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Man sues sheriff in entrapment case

Published Sep. 16, 2005

At the urging of a confidential informant working for sheriff's detectives, Joseph Robichaud arranged three small cocaine buys in 1993 that landed him behind bars for more than two years.

But an appeals court reversed his conviction last year, ruling Robichaud had been entrapped by threats of Mafia violence, appeals for sympathy and the promise of a home and a job.

On Tuesday, Robichaud, 37, sued the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and the two detectives who worked with the informant, seeking more than $1-million in damages for violating his civil rights, fraud and malicious prosecution.

Sheriff's spokesman Jack Espinosa said late Tuesday that the department had no comment on the pending case.

The lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, could shed light on law enforcement's shadowy, controversial, but routine reliance on confidential informants, or "CI's" to make drug cases. It alleges that the informant's pay was dependent on the type and amount of drugs he could get, and that detectives knew and approved of the informant's methods.

According to the lawsuit, detective Philippe Dubord called the unidentified informant in January 1993, after getting an anonymous complaint of drug activity in a mobile home park east of Temple Terrace where the informant and Robichaud lived. The person complaining did not specifically identify Robichaud.

Over the next several months, the suit states, the informant told Robichaud he had cancer caused by military atomic tests and kept asking Robichaud to get him some cocaine to fight pain. Later, the informant asked Robichaud to move into his mobile home. He did, but soon hurt his back, couldn't work and got behind on the $65-a-week rent.

That's when the informant began talking about "the boys" _ supposedly connected to the Mafia _ and the harm they could inflict on Robichaud if he didn't procure some cocaine.

After one buy, the informant demanded Robichaud set up a bigger buy, and when he didn't, kicked him out of the trailer. At that point, the lawsuit alleges, the detectives, posing as "the boys" offered Robichaud a job and place to live if he could set up another cocaine deal.

He set up two more sales through a friend, one for $200 and one for $700, before his arrest.

In a July 1995 opinion, the 2nd District Court of Appeal wrote, "In considering whether these ploys were sufficient inducement to conclude that Mr. Robichaud was entrapped, we can conceive of no greater inducements than these. . . . Essentially, then, government agents threatened him with bodily harm, took away his residence and then, when he was jobless and virtually homeless, offered him a job and a residence on the condition that he obtain cocaine for them."