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Third NRI cleared in Georgia drug sting case

The charges against Siddharth Patel were dismissed by Judge on the grounds of mistaken identity.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2005 16:03 IST

Charges against a 20-year-old Indian American, accused of illegally selling methamphetamine, were dismissed by a US court on the grounds of mistaken identity, making him the third member of the community to be misidentified in a major drug sting which broke in July.

The charges against Siddharth Patel were dismissed by Judge Harold Murphy of the US District Court, Rome, Georgia, upon a motion by US District Attorney David E Nahmias after repeated demands by defence attorney McCracken Poston of Ringgold asking the Government to dismiss them on the grounds of misidentification.

Patel is one of the 44 of 49 people of Indian origin indicted in a drug sting. The case, dubbed the meth merchant case, had attracted great national attention, raising doubts whether Indians running stores were being specifically targeted.

Patel, an American citizen, was arrested at Newark airport on July 18 as he returned from his wedding in India. He was held for 12 days in various facilities in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Attorney Poston said that the misidentification by paid informers underlined the possibility of abuse of sting operations. Patel was working in Hicksville, New York, on July 23, 2004, when Government agents claimed he was in a Varnell, Georgia, convenience store selling matches, Coleman fuel and other items used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Poston who has successfully defended two other Indian Americans similarly arrested in the meth case, was quoted by Chattanoogan.com as saying: "This makes the third citizen of Indian heritage to be misidentified by the same undercover informant who was used in almost all of the government's Operation Meth Merchant cases."

He added, "Patel's plight, along with that of Cleveland, Tennessee, resident Malvika Patel, has illustrated the dangers of government reliance on 'eyewitness identification,' and of the particular errant informant utilised in these cases."

He said, "These individuals were completely innocent and were nowhere around the location of the alleged criminal activity."

He said Malvika, Sidharth and 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 persons were wrongfully accused by government documents to have been working as clerks in convenience stores in Fort Oglethorpe and Varnell."

Chattanoogan.com quoted Poston as questioning the continued use of this particular informant, who according to 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."

If the informant has a history of felony, Poston himself has a history of championing victims of the system. He is the subject of the real-life film "The Zenith Man," which follows the story of Poston, a lawyer in small-town Ringgold, Georgia, who in 1997 was recovering from both a failed run at Congress and a failed marriage.

Simultaneously, Alvin Ridley, the town recluse, was charged with the murder of his wife, who had not left their home for 30 years. Poston agreed to defend Ridley, who was being vilified by the small town and media.

Poston has since successfully fought many apparently lost cases. Apart from Malvika, Siddharth and Chirag Patel, he is also defending a corporation in the meth merchant case.

First Published: Oct 14, 2005 16:03 IST