RENO — Facing new drug charges on top of an already long criminal history, James Corgan figured it would be best to cut a deal with authorities investigating drug-trafficking in northeast Nevada.
Corgan says state detectives assured him his identity would remain secret if he became a confidential informant, so he agreed in 2012 to lead them to a house in Elko where he routinely bought methamphetamine.
Days later, authorities raided the home, seized drugs and guns, and placed on the kitchen table a document that would turn Corgan’s life upside down: a search warrant affidavit that identified him as the snitch.
Corgan says he was severely beaten by other prisoners and almost died after his release from jail when he was shot in the stomach by a contract killer in January 2013.
He accuses sheriff deputies of participating in a conspiracy, at one point holding him at the same jail with the hit man who shot him, and at another locking him in the same cell block with the alleged drug dealer he fingered.
Corgan makes the accusations in a federal lawsuit recently filed in U.S. District Court in Reno seeking up to $1 million in actual and punitive damages from the state, Elko County and others.
The suit doesn’t suggest a motive for Corgan’s treatment. But it alleges authorities later tried to cover-up the wrongdoing, and that a deputy attempted to “buy off Corgan” by offering him a house and money “to keep him quiet.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Kelly Stuehling allegedly made the offer shortly after Corgan was shot “in hopes of eliminating and/or diminishing the liability” the defendants had subjected themselves to, said the lawsuit Elko lawyer Gregory Corn filed Dec. 31.
Elko County Deputy District Attorney Kristin McQueary said the county has no comment. Neither does the Nevada Attorney General’s office, which likely would defend the state in such a case, said Beatriz Aguirre, acting public information officer.
The drug bust netted nearly a pound of crystal meth worth more than $50,000 and at least five arrests. But two suspects skipped bail and remain at large.
Corgan, 31, has an extensive criminal background that includes dozens of arrests and three prison terms for drug and theft convictions. He told the Elko Daily Free Press in a jailhouse interview in July 2013 he started using meth when he was 13. He’s serving a three-year prison sentence at the Warm Springs Correctional Center in southern Nevada, according to the state Department of Corrections.
The lawsuit says he struck a deal with two Nevada Division of Investigation detectives in July 2012 to become an informant based on assurances his identity “would be held in strict confidence.”
Corgan told them he bought 4 ounces of meth at the residence on a daily basis for a year “never expecting that the confidentially promised him in front of his attorney.... would be so openly, notoriously and intentionally violated,” the suit said.
The accused drug dealer, Servando Munoz Cortez of California, was arrested Aug. 10, 2012 but disappeared before his arraignment in April 2013. So did the woman who lived at the raided home, Francisco Bautista Villano — whose daughter has two children fathered by Corgan’s brother, William, the suit said.
Villano doesn’t speak English so she telephoned William Corgan to help interpret the affidavit left behind. He told her it identified James Corgan as the informant, and she relayed that information to Cortez, according to the suit.
One detective acknowledged leaving a search warrant on the kitchen table after Cortez was arrested.
The lawsuit accuses Sheriff Jim Pitts, Undersheriff Clair Morris and Lt. Mike Silva of conspiring to place Cortez in the same cell block with “easy access to Corgan.”
Corgan was severely beaten by Cortez, who then hired Bryan Paige to kill Corgan, the suit said.
Paige, 28, was convicted in September 2013 of battery with a deadly weapon after initially being charged with attempted murder in the shooting that left Corgan disabled with a bullet lodged next to his spine.
After the shooting, Pitts “once again” placed Corgan in the same jail with Paige — “the very man who had ... attempted to murder Corgan,” the suit said. Terrified, Corgan didn’t sleep for three days until his mother contacted his lawyer, who notified the district attorney, who immediately removed Corgan “from this dangerous circumstance.”