Monday, July 19, 2010

Deep Throat double cross


The covert identity of Deep Throat, the informant who blew the whistle on the Watergate scandal, remained a secret for more than 30 years. The times have changed. Today, the government is treating informants as disposable sources of information, often jeopardizing their identities and lives. Considering this modus operandi, how many reliable sources of information will be willing to cross over to the other side of the looking-glass in the future?

Throwaway people

Deep Throat was introduced to the public by the Washington Post’s reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their 1974 book “All The President's Men”. Bernstein kept the secret of Deep Throat’s identity even from his then-wife Nora Ephron. The ex-wife would find her own celebrity as a brilliant, Academy Award nominated writer and director ("When Harry Met Sally," "Silkwood," “Sleepless in Seattle," “Julie and Julia”). Nora Ephron became obsessed with figuring out the mystery. Years earlier, Ephron served as an intern in the White House – now she was trying to unlock the secrets of the Nixon administration. Ephron eventually concluded that Deep Throat was FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt. On May 31, 2005, a Vanity Fair magazine article blew the lid off the 30 year old conundrum, also naming Felt as the mystery man behind the Watergate floodgates.

In this day and age, informants can no longer rely on the government for the same secrecy and protection. FBI’s guidelines state, "The United States government will strive to protect your identity but cannot promise or guarantee either that your identity will not be divulged..." Having been squeezed out like a lemon, they are dead men walking. Their only hope is to walk fast. The mission of using informants as the sources has been perverted when they become the recipients of law enforcement information, instead. One of the first cases that showcased this problem involved the Godfather of Boston’s Irish mob, Whitey Bulger. After becoming a confidential informant, Bulger and his mob associate Flemmi managed to corrupt their FBI handlers. They lavished gifts upon FBI Supervisors John Morris, his partner James Ring and Agent John Connolly from what they nicknamed “the X fund”.

With these bribes, mobsters bought 30 years of protection from the law by the very agents entrusted with upholding it. FBI agents disclosed identities of informants to the mobsters, ensuring that no one lived to tell about their crimes. FBI quite literally allowed these criminals to get away with murder, many times over.

Wrongful death lawsuits were brought against the federal government by families of victims, tortured and murdered by the mob as the result of being exposed as FBI informants. The FBI was ordered to pay McIntyre’s family $3.1 million for his wrongful death. It took the family 22 years to prove that the FBI’s mishandling of its informants caused McIntyre to be brutally murdered. In its infinite arrogance, the government had the audacity to appeal the ruling and rightfully lost.

The McIntyre lawsuit was the first of 17 cases filed against the government in the Bulger matter. In May of 2009, the government was ordered to pay the families of Michael Donahue and Edward Halloran almost $8.25 million for their murders. In June of 2009, the federal government was ordered to pay $6.25 million dollars to the family of Richard J. Castucci, who was shot in the head after the mobsters discovered he was an informant.

Boston Wrongful Death: Government Ordered to Pay $6.25 Million to Family of Revere Club Owner Murdered by Mob

The mobsters executed many others, such as Roger Wheeler (murdered for refusing to sell his company to gangsters), Debra Davis (Flemmi’s girlfriend, strangled by Bulger because she knew too much about the mobsters’ cozy deal with the FBI), Arthur “Bucky” Barrett (a bank robber, murdered because Bulger wanted to take his money), Deborah Hussey (the teenage daughter of Flemmi’s girlfriend, whom he had been sexually molesting – Bulger choked the teenager with a rope). FBI agent Connolly was convicted on federal racketeering charges in 2002 for protecting mobsters Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning Bulger to flee just before his indictment. Thanks to Connolly, Bulger is still at large and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Flemmi is serving a life term in prison for 10 murders.

In his federal court testimony, Flemmi stated that former Boston FBI supervisor James Ring “was aware of what we were doing. He condoned it.” Flemmi explained that Ring and his partner, John Morris, treated gangsters as if they were FBI agents,” stating, “It’s like we were equals.”

