Fired drug unit secretary fell in love with convicted cocaine trafficker

Ex-chief for Broward state attoney's office drug unit faces probe

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The former chief secretary for the Broward County state attorney's office drug unit was fired this week after it was discovered that she was dating a man her unit previously prosecuted.

The drug unit where Ginger Downs, 49, worked is responsible for prosecuting hundreds of major crimes a year.

"She can't control who her heart falls in love with," her attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, told Local 10 News.

Downs' unit prosecuted Edward Barona for cocaine trafficking in the late 1990s, and he spent five years behind bars. The two are engaged to be married after a multi-year romance.

"She loves this man, and there's nothing wrong with that," Schwartreich said. "We can't control who we love."

It was that romance that led her bosses at the state attorney's office to fire her Thursday after 24 years on the job and start a criminal investigation into her actions.

"All this is unsubstantiated," Schwartzreich said. "She's being accused of somehow tipping off individuals with search warrants."

Schwartreich said Downs will be vindicated in the investigation.

"She did not do anything to tip off or give any information about any search warrants or any ongoing investigations," he said.

Barona was charged with cocaine trafficking and other crimes in 1996 and was released from prison in 2002 after being incarcerated for about five years.

Defense attorney and courthouse blogger Bill Gelin said if wrongdoing is found, there could be major fallout.

"It could have a huge impact, not only throughout the court cases and every drug case that the state has," Gelin said. "It could be a real credibility issue for the state attorney."

The state attorney's office isn't discussing the details of the case, saying only that it is an ongoing investigation.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is the lead agency in the investigation.