The New Yorker has an extensive article, The Throwaways , on the misuse of informants.
Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.
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Carlos Sagustume, the Guatemalan ex-soldier and drug dealer who became a DEA informant, has been paid $9 million for his work by the U.S. Government.
Sagustume, who was the prime informant in the Viktor Bout case, also reeled in Monzer al Kassar, whose 30 year sentence was upheld by the Second Circuit in September. Viktor Bout's lawyer questioned Sagustume about his role in the case. The New Yorker had this long and fascinating article on the elaborate sting and DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD.)
Sagustume said he has only been paid $250,000 so far for Viktor Bout, but he's hoping for more, likely in my view for a cut of any forfeiture proceeds. [More...]
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The New York Times has a fairly uninformative article in which it refers to the DEA "infiltrating" Mexican drug cartels and using some of them as informants. It mentions the current case involving the Iranian accused of an assassination plot against the Saudi Ambassador and the Chicago federal case of Jesús Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa co-leader Ismael Zambada-Niebla.
The Zambada-Niebla case is far more interesting. The gist is that Vicente says he was part of an immunity deal that encompassed not only Mexican lawyer/fugitive/indicted defendant Humberto Loya-Castro (Loya), who is an advisor to Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada-Niebla, and a participant in Sinaloa activity, but that all of them also had permission to carry on the cartel's drug trafficking activity. He also alleges that the DEA provided the same immunity from capture and prosecution, and permission to carry on Sinaloa business to Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada-Niebla, the two leaders of Sinaloa. [More...]
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Mother Jones has partnered with the University of California-Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program and compiled a fascinating report on the FBI's use of informants in the war on terror. The crucial question:
The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots—or leading them?
The number of informants has dramatically increased since 9/11:
The bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies, some paid as much as $100,000 per case, many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States.
They aren't just ratting out their partners in crime, they are setting them up.
The bureau's answer has been a strategy known variously as "preemption," "prevention," and "disruption"—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.
Really a good series and well worth reading.
This story out of Omaha is just unbelievable. Well, maybe not, after last year's revelation about Frank Pignatelli (see here and here.) But if two cases of using defense lawyers as snitches to make cases against their clients are a trend, this one needs to stop.
Terry L. Haddock, a 52 year old defense lawyer in Omaha, decided to wear a wire while visiting more than 30 times with Shannon Williams, an inmate at the Douglas County Jail in Omaha, and set him up for a money laundering Indictment. From today's news:
Bellevue Police Sgt. John Stuck testified last week that he equipped Haddock with a wire and recorded more than 30 jailhouse meetings between Williams and Haddock in 2009. In the meetings, Stuck said, Williams would use Haddock's cell phone to divvy up hundreds of pounds of marijuana and to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money.
In their first jail meeting, Stuck said, Haddock informed Williams that he was not acting as an attorney and "would not do any legal work whatsoever for Mr. Williams." Williams disputed that. He said he hired Haddock while he was still out of jail, during his supervised release from a crack- cocaine-dealing conviction.
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The U.S. has been importing snitches from the Mexican cartels into the U.S., providing them with homes and new lives. Of course, some will be discovered. What happens next? Murder on the front lawn.
But in order to fight the drug traffickers, federal anti-narcotics agents have brought Mexican cartel members north of the border, to use them to gather intelligence and build cases.
ICE is arranging visas for them. And not playing nice with other law enforcement agencies, contributing to the violence: [More...]
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I think I found my new BFF. Say hello to the brand new "The Snitching Blog", by Loyola Law Professor Alexandra Natapoff. Its tagline is: "A comprehensive resource on criminal informants: legal developments, legislation, news stories, cultural reactions, commentary and more...."
Professor Natapoff is an award-winning scholar and a nationally-recognized expert on snitching in the criminal justice system. Prior to joining the faculty she served as an assistant federal public defender in Baltimore.....She clerked for the Honorable David S. Tatel, US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, and for the Honorable Paul L. Friedman, US District Court, Washington, DC.
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Last week I wrote about Ohio criminal defense lawyer Frank Pignatelli, who according to news reports in Ohio, was about to get indicted in a drug case and got himself off the hook by ratting out his clients, which resulted in Ohio obtaining 30 convictions. One former client got 15 years.
I was not happy to learn Pignatelli moved to Colorado, obtained a law license and was representing defendants in federal drug cases.
Apparently, either was the Colorado disciplinary counsel. They have issued a press release advising that they have taken action against Pignatelli to suspend his license in Colorado because of allegedly fraudulent statements in his application. Fox31 Denver has the report. [More...]
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This is an amazing story. Frank Pignatelli was a criminal defense attorney representing drug defendants in Akron Ohio. He got busted for helping his clients buy stash houses and faced a criminal indictment.
According to court records, Pignatelli was facing his own indictment as a co-conspirator when he agreed to work undercover for federal drug investigators more than three years ago.
With Pignatelli's help, federal agents have arrested 30 people from Akron and Cleveland, and seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana and cocaine, along with cash and property totaling more than $3 million.
He turned informant, and made 30 cases for the Government, including some against his clients. The latest defendant, a former client of his, got 15 years in prison.
Pignatelli got his own case dismissed in exchange for his cooperation. He's still got a law license. He moved his practice to, of all places, Denver (I've never heard of him before today.) In fact, he's representing defendants in federal court, including those charged in drug cases. [More...]
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Barack Obama's Transition Chief John Podesta says stem cell research and drilling are among the top George W. Bush-issued executive orders he will reverse when taking over the White House.
Seems like a good time to start a list. What executive orders or other Bush-authorized decisions would you add to that list?
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A federal judge in Cleveland has ordered 15 inmates released from long prison terms and more may be coming, due to an DEA informant's lies.
Collectively, the men have served at least 30 years behind bars. They were sentenced to a combined 86 years. Federal public defender Dennis Terez called the release of so many people at one time unprecedented.
Fallout from the case is expected to spread beyond the federal courthouses in Cleveland and Akron, where the men were convicted of dealing crack cocaine in Mansfield.
Uncorroborated snitch testimony is inherently unreliable and our system has depended on it for far too long.
The case is a blow to the federal justice system, which relies heavily on informant-based testimony, lawyers said. The men, some with no prior run-ins with the law, were given long prison sentences based almost exclusively on the word of informant Jerrell Bray and Lee Lucas, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who supervised Bray.
An investigation is ongoing into the conduct of the DEA Agent Lee Lucas who supervised the informant.
Also revealing is that most of the inmates to be released pleaded guilty. Here's why. [more...]
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[Note: This is a long post, covering the issues of the guidelines, mandatory minimums, the informant system of sentence reduction and the need for Congress to act to change the law.]
The U.S. Sentencing Commission will vote today on whether to make the recently enacted small (two level) guideline reduction for crack cocaine offenses retroactive so that some of the 19,500 inmates currently serving federal crack sentences can benefit from it. It is widely expected they will vote for retroactivity and I'll update and bump this post when they do.
The thing to remember is, this doesn't solve the problem. The much bigger problem is with mandatory minimum sentences. Only Congress can change those. Neither yesterday's Supreme Court decisions nor the guideline reduction addresses this problem. Today, like yesterday, judges are powerless to go below the 5 or 10 (or in some cases 20) year mandatory minimum sentence unless the defendant cooperates with the Government and the Government asks the judge to impose a lower sentence. The judge can't do it on his own -- or at the request of a defendant. That's just wrong-headed.
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