Informants working undercover for the FBI, DEA, and other federal agencies in the ‘paid-for-snitching program’ have their own Powerball Lottery to take a chance at.
But the rules involve ‘dirty work at the crossroad’ because the informants don’t stand a chance of winning the Lottery cash unless they snitch on their fellow brethren.
For many years, federal informants have made millions in the ‘I-snitch-on-you game’ in exchange for court testimony against accused defendants in order for the informant to either have their long-term prison sentence significantly reduced or they outright win their freedom for testifying favorably for prosecutors in criminal cases, especially cases where dope trafficking was the crime itself.
The bigger the fish; the bigger the prize money.
The billion-dollar question is: can federal informants be trusted to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them, God?
U.S. Lawmakers are fighting to change the federal government informant system to alleviate the potential abuse of taxpayer’s funds in cases where the informants orchestrate a laundry list of lies to help FBI, DEA and ATF agents to make illegitimate criminal cases against accused defendants.
But here’s the lowdown on how federal criminal agencies have spent U.S. citizens’ tax dollars to cull information from informants.
Newly released audited government documents reported by the Inspector General (IG) at the Justice Department showed that not only were informants paid for information to the tune of $548 million by the FBI alone but that many informants also committed 22,800 crimes between 2011 and 2014, according to the Daily Dot and other news media outlets.
Government Agencies Can Legally Authorize Informants to Commit Crimes
In case the public doesn’t know, federal law enforcement agencies can legally authorize informants to commit crimes with the permission of their controlling agent, according to a 2015 audit by the General Accountability Office(GAO).
The GAO report lays the guidelines out in government terminology:
“Since 1980, the Guidelines have permitted agencies to authorize informants to engage in activities that would otherwise constitute crimes under federal, state, or local law if someone without such authorization engaged in these same activities.”
For example, in the appropriate circumstances, an agency could authorize an informant to purchase illegal drugs from someone who is the target of a drug-trafficking investigation.
Such conduct, the report states, is termed, “otherwise illegal activity.”
In particular, the guidelines prohibit agencies from authorizing an informant to participate in an act of violence, obstruction of justice, and other enumerated unlawful activities.
Released documents show the Feds spent a whopping $548 million of taxpayer money to pay off informants working for the FBI, DEA, and ATF, between 2011 and 2018.
In reference to DEA paying money to informants in the narcotics underworld in exchange for information on other criminals in the illegal trafficking industry former federal prosecutor William Cowden said in an article published by Bloomberg News, “If you’re giving out cash to people ratting out drug dealers it is quite possible that all you are doing is funding the next drug deal.”
Cowden defended the system’s practices of dealing with informants by explaining how informants and plea bargains have always been used as part of U.S. criminal justice. “We cut deals all the time; the system works that way,” the ex-prosecutor concluded.
Crimes Committed By Federal Informants
Earlier this year, unclassified government documents discovered FBI informants committed 9,600 crimes during the 2017 and 2018 time period. A bizarre crime happened last year when an armed militia group conspired with FBI and ATF informants to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer.
The ringleader Adam Fox claimed he was entrapped and wouldn’t have attempted to commit any crimes had it not been for the FBI informants. For example, defense attorneys representing the accused men said the FBI informants even purchased explosives to execute the job. The New York Times reported at least two FBI informants were involved with the Mob during the riot attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
American Greatness reporter Julie Kelly recalled in her piece about the New York Times story, “The FBI had at least one informant among the group of Proud Boys who marched on the Capitol on January 6.” Kelly continued to quote the New York Times article by saying, “The informant, according to confidential documents furnished to the paper, started working with the FBI in July 2020 and was in close contact with his FBI handler before, during, and after the Capitol protest.”
“The FBI also had an additional informant with ties to another Proud Boys chapter that took part in the sacking of the Capitol,” they wrote, Kelly reported in her article.
During recent Congressional testimony, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) activated a video montage of a man encouraging protestors in D.C. to rush into the Capitol Building on January 6.
When Rep. Massie asked Attorney General Merrick Garland if the man in the video was an FBI agent-provocateur, Garland declined to comment on the grounds the case was an ongoing investigation. Expect more intriguing details about the ongoing FBI matters related to the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.
