• SNITCHING: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
  • U.S. Attorney General's Guidelines on the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources
  • Sarah Stillman, The Throwaways, The New Yorker (2012) (article on the use of juvenile informants)

Recent Blog Posts

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jailed Mexican mafia snitches receive $150,000 and leniency

From the Orange County Register: Money, cable TV, food delivery: How Mexican Mafia snitches lived like kings behind bars.  Here are a few excerpts:
"As two of the most prolific jailhouse informants in Orange and Los Angeles counties, Raymond Cuevas and Jose Paredes befriended suspects in jail and collected information in more than 30 criminal cases, according to a spreadsheet assembled by prosecutors. ...For their efforts, Cuevas and Peredes received more than $150,000 from local law enforcement agencies during an 18-month period ending in March, records show.

The pair enjoyed other perks, too, including cable TV in their cells and Del Taco food delivered by officers. Cuevas and Paredes also received leniency on criminal charges that could have sent them to prison for life, according to court transcripts and other records.

Thirty-nine-year-old Cuevas, known as “Puppet,” was arrested four times for armed robbery. His last arrest was on charges of possessing a loaded weapon, a possible third strike that could have sent him to prison for life. Instead, the informant received a deal that allowed him to plead no contest in 2013; he received credit for five years already served but no prison sentence.

For several years, Cuevas was the shot-caller for Latino inmates at Los Angeles’ North County Correctional Facility, according to a ruling from the Second District Court of Appeal. On one occasion, he informed his deputy handler that he had just ordered a knife attack on another inmate as part of a jail turf war, the ruling stated. No action was taken by Los Angeles County deputies to prevent the attack, which left the inmate seriously wounded, the ruling said.  Cuevas was not prosecuted for the attack, but two inmates who carried out the order were convicted, according to the appellate ruling."

"Outrageous government conduct" in stash-house stings

A federal judge has dismissed a conspiracy indictment against a defendant accused of participating in a drug robbery in which the ATF, working with a confidential informant, set up an elaborate and imaginary stash-house robbery sting.  Courts have traditionally been slow to invoke the "outrageous government conduct" doctrine, which protects defendants against government operations that are "grossly shocking" and that "violate the universal sense of justice."  But these increasingly common stash-house stings have brought the issue to the fore.  See L.A. Times story here.

In this case, the Court distinguished between permissible government efforts to infiltrate criminal organizations, and "manufacturing crime" in order to generate convictions.   From the opinion:

“The Court finds that the Government’s extensive involvement in dreaming up this fanciful scheme—including the arbitrary amount of drugs and illusory need for weapons and extra associates—transcends the bounds of due process and renders the Government’s actions outrageous.”

In particular, the Court objected to the fact that the ATF  knew nothing about the defendant Antuan Dunlap until he was brought into the scheme five days before the alleged robbery.

“Allowing after-the-fact knowledge . . . in a situation like this creates a perverse incentive for the Government. It encourages the government to cast a wide net, trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas—all without an iota of suspicion that a particular person has committed similar conduct in the past.”

While this case hinged on the fact that the government manufactured the robbery sting from whole cloth (the Court noted dryly that the total amount of drugs taken off the streets in such stings is "zero"), like many such cases the sting depended on a criminal informant who brought the defendants  to the government in the first place, and kept the operation going.  This model--of an undercover agent and/or an informant cooking up nonexistent crimes--may be coming in for new scrutiny.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 1,000 affidavits reveal an "informant mill"

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has published a series of in depth articles based on 1,329 affidavits filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh from 2009 through 2014.  "The affidavits reveal an informant mill in which suspects became informants and helped agents to bust others, who then in turn became informants aimed at other targets."  The series also includes stories regarding corrupt police, cases derailed by informants and  wrongful convictions.  From the Post-Gazette:

"The Post-Gazette has uncovered instances in which informants used to build federal cases were convicted murderers, liars or double agents working with both law enforcement and the targets. One informant with a violent past, used in a DEA case that ended in acquittal, wasn't put through the federal review process.
The results have included the indictment and incarceration of people whose lives were turned upside-down prior to their exonerations. Only nine people have been fully acquitted in federal court cases brought in Pittsburgh since 2009, but four of those not guilty verdicts involved shaky informants. Two of those exonerated defendants first spent years behind bars."

From the affidavits, the Post-Gazette constructed a picture of how often different federal agencies used informants in that jurisdiction.  On average, approximately 40 percent of the affidavits relied on informants, but agencies diverged. For example, an article entitled "Gathering and Analyzing Data," the Post-Gazette explained:

"Confidential informants were much more prevalent in drug cases. Of the 94 cases led by the Drug Enforcement Administration or its task forces, 60 were built using confidential informants. Thus nearly two-thirds of the DEA's cases were based on secret sources.  By contrast, the FBI used confidential informants in just under one-third of the 126 cases that stemmed from its affidavits. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used confidential informants in 13 out of 34 cases, or 38 percent, consistent with the average."

The last in the series here: Experts offer solutions to confidential informant problems.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More on the Orange County snitching scandal

The revelations that the California Orange County District Attorney's Office has been secretly using jailhouse snitches without disclosing information to defense counsel has led to some stunning developments, including dropped homicide cases and the release of a man held for two murders.  As Radley Balko at the Washington Post put it, "Incredibly, Orange County prosecutors appear to be ready to let accused murderers and other alleged felons go free rather than open up practices and tactics to scrutiny."  In an article entitled "Here is why an admitted killer walked free," the OC Register explains one case:

"Isaac John Palacios admits he shot and killed a rival gang member, pulling the trigger at least 15 times in a Santa Ana driveway. Last month, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a crime that often carries a life sentence.

But Palacios walked free hours later from the county jail. Despite the guilty plea, Orange County prosecutors agreed to release the 30-year-old gang member, giving him credit for time served, and dropping charges against him in a second gang killing.

The lenient deal is a casualty of the district attorney’s surreptitious use of jailhouse informants to gather information from suspects awaiting trial and the office’s tardiness in turning over evidence to the defense. This conduct came under legal attack this past year during the prosecution of Orange County’s largest mass killing case. ...

The lead prosecutor in the Palacios case, Marc Rozenberg, said he agreed to the deal, in part, because he didn't want another judge to review evidence of discovery and informant violations. One local judge already ruled prosecutors committed misconduct."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

HuffPost on DEA snitching debacles

In a two-part series about "the sketchiest things the DEA has done while waging the war on drugs," informant debacles take the lead in this Huffington Post article.  Here are a few of the headlines:

-The DEA once turned a teenager into a drug kingpin so he could act as an informant.

-The DEA allows informants to break the law, but have no records as to how often it happens.

-One of America's most notorious terrorists once served as a DEA informant.

-The DEA strung one informant along for 20 years with the promise of citizenship. She still hasn't received it.