SCOTIA The sheriff’s informant who falsely accused a Scotia merchant of selling him drugs now faces up to 12 years after admitting Monday to lying under oath.
James Slater, 22, pleaded guilty in Schenectady County Court to two counts of first-degree perjury, a felony. He is to be sentenced in March to a total of six to 12 years in state prison.
Slater admitted to lying to a Schenectady County grand jury by telling them that Scotia smoke shop owner Donald Andrews twice sold him drugs last March.
Store surveillance cameras cleared Andrews of any wrongdoing. The cameras showed that Slater furtively pulled the drugs out of his pants and photographed them as Andrews’ back was turned. Slater later presented those drugs to sheriff’s deputies and said he had purchased them from Andrews.
Andrews is the owner of the Dabb City Smoke Shop, a store that sells pipes, T-shirts, hookahs, incense, ashtrays and other items.
Andrews reacted with a simple “wow,” when told by a reporter later of the plea and expected sentence. “That’s the perfect sentence for him. You’re not supposed to go into someone’s business, someone who’s doing good for himself, and plant crack cocaine on the counter.”
“That could have been me in front of that judge,” he added.
Andrews ended up spending a weekend in jail before he could post bond. His business was disrupted along with this life.
Slater was indicted last summer on a total of 21 counts, 14 of them perjury. He also faced evidence-tampering and drug counts.
Prosecutor Laurie Cummings said her office pushed for the six- to 12-year sentence because of the nature of the case. Slater not only got Andrews arrested, but later lied under oath to the grand jury, she said.
“It completely undermines the criminal justice system,” she said of Slater’s actions.
Cummings explained to visiting Judge Polly Hoye in court that Slater essentially set up Andrews, making it appear as though he sold drugs when he hadn’t. Slater then went before the grand jury and lied.
Slater wiped his face as he pleaded guilty. Afterward, his attorney Michael Mansion said, “I think he realizes the magnitude of his mistake.”
The plea also covers probation violations related to an unrelated previous case. Mansion said those violations alone could have put Slater in prison for up to seven years.
Slater worked with the Sheriff’s Department as a confidential informant, essentially wearing a wire to make undercover drug purchases from people whom investigators would later arrest.
Informants are supposed to be searched prior to making buys. Sheriff’s Department officials have said Slater was searched but managed to get the drugs past them.
Cummings said afterward that her office conducted a review and found seven other cases where Slater worked as an informant: three weapons cases and four drug cases. Attorneys in each case were notified of what happened in the Andrews investigation.
Full details on each of the seven cases were not available Monday. Cummings said some stood based on other evidence but at least one was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
As for how Slater set up Andrews, Mansion said Slater contends his handlers with the Sheriff’s Department never searched him, and made the decision themselves to target the smoke shop for an attempted drug buy.
Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino on Monday responded to Mansion’s comments by noting that Slater is now an admitted perjurer.
Dagostino repeated that it was Slater who suggested a buy at Andrews’ shop and that search protocols were followed. He said none of his officers were disciplined as a result of the case, but some procedures for handling informants were changed. He declined to say how.
Andrews has since hired attorney Kevin Luibrand to pursue a possible civil suit against the Sheriff’s Department and those involved in his arrest. Notices of claim have been filed against the municipalities overseeing the Sheriff’s Department and the Scotia Police Department.
Andrews has claimed in the notices that he was targeted “based upon his race and business.” Sheriff’s officials have denied that.
Luibrand said Monday he expects a lawsuit to be formally filed by the end of March. He declined to comment on Slater’s plea.
Andrews said he wants to make a statement at Slater’s sentencing.
He added that said he believes the Sheriff’s Department shares the blame for what happened to him. “The cops played a huge part in this,” he said. “If they did their job the correct way, none of this would have happened.”