eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Trends: Charges Against Suspect Dismissed Partially Over Storage of Two Terabytes


Law Technology News had an interesting article regarding a DEA criminal case written by Ryan J. Foley (Two Terabytes Too Much Evidence for DEA).  Here’s the scenario.

Fugitive Miami doctor Armando Angulo was indicted in 2007 in a multimillion dollar scheme that involved selling prescription drugs to patients who were never examined or even interviewed by a physician.  He fled to his native Panama in 2004 after the Drug Enforcement Administration began its investigation of him.  While the US does have an extradition treaty with Panama, Panamanian authorities say they do not extradite their own citizens.

The case led to conviction of 26 defendants (including 19 doctors) and recovery of $7 million, but Angulo remains at large.  Information related to the case took up two terabytes of hard drive space – 5 percent of the DEA's worldwide electronic storage (which would mean the DEA only has 40 total terabytes worldwide?).  Other case information also included “several hundred boxes of paper containing 440,000 documents, plus dozens of computers, servers, and other bulky items.”

As a result, noting that “[c]ontinued storage of these materials is difficult and expensive”, Stephanie Rose, the U.S. attorney for northern Iowa, dropped the charges, calling the task "an economic and practical hardship".  U.S. District Judge Linda Reade dismissed the case with prejudice; therefore, it cannot be refiled.  However, Angulo is still wanted for separate Medicaid fraud and narcotics charges in Florida, so he’s not completely “off the hook” with regard to criminal investigations.

Does it seem unbelievable that the DEA is walking away from a case for which storage to support it could be purchased from Best Buy for less than $100?  It’s probably safe to assume that the requirements for storage of criminal evidence must meet certain requirements for security and chain of custody that makes the cost for two terabytes in the DEA server environment considerably more expensive than that.  In the LTN article, University of Iowa computer scientist Douglas Jones notes that it’s possible that the DEA’s server is small and needs replacement, but that doing so while maintaining integrity of the data may be costly and risky.

I have not worked for a government agency supporting prosecution of criminal cases, but I would imagine that records management and preservation requirements are at a completely different level than those of many organizations managing data to support their civil litigation docket.  Criminal cases can go on for years or even decades through appeals, so I would think it’s a unique challenge for these agencies.  So, it surprises me that the DEA only has 40 terabytes of storage worldwide.

So, what do you think?  Do you work for a government agency prosecuting criminal cases?  How does your organization handle records management and preservation?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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