May 2, 1997
BY Mara Leveritt
The billionaire philanthropist George Soros said, "I firmly believe the war
on drugs is doing more harm to our society than drug abuse itself," and I
Gradually, many people are reaching the same conclusion; the failures of
the war on drugs having grown so obvious. Cartels have flourished, prisons
have burgeoned, courts have swelled, neighborhoods have become unsafe, and
countless criminal activities have been financed by laundered money -- and
still, drugs are everywhere, especially in our prisons. How do we think we
can keep drugs off of our streets when we cannot keep them out of our
It's a dismal situation. But the worst of it, it seems to me, is the public
corruption that inevitably accompanies restrictions in supply and demand.
Corruption brings drugs into prisons. Corruption allows drugs onto our
streets. The drug trade could not flourish anywhere without an assist from
people in power. This is true, not just in Mexico and Colombia, but in the
United States, as well.
Recently, allegations of a particularly insidious form of corruption have
arisen -- again-- in central Arkansas. At the center of the alleged scheme
is Dan Harmon, a Benton lawyer. He is charged with running a drug-related
"criminal enterprise" while serving as prosecuting attorney for the state's
7th Judicial District and heading its federally funded drug task force.
Because of Harmon's position, at the nexus of politics, law enforcement,
the courts, and a ring of alleged drug entrepreneurs, his case is as
faceted as a jewel and as intriguing. It warrants close attention, and I
promise, it will receive some in this column. But consider this for now:
The indictments issued by a federal grand jury last month claim that for
the past six years since August of 1991 -- Harmon has run his office as a
criminal enterprise, possessed stolen drugs and demanded money in return
for dropping charges. That's quite an operation. What I question is the
dating of the indictments back only so far as August of 1991. That timing
itself is rife with political overtones. Consider what was already known
about Harmon before then, some of which was outlined in an article by John
Brummett that appeared in the Arkansas Times in July of 1991:
· "[He] is under investigation by a federal grand jury in Little Rock on
allegations that he is a recreational drug user, perhaps a drug dealer who
has traded cocaine for sexual favors, a tax evader, and a corrupt public
· "Federal authorities have also investigated whether a check written on
Harmon's account for $1,800 was for a drug buy."
· "[The former head of the district's drug task force, Jean Duffey,]
delivered files of testimony that implicated several prominent people in
the 7th Judicial District, including Harmon and two judges, in a drug ring
and a system of political and business corruption."
· "Harmon accompanied his daughter [Tammy, who had been subpoenaed to
testify before the federal grand jury] to the U.S. attorney's office, and
there was quite a scene. It took place in U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks'
office, and Banks ended up calling for federal marshals because Harmon's
rage was portending violence."
The article also reported several instances when Harmon did engage in
physical violence, including one when he beat a fellow attorney in front of
a judge in the judge's chambers. In none of the instances was Harmon
arrested or even censured.
And Harmon slipped through the federal grand jury's fingers, as well.
Almost simultaneously with that 1991 story's publication, Banks cleared
Harmon, saying that there was "no evidence of drug-related misconduct by
any public official."
Yet now, six years later, a second federal grand jury investigating Harmon
has concluded that evidence linking Harmon with cocaine, methamphetamine,
and abuse of office did exist -- or at least that it began to emerge within
days after Banks had cleared him.
What kind of nonsense is this?
Harmon has been under suspicion for running a drug-related criminal
enterprise in the district he was supposed to be serving throughout this
decade. The citizens of the 7th Judicial District have known it, as have
many state and federal investigators. The long-running unwillingness of
authorities to censure him, even for documented physical assaults, has
undercut public confidence in the district's entire legal system. And
now we have this added insult: Last week, Barbara Webb, Harmon's successor
as prosecuting attorney, won her first drug-related conviction. A
32-year-old Benton man was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined
$15,000 for growing three marijuana plants.
"We are real pleased with the
result," Webb said afterward. "I think it sends a strong message that
Saline County takes drug crimes seriously." A message is being sent, all
right, but I think it's a different one. It is that we will continue to be
treated like fools for exactly as long as we allow it.
Copyright ©1996, 1997 Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc.
Reproduced with permission