IG 2016 Audit of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) denounced the government’s use of informants working in the U.S. and in foreign countries. The IG, after the completion of an exhaustive audit, issued a scathing report about the informant programs as riddled with problems and potential fraud.
“The DEA didn’t adequately oversee payments to its sources, which exposes the DEA to an unacceptably increased potential for fraud, waste, and abuse, particularly given the frequency with which DEA offices utilize and pay confidential sources,” the report indicated.
To make the point clearer, the Inspector General investigators said that from fiscal years 2011 to 2015, the DEA paid approximately $9.4 million to at least 800 former sources who were no longer providing information to the agency and that the agency failed to accurately track sources’ activities.
The IG further reported the DEA, “did not document proper justifications for all source payments.”
A DEA spokesman refuted the allegations saying they monitor payments to informants and track all progress related to information provided during investigations.
More disturbing evidence surfaced when the IG discovered the DEA condones the payments of “sub-sources,” namely the individuals who were recruited and paid by DEA’s informants.
The IG condemned the practice saying it, “increases the chance that individuals may be conducting unauthorized illegal activity on the DEA’s behalf.”
DEA claimed to have responded quickly to the audit by enforcing “notable changes to its policies and launched a formal confidential source coordination training programs.”
The IG report breaks down the funds doled out to informants:
FBI paid an estimated $294 million to informants beginning in 2012 up to 2018.
DEA paid $237 million between 2011-2015, while ATF paid around $17.2 million during 2012-2015 to informants.
Translated to yearly payments from 2012 to 2018 the FBI spent an average of $42 million on informant sources
Long-term informants comprised 20 percent of its intelligence relationships (Source: DOJ IG 2019)
The ATF paid $4.3 million annually to 1,855 informants from 2012-2015, which means each informant made $2,318 for successive years. (Source: DOJ IG report 2017).
DEA employed 18,000 informants, many earning up to $1 million.
“One federal agency, the DEA, had over 18,000 active confidential sources assigned to its domestic offices, with over 9000 of those receiving approximately $237million in payments for information or services provided to the DEA – between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2015 (Source: 2016 DOJ IG Report).
The IG report further sheds light on transportation employees moonlighting as government informants.
“During this audit, we found that between 2011 and 2015, the DEA actually used at least 33 Amtrak employees and eight TSA employees as sources, paying the Amtrak employees over $1.5 million and the TSA employees over $94,000.”
Another Amtrak employee was paid $962,615 between 2010 and 2015 to be a confidential source, which the IG called “a substantial waste of government funds.” The IG points out that the same information the DEA paid the informant for “could have been obtained by DEA at no cost through a joint task force with the Armtrak Police.”
This case exemplifies why closer oversight of federal agents and their informants is needed. Closer monitoring of payments that are made to informants could eliminate abuse of taxpayer money.
A group supervisory DEA agent in Atlanta, Georgia identified as Keith Cromer came under fire a few years ago over excessive payments made to a female informant. During a 2017 Congressional Oversight Committee hearing on confidential informants, then-Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said:
“A court released the testimony of one confidential informant in Atlanta who received $212,000 from the DEA from 2011 to 2013. She testified to a sexual relationship with the DEA supervisor Keith Cromer who allegedly convinced his subordinates to falsify the report to justify the payment.”
The discovery of the scandal hit full force when attorneys representing four men on several related narcotic charges fought to get them off the hook in Missouri. The men were identified as Dionne L. Gatling, Andre Alphonso Rush, Timothy Lamont Rush and Lorenzo Gibbs who were indicted based on the alleged information provided by the female informant at center stage of the brewing scandal.
Added: a St. Louis Federal in 2014, vehemently challenged the veracity of the female informant’s information that she gave the authorities, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.
Further, the attorneys argued, that the terrible misconduct of Atlanta-based DEA agents, particularly Keith Cromer, who had sex with the informant involved in their client’s cases and paid the woman a total of $212,000 of questionable taxpayer money should add into the judge’s decision to dismiss all charges against the accused drug dealers.
Defense attorneys argued to the judge that since the entire investigation began with DEA claims about what CS1 knew, and (that) those alleged claims were wholly or partially false, and that all evidence against their clients as a result of CS1 information provided to DEA agents who later obtained evidence from the wiretaps should be thrown out of court against their clients.