Bulger Case Changed FBI's Role With Informants

This exposure rocked the FBI to the core and changed the agency’s guidelines in dealing with informants. "The unfortunate thing is that when you have something like this, there tends to be an overreaction," says former FBI assistant director Barry Mawn. It’s difficult to imagine the possibility of “overreacting” to murder caused by the agency whose mission is to protect the citizens from crime.

Tweedledum and TweedleDEA

In spite of the escalating violence on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, the mood is not too somber at the DEA. Their idea of “fun” ended up costing prosecutors a case against a suspected drug trafficker after it was revealed that a DEA agent forced the Mexican-born suspect to pose for a booking photo wearing a sombrero and holding a Mexican flag. Once his attorney asked the prosecution for a copy of the photo, his client was immediately offered a plea deal. This allowed the suspect to avoid a possible 20-year sentence in a cocaine-related case. DEA spokesperson told ABC News the photo was taken but "no longer exists." Apparently, neither does common sense at the DEA.

Prosecutors Release Drug Suspect Forced to Wear Sombrero in DEA Photo

ICE cold corruption

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a relatively young agency that sprang up in a tortured birth of the Department of Homeland Security. In 1957, Charlton Ogburn, Jr. uttered a quote that is often attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter and could be just as easily attributed to today’s DHS agents: “We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

ICE is heavily mired in corruption, which is exemplified by a slew of recent high profile cases. Richard Padilla Cramer, veteran ICE agent pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and is awaiting sentencing on February 18, 2010. He is facing 20 years in prison for supplying members of the Mexican drug cartel with confidential law enforcement information obtained from the computer systems of ICE and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as trafficking more than 600 pounds of cocaine from Panama to Spain.

Cramer was reportedly selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers, which also protected his interests as a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine. He was caught when an informant showed the authorities printouts from law enforcement databases, provided to major drug dealers by Cramer. He is being held at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Miami, Florida.

Federal agent faces prison for tipping off traffickers

Constantine Peter Kallas, former Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE, is also awaiting sentencing. Federal grand jury indicted Kallas and his wife for bribery, money laundering, federal worker's compensation fraud, and other federal charges in connection with accepting payments to adjust the immigration status of aliens. According to the government’s filings, Kallas and his spouse received thousands of dollars from 45 illegal aliens and 2 legal permanent residents in exchange for immigration benefits. They were arrested at the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, where authorities believed they were in the process of accepting another bribe. Kallas is being held at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), his wife was released on $ 200,000.00 dollar bond. If convicted, the couple faces a statutory maximum penalty of life in federal prison.

Superseding Indictment Charges Couple With 75 Counts In Connection With A Scheme To Take Bribes From Immigrants Seeking Citizenship

Former U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said in a written statement: "As a law enforcement official, Mr. Kallas abused his position in the Department of Homeland Security simply to line his own pockets."Roy M. Bailey is another high-ranking DHS/ICE official indicted by a federal Grand Jury for multiple counts of bribery, conspiracy and extortion. Bailey misused his position as the Assistant District Director of the late Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and thereafter as the Director of Field Operations of ICE in Detroit by taking bribes in return for immigration benefits. This included Bailey securing unjustified releases of detainees from ICE custody and arranging sham marriages for immigration purposes.

Bailey was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to defraud the United States and misprision of felony. Charges against him carried maximum sentence of up to 68 years in prison and fines of over $1 million. The sentence he received hardly matches the severity of his crimes and the shame he brought upon the agency. In March of 2009, Bailey was sentenced to a puny 37 months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $30,000. He is serving time in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Terminal Island, California and is scheduled to be released on March 20, 2012. Prosecutor Terrence Berg stated, "Today's prison sentence should be a lesson to any who would misuse public power for personal gain." It’s hardly a lesson, since the sentence clearly did not match the severity of Bailey’s betrayal of public office.
Former Assistant Director Of U.S. Immigration Sentenced For Bribery And Conspiracy To Defraud The United States

One of the charges against Bailey included his failure to report that one of his employees, former ICE Detention Officer Patrick Wynne stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from immigration detainees over the course of several years. Ironically, Wynne received a longer sentence than Bailey, having been sentenced to 57 months in prison. Inexplicably, Wynne was released on March 13, 2009, having served only a portion of his sentence.

