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D.A. Official Allegedly Took Drugs to Inmate : Courts: Ex-investigator is accused of smuggling heroin to a woman who was a potential witness against singer Rick James.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is a story of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll--and how a law enforcement officer ended up facing a slew of criminal charges.

First, the self-proclaimed King of Funk, Rick James, was convicted of assaulting two women in bizarre sex games. Then James’ sentence was chopped in half when the judge learned that an investigator from the district attorney’s office had smuggled drugs into jail for a witness in the case.

Now, 21 months after the smuggling bust, the state attorney general’s office is prosecuting investigator Craig Gunnette--who has since retired with full benefits--and witness Michelle Allen, a self-described “Hollywood party girl” with a rap sheet as long as her legs.

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“It is shocking, and it is troubling,” Deputy Atty. Gen. Bill Bilderback said of the case, which will probably go to trial in mid-October in Los Angeles Superior Court. “I think she manipulated him . . . [but] his part in this was certainly a betrayal of the public trust. He abused his peace officer status.”

Allen and Gunnette met over the telephone in 1991, when she called from state prison to offer dirt on a criminal suspect and he answered the phone at the district attorney’s after-hours command center.

Over the next two years, prosecutors allege, an odd friendship blossomed out of their coincidental meeting. There were hundreds of collect calls and dozens of jail visits in which Gunnette gave Allen gifts, money and, eventually, heroin, stuffing it between court papers when they met in the private attorney-visiting room, prosecutors say.

Allen and her attorney maintain that Gunnette was a tool of corruption for the district attorney’s office, instructed by superiors to do whatever it took to keep her cooperative. But prosecutors believe he was just a veteran cop who suddenly turned crooked, lured by a longtime criminal.

Gunnette, 51, faces more than 10 years in state prison if convicted of all the charges against him, which include conspiracy, drug possession and computer fraud. He could not be reached for comment; his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Arthur Braudrick, offered little explanation.

“We’re in the process of asking the same sort of questions,” Braudrick said. “How did somebody who’s been a good employee in law enforcement suddenly find himself facing criminal charges?”

Allen was first arrested in 1979 and has spent the last four years and eight months behind bars for drugs, theft, burglary and fraud offenses.

She has used 15 aliases, six dates of birth (she claims to be 37) and eight Social Security numbers in her life of crime, and has offered her services as a snitch to the district attorney’s office on several occasions.

Gunnette, a father of three, lives in a four-bedroom house in Downey and had no previous bouts with the law. He joined the district attorney’s office in 1982 after several years as a marshal.

Court papers and interviews show that Gunnette was never officially assigned to any case in which Allen was a witness. Rather, their relationship grew over a series of Saturday phone conversations.

At first, Allen would call for another investigator or attorney, and Gunnette just happened to pick up because he was staffing the command center.

Soon the collect calls became routine--Allen and Gunnette would chat at length, and sometimes the investigator would patch together conference calls with her friends from the outside. For reasons that remain unclear, he sent her money--as much as $5,000, records show.

“We just talked in general, just about anything and everything. His family, my family,” Allen said in a telephone interview this week from the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in Monterey Park, where she is serving a six-year sentence for stealing a bottle of perfume. (The sentence was stiffened because of her prior record.)

Allen was at Chowchilla State Prison on the same charge in 1993 when she heard that James, best known for his 1981 smash song “Super Freak,” was being prosecuted. She told Gunnette she could help: In 1991, she said, James refused to pay for cocaine she supplied him and broke her arm. Plus, she said, James had bragged to Allen about the torturous sexual assault that comprised one of the charges he was facing.

Gunnette passed the tip on to Andrew Flier, the prosecutor on the James case, who visited Allen in Chowchilla and arranged for her to be transferred to Sybil Brand so she could testify. Finally, the phone pals would meet face to face; records show Gunnette visited Allen at least eight times in six weeks in the summer of 1993.

Flashing his badge, he brought her toiletries, cigarettes and a television, she said. Bailed her car out of the impound. Showed up at court hearings where she would be. “In my mind, he was trying to be helpful in being a friend,” Allen said simply.

Then, Gunnette began bringing drugs: first Xanax (a tranquilizer), then heroin, she said.

Jail officials discovered the drugs and, with help from the district attorney’s office, set up a sting Nov. 3, 1993, at Frontera State Prison, where Allen had been transferred.

Gunnette was caught sneaking cash into Allen, and both later confessed to the heroin smuggling, according to police records. Investigators also found that Gunnette had abused the department’s computers to run rap sheets and car checks for Allen.

“She’s a manipulative person; she’s an experienced con,” said Mark Werksman, James’ defense attorney. “She convinces [Gunnette] to come to the prison. They have phone sex. She convinces him to make her happy. Making Michelle Allen happy involves bringing her drugs.”

Allen’s lawyer, William Graysen, contends that his client is not responsible for having the heroin in jail because Gunnette promised her she would not be prosecuted. He claims their entire relationship was part of a corrupt prosecution scheme to keep the witness cooperative.

“Whenever there was a problem with Michelle Allen, they’d send [Gunnette],” he said. “I don’t think a D.A. said to the investigator, ‘Bring her heroin.’ I think he did tell him, ‘Make her happy, get her to testify, do what you have to do.’ And the investigator decides to get her the heroin.”

District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined to comment beyond acknowledging that an internal investigation was conducted and the case was turned over to the attorney general’s office.

Asked why Gunnette was allowed to retire last February rather than be fired, Gibbons said: “He had the years of service to qualify for retirement, so he retired.”

James case prosecutor Flier, who left the district attorney’s office four months ago, insisted that Gunnette had nothing to do with the James case and was acting alone in his dealings with Allen.

“I didn’t even know who Mr. Gunnette was,” Flier said. “He showed up for a hearing regarding whether or not she’d be a relevant witness, and I thought that was a little strange, but I didn’t think there was any impropriety. He seemed like a nice guy to me.”

The lawyers now prosecuting Gunnette also believe that Allen initiated the conspiracy, and that Gunnette--although abusing his position as a law enforcement officer--had no prodding from supervisors.

“His motivations are his own. I think he got caught up with Michelle over his head, and it snowballed,” Deputy Atty. Gen. Steven Matthews said.

“There is nothing to support the allegation that Gunnette was doing anything with Michelle Allen other than of his own accord. There’s nothing to indicate that Gunnette was involved on an official basis in anything to do with Michelle Allen.”


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