Prosecutors in the Los Angeles suburb responsible for a huge share of the nation's wiretaps almost certainly violated federal law when they authorized widespread eavesdropping that police used to make more than 300 arrests and seize millions of dollars in cash and drugs throughout the U.S., reports USA Today. The violations could undermine the legality of as many as 738 wiretaps approved in Riverside County, Calif., since the middle of 2013. Prosecutors reported that those taps, often conducted by federal drug investigators, intercepted phone calls and text messages by more than 52,000 people.
Riverside courts and prosecutors approved almost one of every five U.S. wiretaps last year. Federal law bars the government from seeking court approval for a wiretap unless a top prosecutor has personally authorized the request. In Riverside, the district attorney turned the job of reviewing the applications over to lower-level lawyers. One legal expert called that decision “potentially catastrophic.”