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Drug bust left detective pointing finger at elusive suspect Tom Basinski | Sat, Oct 16 2010 12:00 PM

You enjoyed my embarrassment when I executed a search warrant for marijuana plants only to discover they were really tomato plants. There's more.

This incident involves another narcotic investigating venture in 1980. Two patrol officers were dispatched to check out a suspicious pickup truck. As the officers arrived, the occupant fled on foot into the night. The truck had about 250 packaged marijuana kilos in the back. (That's over 500 pounds for you math whizzes).

I responded from home and we impounded the truck, placing a "police hold" on it. I logged the dreaded Devil Weed into evidence. The truck was registered to a Pedro Rojas in San Ysidro. When I went to that residence the next day it was vacant.

Periodically I would try to find Rojas, but without success. He was "in the wind." There wasn't enough evidence to get an arrest warrant for him, so I let the matter simmer. He never reported the vehicle stolen. So it sat in the tow yard, piling up storage charges.

A few months went by during which time I continued my relentless pursuit of other lawbreakers.

One afternoon an office clerk notified me that a person was at the front counter to obtain a release for an impounded vehicle upon which I had placed a hold.

I introduced myself to the man. In his possession he had what I would loosely term a handwritten "bill of sale" for the truck used to transport the marijuana. Apparently Pedro Rojas had sold him the truck and the "new owner" was at the police station to get a signed release so he could pick up his pre-owned truck.

I asked him how I might be able to get in touch with Mr. Rojas. Not surprisingly, he told me he did not know how to contact Rojas. I asked what he would do if Rojas owed him money. How would he find Rojas? He said he didn't speak English too well and didn't know what I was saying.

Of course.

I went to the copy machine. (Follow this closely). I put my hand on the glass, palm up, folding all of my fingers inward in the shape of a fist, except for the extended middle finger, sometimes called the "driving finger." I pressed the "copy" button.

I gave the copy to the man. "You're not getting the truck. Please give this paper to Pedro Rojas and tell him it's from Detective Basinski and I need to talk with him."

In my estimation, those instructions seemed pretty clear: 1) Deliver a piece of paper to someone, and 2) Tell him to contact me. Did he do that? NOOOOO!

Instead, he gave the paper to the president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce who promptly phoned Chief of Police Bill Winters to complain about your favorite detective - me.

The chief assigned the complaint to my sergeant who came to me with the same smile he always had when investigating a complaint against me. Sgt. Bob Bourgeois said, "Tom, it looks like you've done it again. What's this all about?"

I patiently explained that, what to some, might seem like a politically incorrect, possibly racist (isn't everything racist?) act, was actually an innovative, ingenuous, creative method of police investigative technique. I couldn't very well deny it was my hand because right there in the photocopy was my college graduation ring. No other Chula Vista cops attended St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas.

"What?" Sergeant Bourgeois asked.

"You see, I was trying to get Pedro Rojas so upset at me for giving him the finger by proxy that he would personally complain. When he arrived here I would ask about the 500 pounds of marijuana in his truck and how it got there. I would take his picture to see if the uniformed patrol officers could recognize him in a photo lineup. Pretty damned good police work, if you ask me."

No one did ask me. The complaint was "sustained." I told Sgt. Bob to put the complaint with the others and I would try to do better next time.

"Sure," he said, not very convincingly.

Basinski was a Chula Vista police officer for 17 years and a district attorney investigator for 17 years.

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