In court motions filed by attorneys the motion said the questionable information from the woman known as “CS1” served as the basis for the initiation of the DEA investigation against the accused men. The acronym “CS1” stands for ‘confidential source 1.’
“The supervisor allegedly had personal and sexual relationships with two confidential (female) sources, made improper payments to CS1 and falsified DEA reports to justify the payments,” an attorney said.
The attorneys separately explained how the female informant had, in fact, dealt with one of the men charged in the drug ring years earlier but further the attorneys said the informant had no current information about the specific defendant when she provided information to the DEA which gave the agents the opportunity to articulate a warrant to activate wiretaps on the man’s phone.
Added: The federal superseding charges against Gatling and Andre Rush allege they were two in the St. Louis area.
Prosecutors accused Gatling of ordering the shooting of Theodis Howard, 41, in St. Louis on April 5, 2010, allegedly because Howard cooperated in an investigation that led to a lengthy prison sentence for Gatling’s brother, Deron Gatling. Prosecutors further said Dionne Gatling and Andre Rush executed the conspiracy to kill Terrance Morgan, 41, also in St. Louis on May 2, 2013, because they suspected Morgan would cooperate with authorities against them.
DEA agent Keith Cromer testified under oath in Judge Sharon Padmore Mensah’s court that the relationship with the informant violated DEA’s policy prohibiting more than an “arm’s length relationship” with sources. Cromer insisted he never had sex with the female informant or falsified reports to justify $212,000 in payments to the woman.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mensah concluded that the testimony of DEA agent Keith Cromer who denied having an affair with the female informant was “not entirely credible,” in light of the testimony of the female informant indicating that she and Agent Cromer had sex, took trips together, including intimate photographs of Agent Cromer taken with the informant’s phone and the photo was left there on the phone for viewing.
Judge Mensah dimmed the defense attorneys’ hope of having the charges thrown out against their clients by ruling the attorneys hadn’t proved “that any government agent or any informant acting as a government agent deliberately or recklessly included a false statement in an affidavit that led to a wiretap in the case.”
In February 2019, all four defendants charged in the federal cases pled guilty; Dionne Gatlin got 27 years in prison while Timothy Rush pled for 15 years; and Andre Rush got 25 years behind bars in a federal joint. All three men pled guilty to an array of drug-related trafficking charges including admitting their guilt in the two murders. Lorenzo Gibbs pled guilty and received 15 years as well.
New Informant Laws Proposed
On April 4, 2017, U.S. Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Boston) introduced House Bill (H.R.) 1857, called the Confidential Informant Accountability Act. Lynch called for robust congressional oversight into the selection and use of confidential informants by the DEA, ATF, FBI, and other federal law enforcement agencies.
“Law enforcement agencies are spending millions of dollars on confidential informant programs and Congress does not have information on who these informants are or if they committed any crimes and whether they have been properly vetted,” Lynch said during the hearing at the Capitol.
Lynch also petitioned federal agencies to disclose the types of crimes their confidential informants have been committing and how much money they’ve been given.
“There is no accountability because it’s a cash business,” Lynch pointed out.
A DEA spokesman said at the time in 2017 that the agency has a specific office to investigate allegations of employee misconduct.
Citing prior incidents of questionable taxpayer funds paid to informants working to help investigators arrest other criminals the supporters of the bill explains what it all entails.
“This bill would provide increased transparency between executive agencies that employ confidential informants and Congress. This transparency is necessary to equip Congress with the information it needs to conduct meaningful oversight of these programs,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz, Policy Counsel of the Project on Government Oversight(POGO). So far, the Lynch bill appears in limbo but if it passes there will be an update on the matter.
At the University of California at Irvine, prominent law professor Alexandra Natapoff, and the author of a 2011 published book about informants, sums up the whole situation best when she said in a Bloomberg news article, “The issuance of bounties, rewards, and leniency is so secretive (that) the truth is we have no idea what the maximum rewards are,” Natapoff said.
“That intersection is a troubling aspect of our criminal system which makes it seems like justice is for sale.”
And, to add, court justice in America shouldn’t be for sale.
Criminal Justice Reporter Clarence Walker Can be Reached at: [email protected]