The Detroit News (Michigan)
BYLINE: Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Detroit, MI

Detroit - A Detroit police officer charged with stealing cocaine from the police evidence room and replacing it with corn starch will have those charges against him dropped after he pleaded guilty Thursday to a lesser charge.

Vincent L. Crockett, 50, who was scheduled to go to trial next week on charges of embezzlement and possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, pleaded guilty to tax evasion Thursday before U.S. District Judge David M. Law-son. Tax evasion is a five-year felony. Crockett is to be sentenced Aug. 5.

Prosecutors agreed to the plea deal after the death last year of a police chemist presented difficulties in proving the case against Crockett, who was indicted in 2007 on allegations he stole about six kilograms of cocaine worth more than $2 million from a police evidence room. Chemist Michael Williams, who had certified that the material originally placed in the police evidence room was cocaine, died in 2008.

Lawson ruled the government could introduce printouts of Williams' test results as evidence at Crockett's trial, but the judge said in a November opinion that Williams' death still posed problems for prosecutors.

"How the government will prove that Mr. Williams actually tested the substance that was lodged in the property room is not readily apparent," Lawson said. A government expert could base his testimony on a lab report prepared by Williams, but that would raise issues about hearsay and the right of a defendant to confront his accusers, Lawson said in the opinion.

Lawyers for Crockett also wanted to raise issues at the trial about problems with firearms testing that led officials to close the entire Detroit police forensics lab last year. But Lawson this week ruled for the second time that such evidence would not be admissible because problems in the firearms section of the crime lab did not point to similar problems in the chemistry section.

In his plea, Crockett admitted to evading 2007 taxes on $72,000 in income he received as a result of "an illegal act." Lawyers for Crocket could not be reached for comment.

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