March 17, 2014
On Jan. 5, 2012, Paul Valin called the police to report he’d found a backpack containing what he believed to be meth-making equipment. That simple act of good citizenship landed his and wife Cindy’s house on the National Clandestine Laboratory Register [NCLR], the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of meth labs.
Valin spotted a backpack in a river while kayaking. He took it home and opened it up looking for some identification that might point to its owner. Instead, he found tubing and chemicals. Being a good citizen (with nothing to hide), he called local law enforcement who came and removed the backpack… and then put him on a federal list that put his house in the same category as property where drugs had been seized (you know, as opposed to voluntarily and proactively given to police officers).
The NCLR’s website openly admits that no federal agency verifies the information being forwarded to it. Valin’s house was added to this list by local law enforcement, who filled out a standard form that failed to note that Valin had found the backpack and at no point had the “drug lab” ever crossed the threshold of his house (it had been in the back of Valin’s pickup the entire time).
Once Valin was made aware of his home’s placement on this list by a local TV reporter, he contacted the DEA in hopes of being delisted.
Valin sent an email to the DEA explaining the facts of his case and asking that his address be removed from the NCLR. The reply he received three weeks later was not encouraging.
An unsigned email from NCLR@doj.gov explained that Valin’s address had been listed because of a Clandestine Laboratory Seizure form the DMPD submitted to the DEA following the collection of the backpack.
According to the email, the DMPD officer who filled out the report had checked the boxes for “abandoned lab” and “boxed lab,” but didn’t include any other information, such as where and how Valin found the backpack.
The email also stated that the DEA was only the “caretaker” of the NCLR site and, again, pointed out that it doesn’t perform any sort of verification of submitted forms. According to the email, Valin had a couple of options: persuade the Des Moines, IA police department to contact the DEA and straighten out its paperwork error or have a local health agency declare his home free from drug contamination.
Unsurprisingly, the DEA’s suggestions were both dead ends.
The second option isn’t possible. No local or state health agencies in Iowa conducts such inspections. The state hasn’t even set any standards for what constitutes meth-related contamination.
Valin hasn’t had much luck with the first option, either. He’s still waiting for a reply to the voicemails he left at the DMPD phone number he was told to call.
The good news is that someone finally decided to do something about this error. Special Agent Eric Neubauer of the El Paso branch of the DEA took the Des Moines Police Dept. investigative report (which detailed the whole chain of events) provided to him by Iowa Watchdog and used that info to delist Valin’s home. The DMPD still hasn’t explained why the details on its internal investigative report failed to make their way onto the form sent to the DEA — an omission that put Valin’s home on a national “drug lab” watchlist for two years.