The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for years considered Chad Scott a golden boy among its special agents, a prolific narcotics officer who earned countless plaudits for the DEA’s New Orleans field division. Others knew him as a champion waterskier, a tan, blond boss of the single ski.

His legend extended to the world of drug traffickers, where Scott styled himself the “white devil,” a ruthless cop who strong-armed informants and boasted to suspects that he was “the baddest (mother)” along the Interstate 12 corridor.

One dealer loathed Scott so much that he hatched a plan to have the agent executed for $15,000.

Scarface, a popular Houston rapper, name-checked Scott in a controversial album that taunted the DEA — music the brash agent liked to play at high volume following drug arrests.

Some colleagues, though, thought Scott — now at the center of a widening investigation — played fast and loose with the rules, even comparing him to the crooked detective played by Denzel Washington in the movie “Training Day.”

Attorneys for some of his targets share that view.

“I’ve always felt that he was sort of off the books, that he was a guy who would go to extremes that I felt violated a sense of equal justice,” said Arthur “Buddy” Lemann III, a veteran defense attorney who recently accused Scott of committing “outrageous misconduct” in a federal drug case. “There’s got to be some sense that you can only go so far, and Chad Scott has always been right on the periphery of that — if not overstepping it.”

But some of Scott’s law enforcement brethren say he’s one of the best agents they’ve ever worked with.

“I knew Chad Scott, and still know him, to be a fine, upstanding public servant whose dedication has been an overwhelming asset to this community,” said defense lawyer Matt Coman, a former federal prosecutor who worked closely with Scott for years. “His work has gone a long way toward continuing to eradicate the scourge of illegal drugs in this community. He’s a fantastic person, a fantastic agent — a credit to that agency.”

Whether Scott is a rogue officer or an aggressive but outstanding agent, his storied career has been turned upside down in recent weeks, as Scott has found himself in the middle of a sprawling investigation into misconduct on a multiple-agency drug task force that he led.

The criminal inquiry, taken over recently by the FBI, has focused on several sheriff’s deputies who served on the task force and are suspected of peddling drugs and stealing cash seized in at least two suburban parishes.

But Scott is also in the crosshairs, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

The DEA has declined to comment on Scott’s status, refusing even to say whether he still works for the agency. But three law enforcement sources confirmed last week that Scott has been stripped of his gun and badge and suspended from duty.

The suspension marks at least the fourth time Scott has been disciplined at the DEA, according to law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

It’s exceedingly rare for federal officers to face criminal charges, and it’s not clear yet whether the government intends to charge Scott — or what it might charge him with. It is also unclear whether any DEA agents other than Scott are being investigated by the FBI.

Scott did not respond to messages seeking comment last week.

Along with the criminal probe, the DEA also has launched a sweeping internal investigation into the task force led by Scott that involves both the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General.

Internal investigators have been working intensively at the DEA’s New Orleans Field Division, which saw a shakeup last month when Keith Brown, who headed the office’s four-state operation, was reassigned amid the spiraling scandal to DEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Changes in policies

The scandal could have far-reaching effects on federal and state drug cases, past and present, around the New Orleans area. It already has prompted significant changes in the DEA’s local policies for handling evidence and, according to an agency memo, even security protocols at the agency’s Metairie office on Causeway Boulevard.

Two members of the DEA task force — former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputies Johnny Domingue and Karl E. Newman — have been booked on a long list of conspiracy and drug distribution charges.

Domingue, who has given extensive interviews to law enforcement since his Jan. 26 arrest, pleaded guilty on Friday to four counts, admitting he conspired with Newman to steal an array of narcotics and cash from suspects and DEA evidence lockers.

Multiple sources said more arrests are in the offing, and court documents filed in connection with Domingue’s guilty plea describe the role of an unnamed law enforcement official in the alleged scheme.

The fallout from the scandal almost certainly will include legal challenges brought by defendants in cases involving Domingue, Newman and, if he is charged, Scott, who has worked with the DEA for 17 years and been involved in some of the agency’s most notable busts.