Yet another veteran ICE Agent, Pedro Cintron, was indicted on 14 counts, including theft, disclosing the name of a confidential informant, making false statements to authorities and taking bribes for bringing illegal immigrants into the U.S. Cintron worked as a federal agent for more than 25 years. He was working as a federal undercover agent investigating an Ecuadorean-Chinese smuggling ring. Cintron crossed over to the other side and impeded authorities by protecting a smuggler from being arrested.

Immigration Agent Charged With Taking Kickbacks

After being indicted, Cintron was placed on paid (that’s right, paid) leave from his ICE job. He was facing a maximum sentence of 57 years in prison. As a result of a plea bargain, Cintron was charged only with “receiving a gratuity by a public official” and received a sentence of only 2 years behind bars. He will be out of prison by May 11, 2011.

Former Ice Agent Pleads Guilty In Kickback, Obstruction Scheme

Daphiney Kimberly Caganap is another high-ranking federal official convicted of corruption. Caganap served as the Port Director at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (the largest and busiest land border crossing in the U.S.), headed intelligence operations and later became the Port Director for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Detroit Metro Airport. After being indicted, Caganap was placed on administrative (paid) leave – after all, American taxpayers wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to pay another corrupt fed. Caganap was charged with nine counts of conspiracy to defraud the US, accepting gratuities, and making false statements. According to federal prosecutors, she received bribes for turning a blind eye to drug and alien smuggling through the San Ysidro port of entry. The indictment stated that after being briefed by federal agents on the investigation, Caganap passed along sensitive information to the suspect.

Port Director Caganap was facing a potential 36-year prison term, but –guess what? She got away with receiving only probation. Is anyone still wondering why corruption is so rampant at the high levels of federal law enforcement? Could lack of accountability have something to do with it?

Ex-San Diego INS Official Is Indicted

Meth-a-physics


Identities of informants were sold out for drugs and money by Gordon Clark Bohannon, former Chief Deputy of the Hockley County Sheriff’s Office. On December 21, 2009, Bohannon pleaded guilty to his role in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. He was charged in a 110-count indictment, along with 27 co-conspirators, with operating a major drug trafficking organization in Texas, Arizona and California. In his position as a Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Office, Bohannon obtained sensitive law enforcement information that he handed over to his co-conspirators. According to the indictment, he also interfered with the efforts by police to investigate the conspiracy, aided and abetted prohibited criminals in illegally possessing firearms, tried to get authorities to dismiss criminal charges against his co-conspirator and warned drug traffickers that a search warrant would be executed at their residence.

Bohannon retaliated against anyone he saw as a threat to the drug traffickers, obtaining the names of informants from law enforcement databases and providing this information to his co-conspirators. To discredit an informant who was going to testify against their drug organization, Bohannon went so far as to plant methamphetamine at his residence. He then instructed Deputy Sheriffs to obtain and execute a search warrant of the informant’s home. When the deputies conducted the search but couldn’t find the drugs, Bohannon said something to the effect of “well, hold on, let me call and see where she pu . . ., hold on I’ll call you back.” He directed officers to specific locations and offered to send over the confidential informant so she could show them where to look for drugs.

Bohannon was facing a maximum statutory sentence of life in prison and a $4 million fine. If the court accepts his plea agreement, in March 2010, Bohannon will be sentenced to 10 years in prison and no fine.

Former Hockley County Chief Deputy Sheriff Pleads Guilty in Methamphetamine Trafficking Conspiracy

Federal Betrayal of Informants (F.B.I.)


