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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Yorker article on out-of-control FBI informant

Great article in this week's New Yorker by Evan Ratcliff, entitled The Mark: The FBI needs informants, but what happens when they go too far? It's about a longtime FBI/DEA informant named Josef Meyers who worked under the name Josef Franz Prach von Habsburg-Lothringen, claiming to be descended from Austrian royalty, who early in life was diagnosed with a violent "unspecified psychosis" and "latent schizophrenia."

The story focuses on one particular 'mark,' a former district attorney named Albert Santoro, who eventually pled guilty to "operating an unlicenced money-transmitting business," and who maintains that he was entrapped by von Habsburg into appearing as if he was engaged in money laundering. The piece includes jaw-dropping details about von Habsburg's operations, such as thousand dollar dinners at fancy restaurants designed to lure investors, and how he and his wife lived lives of staggering luxury and excess. The story also details the FBI's efforts over the years to protect its informant, including tens of thousands of dollars in payments, helping him avoid punishment for his own drug dealing and fraud, and even arresting a defense team's investigator when he got too close. Von Habsburg is currently in prison for failure to pay child support. A classic tale of a criminal informant who took the system for a wild ride, much like this one.