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WILL CLINTON NOMINATE CHIEF OF N.Y. POLICE TO LEAD DEA?

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New York State Police Superintendent Thomas Constantine, whose force is embroiled in an evidence-tampering scandal, is expected to be nominated to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, Clinton administration officials say.

Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday the nomination could be announced by the end of the week, ending a four-month search for a new DEA administrator.If confirmed by the Senate, Constantine would take over a 3,500-agent organization with a presence in 53 countries, including all 50 states.

He would succeed Robert Bonner, a Bush administration holdover and former federal judge who left Oct. 29 to join a private law firm.

Constantine's current 4,000-officer force has been dogged by an 18-month investigation of alleged evidence-tampering by police investigators. It has led to the overturning of two convictions, and authorities believe dozens more eventually may be thrown out.

The cases include the murder of a family of four near Ithaca, N.Y., and two other murders, as well as armed robbery, drug and weapons possession, arson and carjacking. At least three troopers have been imprisoned, and three others face such charges as perjury, evidence tampering and official misconduct.

Constantine has conceded that the scandal has hurt the force's reputation but said in June that applicants still were "knocking down the doors to get in."

The 55-year-old Constantine, a 32-year veteran of the state police force who was confirmed as superintendent in February 1987, did not immediately return a call to police headquarters in Albany, N.Y., late Tuesday.

In November, he confirmed that federal officials had approached him about taking the job and said that the Clinton administration probably sought him out because of his department's drug-fighting activities.

He also has worked closely with new FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Freeh is said to have pushed for him to become DEA administrator.