ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
DENVER — An appeals court has upheld the conviction of a former Tulsa police officer who was caught in a sting during a federal police corruption investigation.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 Friday against Harold R. Wells’ claims that he was unfairly convicted in 2011 in federal court in Tulsa.
Wells, 62, is serving a 10-year term at a federal prison in Minnesota and is not scheduled for release until 2020, Federal Bureau of Prison records show.
The former Tulsa police corporal was among three police officers and a federal agent who were sent to prison in connection with the corruption probe by FBI undercover agents. It began on suspicions that police officers were stealing drugs and money from drug dealers.
“The evidence supporting Wells’ convictions was exceedingly strong,” judges of the Denver-based appellate court wrote in Friday’s 41-page decision. The evidence included wiretaps of Wells’ telephone calls.
Wells was convicted of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with an intent to distribute it, conspiracy to steal public funds, theft of public funds and using a telephone to facilitate the commission of a drug felony.
The public funds were sting money the FBI planted in 2009 in a motel room that Wells and other officers thought was occupied by a drug dealer they purportedly were investigating. The supposed dealer was an uncover FBI agent.
Hidden cameras captured images of Wells and other officers taking the planted money.
Wells contended, among other claims, that the FBI obtained evidence against him by unconstitutional means.
“This court has no difficulty concluding there is sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that Wells was not engaging in legitimate police practices but was, instead, engaging in a criminal conspiracy,” Friday’s decision states.
“The evidence … provided the jury a sufficient basis to infer that Wells’ and (former Officer John K.) Gray’s motivation in developing a relationship with Joker (the pseudonym for the FBI agent posing as a drug dealer) was to maintain a steady supply of drug dealers from which they could potentially steal cash and drugs,” the decision states.
Gray pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing money during the sting. He cooperated with prosecutors, was sentenced to four months in prison and was released in May 2012.
Former Officer Jeff Henderson was convicted of civil-rights violations and perjury. He completed a 42-month prison term in October.
Brandon McFadden, a former ATF agent who pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in the corruption case, was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was released in July.
The trials of the former law enforcement officers involved allegations of falsifying sworn affidavits for search warrants, perjury, witness-tampering, selling drugs and conspiracy. Three officers were acquitted of civil-rights violations.
At least 48 people have been freed from prison or had their cases modified because of civil-rights violations or potential problems with their cases stemming from the police corruption scandal.
At least 17 lawsuits have been filed against the city of Tulsa and individual police officers as a result.