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Drug Dilemma

Carol Bradley always talked about her desire to quit drugs, even when she was dealing crack to an undercover federal agent and her other customers would break into her Plymouth apartment to smoke on her couch.

Ultimately, Bradley says, she did kick her drug habit at a halfway house in Western Massachusetts while federal prosecutors prepared a drug trafficking indictment against her. But wiretap transcripts showed that the Drug Enforcement Administration task force agent who made six undercover buys from Bradley actively discouraged her from going to treatment programs, saying they ''never work.''

Her unusual case highlights the debate over when treatment should enter law enforcement's war on drugs. The federal agents and prosecutors who sought a four- to five-year prison term for Bradley say they pursue serious dealers who destroy the communities in which they peddle narcotics; in prison, they argue, dealers have all the time they need to seek treatment.

However, defense lawyers and drug law critics believe Bradley's case points to a system that is sometimes too rigid and harsh. They believe that agents and prosecutors should encourage addicts to seek treatment, rather than simply build the strongest possible case against them.

''It's unconscionable to have government agents discouraging addicts from getting help so they can continue to amass evidence against these people,'' said federal defender Tamar R. Birckhead, who represented Bradley and cited the case as exposing an Achilles' heel in the federal war on drugs.

But Gerard T. Leone, the first assistant US attorney for Massachusetts, said that federal sentencing guidelines take into account whether a drug offender is trying to break free of an addiction. It's not the role of the drug agent or prosecutor to serve as a conduit for treatment, Leone said.

''If what compels someone to sell drugs is a habit and not desire for profit, should we sympathize with them and give them a break?'' Leone said. ''If there's a kid who's getting crack, I don't care whether the person who's selling it to them has a problem.''

By the time Bradley had been indicted on drug trafficking charges two years ago, she had been living sober for nearly a year at Beacon House for Women in Greenfield. At her sentencing in July, Senior US Judge Edward F. Harrington - over the objections of prosecutors - tossed aside sentencing guidelines that would have required him to send Bradley to jail for four to five years, instead of giving her probation.

The sentence was officially based on Bradley's ''exceptional rehabilitation,'' but Bradley's lawyer also emphasized the undercover agent's disparaging comments about treatment.

''This was a textbook example of someone committing a crime to support her habit and who wanted with every ounce of her being to kick that habit,'' Birckhead said.

Meanwhile, Bradley, 37, says she has turned with zeal toward recovery; she now does landscaping and maintenance for Beacon House, where she has lived for the better part of three years.

She is more concerned about her upcoming move next week to a sober house in nearby Turners Falls than about her federal case. Since age 14, Bradley said, she has struggled with addiction to alcohol, heroin, and cocaine. Even when faced with the prospect of jail this year, Bradley refused to work undercover for federal agents to ensnare her former suppliers, afraid she would start taking drugs again if she returned to her old haunts.

Bradley blames herself for the drugs she sold. ''I know I was kind of manipulated into selling because of my problem, but I did it and I was guilty,'' she said. ''Somebody could have bought some drugs from me and died.''

Still, it vexes her that the undercover agent she knew by the code name ''Whitey'' - and, as she sees it, a law enforcement culture that treats all drug offenders the same - felt no responsibility to help her.

''Even in the condition I was in, they knew I was reaching for help. I don't know what the rules are, but they didn't need to say that rehab doesn't work,'' Bradley said recently.

A state trooper working undercover for the DEA bought a total of 9.11 grams of crack from Bradley on six occasions between September 1999 and January 2000. He often met Bradley at her Court Street apartment in Plymouth, where she watched football games with customers and tried to keep the beige carpets vacuumed.

''People always said it was the cleanest crack house in town,'' Bradley said.

In one recorded conversation, Bradley told the agent she had just finished 25 days of rehab. Rehabitation programs ''never work, don't waste your time,'' the agent replied.

In a later conversation, Bradley told the agent she'd been through seven drug detoxification programs.

''The important thing to keep in mind is that the agent is playing a role,'' DEA spokesman Anthony Pettigrew said. ''He's talking in a jargon that the target understands.''

At one point, the undercover agent offers to drive Bradley to a detox program. The agent's job, Pettigrew said, was to make drug purchases from Bradley, not to steer her toward a drug treatment program. Still, he added, the agent did not ''in total'' discourage her from seeking treatment.

By the time the war on drugs makes it to the federal court system, cases are usually cut-and-dried. Deals are usually caught on tape, and sentences are determined by the quantity and kind of drug. Addicts charged with trafficking usually make a first attempt to stop using drugs only after they've been accused of a crime.

That was not the case with Bradley. On Jan. 26, 2000, Bradley made her last crack sale - to the undercover agent. The next day she moved across the state to Greenfield and checked into Beacon House. That's where federal agents found her in September 2000, when they unsealed a grand jury indictment against her.

At an unusual sentencing hearing on July 24, more than a dozen family members and people who knew Bradley from Beacon House packed the courtroom. They had already flooded Harrington with letters about Bradley's impact on their lives and their own attempts to kick drinking problems and drug habits. Prosecutors fought for Bradley to serve at least four years and three months in prison.

''The record shows that she was planning to combat her addiction at the same time she was peddling narcotics,'' Assistant US Attorney Rachel E. Hershfang argued. ''This is not a woman who, desperate for the money to support her addiction, made an occasional drug sale.''

Harrington, however, found that Bradley had exhibited ''extraordinary rehabilitation,'' and prosecutors chose not to appeal his decision.

Although she doesn't expect federal agents to spend all their time pushing drug addicts toward recovery programs, Bradley said she wishes they would give it more thought.

Dealers in Bradley's situation might deserve compassion, Leone said, but they also need to be taken off the streets.

''In her case, the Plymouth Police Department identified drug-related activity that was a destructive and destabilizing influence on public housing projects,'' Leone said. ''Carol Bradley was part of a conspiracy that we saw as ruining quality of life in a community.''

Still, defense lawyer Martin G. Weinberg said Bradley's case reflected a broader problem with federal law enforcement's approach to drug crime.

''The DEA's job is to apprehend offenders, not to create seductive opportunities for undisciplined people to commit crimes they would not otherwise have committed,'' he said.

And, Weinberg argued, strict federal sentencing guidelines ''extinguish the difference between the violent offender who has never done anything positive for society and a hard-working, nonviolent, essentially decent person who has committed a crime for which he has accepted responsibility.''

Bradley's new room in Turners Falls is sparsely decorated; her friends at Beacon House have given her a small stone engraved with one word - ''Remember'' - and she has five CDs to play on her portable stereo. As she prepares to start living independently again, Bradley said she sees hope in her story and in a system that defied her expectations to provide another chance.

Every night, she calls the pretrial services office in Springfield to see if she's scheduled for a drug test. She has regular meetings with her parole officer. If she relapses, she knows she could end up in a federal prison.

''It could happen to anyone,'' Bradley said of her struggle with drugs. ''I wanted a better life, and I've found one.''

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