The case also has opened an unusual window into the sometimes blurry line that separates narcotics officers from the underworld of drug dealers and snitches whom they rely on for tips.

Some of Scott’s colleagues began to question his allegiances more than a decade ago, according to law enforcement officials, and they alleged on multiple occasions that Scott flagrantly disregarded DEA policies. Those claims prompted internal inquiries that typically absolved Scott of the most serious charges, such as allowing his informants — the agency refers to them as “confidential sources” — to continue dealing drugs.

Scott once was suspended for allowing an informant, Shawn N. LaBee, to use his own money as a so-called “flashroll” — cash shown to a dealer to establish bona fides during a drug deal. That practice violates DEA policy.

Records reviewed by The New Orleans Advocate show the DEA and Louisiana State Police received a citizen complaint as early as 2004 that Scott had been “supplying narcotics” to an individual. The complainant, a Washington Parish woman, claimed to have witnessed Scott taking drugs from a residence after an arrest.

“He seizes a lot of dope and a lot of cash, and he makes his managers look good,” said one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Case-makers are protected.”

The authorities appear to be reinvestigating several of Scott’s cases — past and pending — as well as examining allegations that he has planted drugs and improperly recruited informants from a halfway house. One case being scrutinized involves the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars seized in a recent drug interdiction, said another law enforcement official familiar with the probe.

Drawn to narcotics work

Scott began his law enforcement career in Tangipahoa Parish, where he was hired as a sheriff’s deputy in the early 1990s. Soon, he was assigned to narcotics, making high-profile busts and earning a reputation as an agent who could bring home the big case and, crucially, the big seizure.

“I got to know Chad Scott when I was an assistant district attorney, probably in 1994, my first year,” said Daniel Edwards, the current sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish and brother of Gov. John Bel Edwards. Daniel Edwards, who prosecuted a large number of drug cases, remembered Scott as a standout cop.

“If my memory serves, he made more cases than any other agent at (the Sheriff’s Office),” Daniel Edwards said. “Certainly, the bigger cases, the bigger seizures tended to be his.”

The exact dates of Scott’s tenure with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office are unclear; Daniel Edwards’ attorneys said he inherited almost no personnel files from his predecessor, Ed Layrisson, when he took office in 2004.

Scott had left for the DEA years before that, but the Sheriff’s Office still periodically received complaints about him, according to a former office employee. “Daniel Edwards’ standard response was that he works for the federal government,” the former employee said.

Scott testified last year that he began working on the DEA task force when he was still a sheriff’s deputy. He said he left the Sheriff’s Office after nine years to join the federal agency.

For a time, the task force was led by DEA Special Agent Dave “Chicken” Gorman, who considered Scott a model agent.

“I wish I’d had four or five just like him,” Gorman, who is now retired from the agency, said in an interview. Scott wrote good case reports, brought strong cases and rarely had to be questioned by superiors or prosecutors, Gorman said.

By December 1998, court records show, Scott was working in Houston, where he was assigned soon after he was hired by the DEA. There, he quickly found himself in the middle of a politically charged case the DEA and Houston police were pursuing against Houston rap mogul James Prince, owner of a major record label called Rap-A-Lot. Scott and another DEA agent, Johnny Schumacher, were assigned to the case.

During the investigation, Prince and others made allegations of civil rights violations and racial profiling in the DEA’s handling of the case; their complaints found an audience with U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Waters sent a letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno, who halted the probe in 1999.

Prince’s complaints also found their way into the label’s music, especially in two songs by Scarface, the rapper, who took shots at the DEA and police, naming Schumacher in one song and including a reference to “Chad” in another. Though the reference was oblique, DEA officials made clear in congressional hearings that they believed the song was calling out Scott.

