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Jury To Weight Use of Undercover Agent in School

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The name "Craig Madsen" will not soon be forgotten in Pinedale, Wyo.

That was the alias used by Kevin Carter, a freelance police informant who posed as a student at Pinedale High School in a 1992 state drug investigation.

Although he was 23 at the time, Mr. Carter's boyish looks made it easy for him to blend in with his teenage classmates--perhaps too easy. A Pinedale family has filed a civil suit against Mr. Carter, charging that while he was on assignment at the high school he had sex with a 17-year-old female family member and supplied alcohol and drugs to students.

The tale has gained considerable notoriety. The tabloid-style television show "Hard Copy" headlined its story about the case "Sex and the Single Narc."

But the case also has raised for school and law-enforcement officials the question of whether students should be the target of crime-fighting efforts that rely on deceit and subterfuge.

This week, a federal court in Wyoming is scheduled to set a date for a jury to wrestle with that question as it applies to Kevin Carter, a.k.a. Craig Madsen.

Experience in Utah

Mr. Carter often posed as a troublemaker shipped to a new school by parents who could not handle him, according to Robert B. Brodie, his lawyer.

Before coming to Wyoming, Mr. Carter worked on a contract basis for various law-enforcement agencies as a narcotics investigator and informant in Utah schools.

By all accounts, his work in Utah was trouble-free. In one drug sweep there, he was directly responsible for 13 arrests, according to an Associated Press story published after the Pinedale incident.

Mr. Carter got into several scrapes in Wyoming, however. While working under cover in Lyman, he is alleged to have been with teenagers who stole beer from an American Legion hall and threw an oil drum off an interstate-highway bridge. He is also being sued by a 15-year-old Lyman girl whom he dated while on assignment for local law-enforcement officials.

But the suit filed by the Pinedale family has had repercussions throughout the state. It names 17 defendants, including the state attorney general, the state Division of Criminal Investigation, the school district, and various school officials.

Reports of LSD Deals

Mr. Carter's assignment at Pinedale High School was to check out D.C.I. reports that some of its nearly 200 students were buying LSD from a drug dealer in Denver.

The suit charges that during the monthlong investigation, Mr. Carter turned his D.C.I.-provided apartment into what became known as a "party house." Mr. Carter often provided alcohol and drugs to minors, the suit charges, and youths frequently used his apartment as a place to have sex.

During the undercover operation, Mr. Carter dated the 17-year-old girl whose family filed the suit. At various times, Mr. Carter's D.C.I. supervisor allegedly encouraged him to photograph or videotape the girl, her 15-year-old sister, and other minors nude or engaged in sexual activity, the suit says.

Mr. Carter also initiated sexual activity with the 17-year-old on numerous occasions and had sexual intercourse with her at least once, according to the suit.

Mr. Carter dated her with the consent of school and D.C.I. officials, the suit claims. School authorities "had power to prevent or aid in preventing" his actions, it charges.

Mr. Carter and the other defendants have denied the allegations.

Keeping His Cover

For Mr. Carter to keep his cover, he had to run with a fast crowd, Mr. Brodie said.

"He was between a rock and a hard place," Mr. Brodie said. "He could hardly be an A student and a goody-two-shoes and get in close with these kids."

Mr. Carter was present at the beer heist and the oil-drum incident in Lyman, Mr. Brodie said, but he did not participate.

In the fall of 1993, Mr. Carter pleaded guilty to fondling the 17-year-old Pinedale girl and the 15-year-old girl in Lyman, but he denied having sexual intercourse with either of them.

In Pinedale, a town of 1,100, Mr. Carter was isolated and lonely, Mr. Brodie said, and developed almost an infatuation with the girl he was dating.

Pinedale school officials have said they agreed to enroll Mr. Carter, but they have denied they were responsible for his actions.

In an interview with a local newspaper, Donald Wright, the Pinedale schools superintendent who approved Mr. Carter's enrollment, said: "We didn't ask for the undercover agent. We didn't ask for the operation."

The school's drug problem was probably not as bad as the Division of Criminal Investigation led him to believe, he said. "I was going on what law enforcement was telling me at the time," Mr. Wright, who has since left Pinedale and moved to Arizona, was quoted as saying.

Assigning Blame

Regardless of the court's findings in the case, Wyoming state officials already have dissected the Pinedale operation and concluded that it was bungled at the outset.

Two judges and a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent appointed by Gov. Mike Sullivan to investigate the case largely assigned blame to Mr. Carter and his direct supervisor. The state criminal division launched the operation with little proof of a drug problem at Pinedale High, according to Thomas R. Rardin, one of the investigators. It also gave Mr. Carter too much responsibility and too little supervision.

"If you're relying on information provided by an informant, you better be damn sure it's corroborated," said Mr. Rardin, a former F.B.I. legal adviser to the bureau's undercover teams in Cleveland and Denver.

The investigators recommended that D.C.I. agents sell drugs to juveniles only in exceptional cases. But they specifically declined to recommend banning undercover operations in high schools. The Division of Criminal Investigation will continue to put agents in schools, but the state attorney general will have to approve each operation.

Successful Operations

Law-enforcement officials argue that undercover agents often are the only way to root out campus-based drug dealers.

San Diego police have run undercover operations in schools since 1982 without controversy, according to Alex Rascon Jr., the district's chief of school police.

In Los Angeles, police have put agents in schools for 21 years and report only one incident in which an undercover agent stepped outside the lines. In that case, a female officer became "romantically involved" with a high school football player while on assignment and was fired, according to Lieut. Bud Harper, the head of the juvenile narcotics section.

The Los Angeles operation is generally cited in the law-enforcement field as one of the best in the country. The department deploys eight to 10 officers a semester, rotating them among the city's high schools to keep dealers off balance.

Contract informants are not used, Lieutenant Harper said. Agents are full-time officers who have been trained to deal with juveniles and handle the stress of undercover work.

The program's crime-fighting value increases geometrically with each drug bust, Lieutenant Harper said. "If an arrest is made on one campus, there are four other campuses wondering if our officers are there."

But in Wyoming, the notion that undercover agents will continue to sit in classrooms does not sit well with many school officials.

"In our eyes, when kids come to school, the school becomes the parent," said Jean Hayek, the president of the Wyoming Education Association. "What parent would willingly entrap their child?"

Local authorities and parents--not state officials--should decide if a school's drug problem warrants D.C.I. intervention, said Diana J. Ohman, the Wyoming superintendent of public instruction.

Dennis M. Szal, the principal at Riverton High School, which is near Pinedale, said he would think long and hard before opening his classes to state investigators.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Is it overkill?"' he said.

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