From smokeblower to whistleblower – a former DEA spokeswoman speaks out against prohibition and corruption.
Belita Nelson is on a roll. Seated at a document strewn kitchen table inside a two-story brick home in Idaho Springs, the spry 61-year-old pours a cup of coffee and continues her exposition.
“The war on drugs has corrupted law enforcement to the point where the DEA is indistinguishable from the cartels,” she says in a Texas drawl. “The only solution is legalization – full legalization. For all drugs.”
Listening to her, it’s hard to believe that this is one of Texas’ most vocal and visible drug warriors 12 years ago, someone who once supported the death penalty for dealers, who once denied that addiction was a disease based physiology.
The chain of events that led her here – not just the 800 miles to Colorado, but the 180 to a pro-legalization perspective – represents more than just a personal journey of high school debate teacher turned DEA spokeswoman, turned whistleblower. It offers a glimpse into the propaganda apparatus of the most powerful drug enforcement agency in the land.
“I was used,” she says bluntly. “But one thing I don’t think they realized is I have a mind of my own. I’m not so naïve anymore.”
Her son Jason’s battles with heroin addiction sprung her into antidrug activism in the late 1990s, including founding a nonprofit referral organization for drug addicts and their families. The DEA came calling not long after and on their behalf she took to the national airwaves as spokeswoman, delivering her cautionary tales with schoolmarm earnestness. She was invited onto ‘Nightline’ to tell her story. The Oprah Winfrey show flew her out to Chicago for a guest appearance. She had her own radio show on a Dallas-based Clear Channel affiliate. She was quickly becoming the Nancy Grace of America’s drug war.
But as the DEA directed her to propagate evermore outrageous claims, Belita’s faith began to weaken. For one, an “education coordinator” implored her to weave anti-marijuana talking points into her narrative – despite the fact that it was heroin that nearly killed her son. They seemed more interested in locking people up than in helping patients. So when DEA agents offered Belita and Jason $10,000 per month to act as a confidential informant and hand over her patient files – a breach of federal law – it took her a little time to formulate an answer.
“I told them to go to hell.”
This saucy rebuke, combined with her increasingly strident pro-legalization stance, incited the wrath of her former associates within the DEA and the Plano Police Department, Belita claims. Eventually this culminated with Ms. Nelson being accused of using her foundations funds for personal use. Whether part of a retribution campaign or not, the charges never came close to sticking. The DEA in charge requested that the case be dismissed, as the evidence provided by law enforcement wreaked of a personal vendetta.
Nevertheless, the accusations left her foundation and professional reputation in shambles – though her decision to relocate to the Colorado Rockies is about more than just saving face. Her relocation comes on the heels of cryptic warnings from her few remaining allies within Texas law enforcement circles.
“They said: ‘you’ve got to get out of Plano, Belita. You’ve got a target on your back,’” she says, blowing into a coffee cup between her hands.” But I don’t care anymore. I’ve reached the point now where I just want the truth out.”
Where she once made her living cautioning citizens about the dangers of drugs, now she’s warning us about the dangers of the drug war.
“The amount of money tied up in this bogus war has corrupted just about every law enforcement agency from the DEA on down,” she says. “We need to break out of this boxed way of thinking if we’re serious about helping people suffering from addiction. It’s that simple.”