Back to Tangipahoa

The DEA investigated Schumacher and Scott for several alleged transgressions. Schumacher ultimately was cleared, but Scott received a letter of reprimand because a gold necklace confiscated during the DEA’s probe of Prince was found in his desk, according to congressional testimony.

Sometime after that, Scott, still a DEA agent, returned to his old stomping grounds and began working cases in Tangipahoa Parish. He reconnected with Daniel Edwards, who was still in the District Attorney’s Office. When Edwards became sheriff in 2004, he began working more closely with Scott.

“The working relationship probably got closer,” Edwards recalled. Edwards frequently assigned one or two of his deputies to the DEA task force, a common arrangement in areas around the country. And the group kept making cases.

“I have never known him not to be an effective agent,” Edwards said of Scott. During that time, the sheriff added, he never heard allegations of impropriety.

Edwards said he and Scott were friends but only through work.

“I considered Chad a personal friend, yes. But I have never been to his house. I have never bought him Christmas gifts. I don’t know when his birthday is,” Edwards said. “When you work with someone enough, you can become close to him and consider him a friend.”

A fresh complaint against Scott landed in U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s New Orleans office last fall. It came from Laurie White, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge, and was accompanied by an email Scott sent her on Sept. 25 from his government account.

The special agent, greeting the judge as “Laurie,” chided her for her acquittal last summer of an accused cocaine and heroin dealer, a case Scott had put together. In the email, Scott contrasted White’s verdict in that proceeding with her reaction to an unrelated break-in that month at her French Quarter home — an incident in which her husband was attacked in the courtyard.

White had told WVUE-TV that New Orleans police — though armed with video — minimized the incident by booking the suspect, Joshua Stemle, on municipal misdemeanor charges only.

Scott, in his email, drew a comparison to the case of Theltus Williams, a man White acquitted in a bench trial in June that featured video evidence of drug purchases by a confidential informant. He told the judge he found her criticism of the New Orleans Police Department to be ironic.

White declined to provide Scott’s email to The Advocate. But she said she took its sardonic condolences over her husband’s assault as a form of intimidation. In an interview, she called the email “inappropriate” and acknowledged filing the complaint against Scott.

‘Reasonable doubts’

White’s acquittal of Williams drew media criticism and an angry rebuke from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

In her written ruling, the judge didn’t spell out her reasons for the verdict in the face of evidence that included marked DEA drug-buy cash found in a search of Williams’ home and rare testimony from a confidential informant.

“Every molecule of my being wanted to ignore the reasonable doubt that I had at the close of the trial,” she wrote in her one-page ruling. White also professed a “great respect for the lawyers in this case, as well as DEA Agent Chad Scott and the other agents in this matter.”

But White said in the interview that she didn’t believe Scott’s testimony when he insisted nothing had been offered to the informant, Luke Matthews, for helping nab Williams or for testifying at his trial.

Matthews frequently brought cases to Scott, and he testified that he was hustling for a payoff — de facto immunity from possible drug charges related to a 2009 bust in Tangipahoa Parish that sent him back to prison, but only on a probation violation. That break was thanks to Scott, Matthews testified.

Prosecutors had assured Williams’ attorneys before the trial that they hadn’t offered the informant anything. And Scott testified that he didn’t seek new drug charges against Matthews only because a confidential informant who helped bust Matthews had himself picked up a new drug charge.

“I had reasonable doubts,” White said, citing what she described as conflicting accounts between the informant and the agent.

“A witness was believed over him,” she said of Scott.

White also said the video was not enough to convict Williams based on three taped drug buys spanning more than a year. “The video was impossible to understand, and there were no transcripts of the minute-by-minute transactions. In the video, you do not see the drug transactions occurring,” White said.

She said she declined to spell out her suspicions of Scott in her written ruling, as a precaution.

“I didn’t want to affect the future of an agent for maybe not presenting a good case,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about who I believe or disbelieve because it could affect cases in the future.”

Staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this report. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian; Faimon A. Roberts III, @faimon; and John Simerman, @johnsimerman.