!"

Judge Whyte asked Martinez if he had anything to say for himself before he got sentenced. Martinez opened a handwritten letter on yellow legal paper.

"I'd like to ask my family and friends for forgiveness," he said in Spanish, a translator following his words. "I'm truly sorry for having violated the laws of this country, this country that has given so much to me and my family over the past few years."

When Martinez finished, the court went silent and his family members stiffened up and sat tall in their seats.

Judge Whyte was stuck on the fact that Martinez knew someone who produced two pounds of meth. He shook his head. "That's a lot of drugs."

He ordered Martinez to one year in an East Bay halfway house, where Martinez could continue to work, and three years probation.

Martinez' body drooped with relief and he turned to smile at his family. Reichmuth thanked Whyte profusely and Shoemaker walked out of the courtroom with a win-some, lose-some expression.

None of the DEA agents attended the sentencing.

"In this case, the informants were not properly controlled," says former DEA agent Levine, who was waiting to be called as an expert witness for the defense. "Had I gotten this case, I would have just said, 'Look at these two.' The red flags would have gone up. I would have folded it immediately. They have no credibility whatsoever. They transgressed all bounds of decency and law. How the supervising DEA agents allowed them to do this--and then arrest a man--is a mystery to me. In gross cases of informant-handling like these, there needs to be an investigation."

VIII. Hiding

GRETCHEN SEREMITAR still works at California Lending on Bascom Avenue. She's polite when she answers the phone, but declines to talk about her past.

Her attempt to entrap suspects, itself a felony, won't get any attention from the U.S. attorney's office. Neither will the fraudulent loan applications she signed her name to. In a memo to the court, Shoemaker offered, "I advised Ms. Seremitar that I did not anticipate prosecuting her for any criminal activities which she may have engaged."

David Leonti was moved from FCI Sheridan to FCI Victorville, a federal prison located in the desert of Southern California, in January. In court documents concerning the custody of his son, David has referred to Gretchen as his "wife," but no marriage license is on file for the couple. And while neither the DEA nor the U.S. attorney's office in either Hawaii or San Jose will comment on whether Gretchen's actions earned a sentence reduction for David, prison records still list his release date as May 14, 2018--his original sentence.

Before she hangs up the phone, Gretchen is reminded that she once told David in one of their tape-recorded conversations that she thought her life with the DEA would make a great book--"I'd call it Memoirs of a Snitch." she said. "What do you think?" To which David simply laughed.

When asked if she still plans on writing her book, Gretchen sighs. "No. Not right now."

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From the April 5-11, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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