On February 8, 2010, FBI informant “Andrea” went public with her allegations that the Bureau double-crossed her and jeopardized her life, after she helped them in a risky operation against Mexican mob. In the documentary "Inside the FBI," released by the Discovery channel, it was called "one of the largest Mexican Mafia takedowns in FBI history," resulting in 40 arrests.
After the documentary aired, Andrea sent an e-mail to 10News TV station, describing her "problems with the FBI and their broken promises." Andrea stated, "I knew if I wasn't really dead, I was dead now." Soon after sending that e-mail, she was arrested by police. Her mug shot and identity -- which had been changed out of concerns for her safety -- was posted on the jail's Web site. She was charged with obstruction of justice.

Andrea’s arrest warrant stated, "Through FBI San Diego and copies of e-mails … the defendant … did communicate with the news media." They claimed that by talking to the news media, Andrea somehow jeopardized their investigation. She spent 60 days in jail until a Judge dismissed all charges. "My life is a nightmare. They ruined my life. I don't have anything," Andrea said.

FBI Informant Says Agency Put Her Life In Danger

Former FBI agent, Denise Woo, pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of disclosing confidential information for revealing an informant's identity to the target of an investigation. Woo received a meager sentence of one year probation and a $1,000 fine. This was a far cry from the 10 years or more of prison time Ms. Woo was facing for the five felony charges brought against her, including making false statements to the FBI, disclosing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretap, and exposing a covert agent in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982.

Ex-FBI Agent Avoids Jail for Exposing Informant's Identity

Measly penalties for jeopardizing lives of informants can hardly be seen as a deterrent for other law enforcement officials.

This is the thanks you get

In January of 2010, the judge refused to delay the prison sentence of Bradley C. Birkenfeld, a former Swiss banker-turned-informant. Birkenfeld, an American who lived in Switzerland for nearly 15 years, led authorities to the biggest tax fraud case in history. As the result of his disclosures, UBS, the largest bank in Switzerland, admitted to conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and agreed to pay $780 million to end an investigation into its activities. UBS also agreed to disclose to the IRS the names of 4,450 wealthy Americans suspected of dodging taxes through secret offshore accounts.

The Justice Department decided to prosecute Birkenfeld because he allegedly did not disclose enough details about his top client, Igor Olenicoff, an American billionaire and property developer. At the same time, the government had rejected Mr. Birkenfeld’s offer to wear a wiretap when talking to clients. In his interview with “60 Minutes”, Birkenfeld said: “I gave them the biggest tax fraud case in the world, I exposed 19,000 international criminals. And I’m going to jail for that?”

Judge Refuses to Delay Prison for UBS Informant

How much for your life?


A relationship between law enforcement officials and their informants is fragile and very important. Approximately 95% of all crimes are solved based on the priceless insight informants provide into the underworld of criminal enterprises, including transnational drug trafficking, white collar investigations and anti-terrorism efforts. Informants can be considered an endangered species, because they are hunted by criminals and often forsaken by the government, once they outlive their value. By revealing information about an informant’s cooperation, corrupt or careless law enforcement officials seal their doom.

Gang leaders often seek an official confirmation of an informant’s participation, before green-lighting their murder. Ironically, this corroborating evidence sometimes comes from law enforcement, when corrupt officials disclose identities of informants, obtained by accessing law enforcement databases.State and local governments lack proper mechanisms for dealing with informants. The federal government started to regulate that murky area mainly because of public embarrassment it was facing. Informants get the short end of the stick, when the authorities are unable or unwilling to protect them. Many of them face certain death for helping law enforcement. The stakes are high, indeed. Accountability for jeopardizing lives should be directly proportionate to the damage such a betrayal of public trust can inflict. Only then we can ensure that the information keeps on coming to help the brave men and women of American law enforcement to solve crimes, to save lives, to protect and to serve.

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