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June 16, 2011

Posted by Alexandra Natapoff at 02:36 PM

Omaha murder trial sheds light on FBI criminal informants

One informant, Jorge Palacios, was a gang member suspected in a Los Angeles murder, and accused, although never charged, in the rape of a 13-year-old girl. The FBI paid him more than $300,000 over five years to help with drug investigations. The other informant, Cesar Sanchez, was caught dealing drugs. In exchange for allowing his auto shop to be used as the site of drug deals for the FBI to monitor, he earned between $50,000 and $100,000 and avoided deportation. This glimpse of the kinds of deals that the government strikes with criminal informants was on display in Omaha last week in the murder trial of Robert Nave, accused of killing Sanchez. The story, FBI tells of informant shooting, also reveals how law enforcement can be reluctant to probe the criminal behavior of their informants:

FBI agent Greg Beninato, who was Palacios' handler in Omaha, testified that the FBI knew that Palacios was the suspected driver and accomplice in the 2004 drive-by shooting of a rival gang member in Los Angeles, a charge for which he was recently arrested. Beninato also acknowledged that agents had heard accusations that Palacios may have been involved in the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl, though no charges were brought. At one point, Riley [the defense attorney] asked Beninato whether he questioned Palacios about the two cases in order to decide whether to continue using him as an informant. "No," Beninato said.

"Why not?" Riley asked.

"It's a fine line between getting involved in someone else's investigation," Beninato said. "I wasn't going to question him without the (investigating agencies') permission or their request to do so."

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