Metropolis: Wednesday, October 10, 2002
American in Paris

A local ex-prosecutor landed in a French jail for carrying ecstasy.


Little of the life that Jakob Banks left behind in Fort Worth hints at what now awaits him in a Paris jail.

Friends and associates described the 29-year-old former Tarrant County prosecutor as a skilled and personable lawyer with much promise. He graduated in 1996 from Texas A&M University, where he was a distinguished member of the fabled Aggie Corps of Cadets. Four years later, he earned a law degree from Texas Wesleyan University. The son of a well-known former Dallas prosecutor, he parlayed his legal connections and skills into a job as a misdemeanor prosecutor in Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry’s office.

Then, with little over a year’s experience, Banks announced late last year he was resigning to go into private practice. Records show he bought the old Parkway Beauty Shop on 8th Avenue and was remodeling it when, sometime in February or March, he vanished.

Rumors about his absence swirled through the courthouse for months before the French Embassy disclosed the sad truth about this American in Paris: Banks has been jailed in France since spring on a charge stemming from a drug seizure.

Remi Marechaux, a spokesperson for the French Embassy, said that Banks was arrested March 26 at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport after customs officials, conducting a random check, discovered that “he had with him 600 grams of ecstasy ‘’ — the ’90s-era party drug also known as XTC, hug drug, and Adam. How those 600 grams would translate on the street is a little fuzzy. But at 10 tablets per gram — a measure used by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — the seizure would easily make several thousand pills, each with a street value of $20 or more.

If convicted, Banks could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, said Emmanuel Gagniarre, another embassy spokeman.

In the French justice system, judges investigate crimes to determine whether accused persons should be tried, and the investigation into Banks’ actions is not close to an end.

“It could take six months, a year, a year and half,’’ Gagniarre said. “At the end of the day, he (the judge) could say this guy is not guilty, or I found this and this and he’s guilty.’’ The French government will “probably ask the U.S. authorities for some kind of background or information on this guy and that takes months.’’

Fort Worth Weekly tried to contact Banks and members of his family. A letter addressed to Banks at the jail in Villepinte was not answered. A letter to his father, Gerald A. Banks, also went unanswered. And the person who answered the phone at the home of Jake Banks’ mother hung up after a reporter identified himself and his reason for calling.

Banks has no criminal record in the United States that the Weekly found. His supervisor in the district attorney’s office said he had no indication that Banks had any substance abuse problems. “He came to work,’’ said assistant district attorney Richard Alpert, who supervises misdemeanor prosecutors. “He tried cases.’’

The Consular Affairs Bureau of the U.S. State Department helps Americans who face legal problems abroad and can provide information to the public about Americans in foreign jails. But Banks was apparently unwilling to let the bureau release information about his situation.

“My problem,’’ bureau spokesman Stuart Patt of Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview, “is we don’t have the ability to discuss cases unless we get a privacy waiver.’’

Banks’ personnel file, which the Weekly obtained under the Texas public information act, provides some insight into his professional mindset.

“A good prosecutor operates within legal boundaries to punish criminals who perpetrate crimes against our society,’’ Banks wrote in an application for an internship. “He recognizes the responsibility of protecting law-abiding citizens of our community and wholeheartedly embraces the challenges of upholding the law.

“My father was a first assistant district attorney in Dallas County. I have grown up with a healthy admiration of efforts the DA’s office utilizes to keep our society civilized. The internship education I want to experience is whether prosecuting criminals is the right career for me.’’

Applying for the $40,000-a-year job as a misdemeanor prosecutor, Banks wrote that he has “the characteristics needed to make a trial lawyer.’’

“I am very competitive and want convictions,’’ he wrote. “A good prosecutor gets convictions.’’

His resume also shows that he spent a semester studying abroad when he was an undergraduate, traveling extensively through England, France, Germany, Paris, and the Netherlands.

Banks was arrested in Paris, which is a four-hour drive to Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. Much of the ecstasy that makes its way to the United States is manufactured in the Netherlands, where XTC labs are as common as speed kitchens in some parts of this country, according to law enforcement.

“For the past three years, it (ecstasy smuggling) has just been a gigantic problem,’’ said Dean Boyd, a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs Service. “Our seizures are just going through the roof.’’

Last month in Houston, for example, federal officials unsealed indictments charging 34 persons in a smuggling operation that stretched from Houston to the Netherlands. Officials said that group was believed to be part of the largest ecstasy-trafficking organization in the world. Officials familiar with that operation said last week they were not familiar with the case against Banks.

As word of Banks’ arrest trickled through the Fort Worth legal community, friends and seasoned attorneys he used as references expressed shock and disbelief that the up-and-coming lawyer they knew would risk his career for drugs.

“He had a lot of promise,’’ said Mike Carnes, who, as first assistant district attorney in Dallas, holds the same job that Banks’ father once held. “I hate to see that happen to anyone but particularly someone who has always been a good person.’’

Banks listed Carnes, Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill, and Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson as references when applying for a job as a prosecutor.

Records show Banks worked as an intern in the prosecutors’ office before being hired full-time in October 2000. During his 14 months on the job, he won above-average marks for his prosecution of misdemeanors such as marijuana possession, DWI and assault. Alpert said Banks “was a better than average prosecutor in terms of trial skills.’’ Alpert said he did not know details of Banks’ case beyond hearing that “it was an arrest for drugs.’’

Blake Hedgecock, one of Banks’ classmates in law school, said he kept expecting his friend and golfing partner to make a surprise reappearance following his mysterious vanishing act. While that hasn’t happened, he’s not willing to count Banks out.

“I still think Jake is going to do just great things in the legal profession,’’ Hedgecock said. “He’s got a great personality. He’s likable. The sky’s the limit for him.’’

Grant Rosenberg, an American freelance writer working in Paris, contributed to this report.

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