Metropolis: Thursday, February 25, 2004
Enforcing the Law in a Different Way

Ex-prosecutor arrested in Paris received a lighter sentence after helping bust a drug ring.

By Dan Malone

When French police arrested Jakob Banks for muling a load of ecstasy through the Paris airport two years ago, the former Tarrant County prosecutor had to know his choices were few. If he helped authorities, he might expect leniency. If he refused, he might languish in a foreign jail.

As it turns out, Banks helped police on two continents bust up an Amsterdam-to-Phoenix smuggling operation that, according to news reports, resulted in the seizure of more than $2 million in ecstasy. French and German news agencies report that Banks, who an official said had faced up to 10 years in prison, instead received a sentence of three and a half years.

It’s not clear whether Banks remains in jail or whether the $1 million he was ordered to pay the French customs service must be paid before his release. A French Embassy spokesman familiar with Banks’ case did not respond to messages left by Fort Worth Weekly. Banks’ father, Gerald A. Banks, a former first assistant district attorney in Dallas County, also was unavailable.

However, by the time Banks was tried last fall, he had already served half of the sentence he ultimately received. Stuart Pat, a spokesman for the Consular Bureau of the U.S. State Department, the agency that helps Americans who face legal problems abroad, said that France, like the United States, gives prisoners credit for good behavior and time spent in jail awaiting trial.

Banks, a 2000 graduate of Fort Worth’s Texas Wesleyan University law school, resigned from his job as a misdemeanor prosecutor for Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry in December 2001, saying he wanted to go into private practice. Just three months later, however, the former prosecutor was in need of a defense attorney himself.

Banks was arrested during a random drug check on March 26, 2002, at Charles de Gaulle airport. Police, according to published reports, confiscated letters documenting drug shipments to Arizona and 600 grams of ecstasy hidden in a pair of Banks’ boxer shorts. The Agence France Presse reported that the investigation eventually led to the seizure of 16 kilograms of ecstasy valued at $2.2 million.

AFP also reported that Banks had not only helped French police but had “collaborated with the justice [system] of his own country.’’ The nature of his cooperation, though, is unclear. The news service wrote that the smuggling operation involved two other men, both of whom have been sentenced to prison in the U.S. One man was identified as a former college classmate, the other as someone the classmate introduced Banks to during a ski trip in Colorado five years ago. The Weekly has not been able to locate either man or determine what charges they may have faced.

Banks’ involvement in the drug operation, according to AFP, came “in a moment of weakness’’ brought on by mounting debt.

“I realize that I had underestimated my financial needs to become an attorney,’’ the agency quoted Banks as saying. “I had debts, a student loan, as well as a real estate loan to pay back.’’ Tarrant County records show that Banks had purchased the old Parkway Beauty Shop on Eighth Avenue, which was being remodeled when he was arrested in France.

According to his personnel file in the DA’s office, Banks had traveled throughout England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University. His role in the drug deal several years later apparently played off his travels: Banks told the judge he was “in charge of finding a way to send the drug’’ but was not involved in actual sales.

Officials with the State Bar of Texas said Banks’ license to practice law was suspended on Sept. 3, 2003, for failure to pay dues and a professional tax. They also said it is far from clear how his case might affect his ability to practice law in the future.

“I don’t know that we’ve received any information about this,’’ a state bar spokesman said. “It’s probably not on the Paris radar screen to send something to the State Bar of Texas.’’

Banks also told French officials that his own drug use was a factor in his decision to leave the district attorney’s office.

“I consumed ecstasy on a very regular basis,’’ he told a French magistrate. “At some point, I took so much of it that it negatively affected my work, and I had to resign from the post of public prosecutor ... .’’

But his former supervisor, Richard Alpert, said prosecutors saw no indication that Banks had a substance abuse problem.

“His work load and work quality had not suffered at the time he left this office,’’ Alpert said. “It came to me as a surprise that he had left. He [just] stated that he wanted to be his own boss.’’

Cècile Satin, a graduate journalism student at the University of North Texas, contributed to this report.

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