Pubdate: Sun, 04 Oct 2009
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2009 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Peter Herman


In the movies, cops slip their snitches $20 or $50 in a back alley and
give them a black eye so their friends don't think they're squealing.

In real life, informants are registered and have government-sounding
titles - "DEA-numbered source," for example. They operate under
offices with cryptic acronyms such as CIRC, for Confidential Informant
Review Committee. They even have their own bureaucracy, like the Drug
Enforcement Administration's Confidential Source Unit.

In real life, informants get their money, sometimes in five- and
six-figure amounts, in the form of checks from the U.S. Treasury Department.

And in real life, informants get bonuses for exceptional

I'm not sure whether they write "CI" for "confidential informant" on
their tax forms, but the industry appears to be more regulated than
Wall Street. And it isn't easy to regulate a world that sanctions
breaking some laws and is built around killers, addicts, pushers,
snitches, liars and cons providing useful and truthful tips.

It is a murky, secretive place where cops and crooks mingle and
exchange information for money, a place where the line dividing law
and disorder often blurs.

Sometimes it disappears altogether.

In one notorious case, a retired FBI agent was convicted of murder
last year for leaking information to his mob informants, South Boston
gangsters James "Whitey" Bolger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi,
whom authorities said the pair used to kill a businessman in Florida
in the early 1980s.

Three years ago, a federal jury convicted two Baltimore police
officers, William A. King and Antonio L. Murray, of dealing drugs from
unmarked squad cars and running their own drug fiefdom on the city's
west side.

Their defense: They supplied their informants with drugs and allowed
them to keep some because that's how they were trained to get
information. They complained that the Police Department hung them out
to dry and refused to admit the dirty work required to arrest drug

A federal judge sentenced Murray to 139 years in prison and King to
315 years.

Baltimore police are again dealing with allegations that one of their
undercover detectives got too close to his informant. On Sept. 24,
federal authorities charged Officer Mark J. Lunsford with putting his
informant's name on drug cases in which he was not involved, then
recommending that he be paid bonuses for any arrests and convictions.
Authorities said the informant then shared the bonus money with
Lunsford, who was part of a DEA task force.

In describing the alleged kickback scheme, a Baltimore FBI agent with
the public corruption squad wrote about some of the inner workings of
running informants. This informant worked so closely with Lunsford,
the FBI agent said, that he helped him install wood flooring and an
air conditioner in his Sykesville home.

The agent noted that the informant had been rejected by the FBI after
being deemed unreliable and failing a polygraph test, but he
apparently was satisfactory for the DEA and Baltimore police.
Documents show that the informant got one bonus of $10,000.

In a conversation secretly recorded by the FBI, Lunsford explained to
the informant how he was added to a case he had nothing to do with: "I
put in there that you gave me the information about, ah ... what's the
guy's name, [deleted]. That's the [expletive] house we're going to
hit. Who knows? We might get lucky."

Later, the informant asked Lunsford: "Me and you are the only ones that 
know we split that ten grand, right?"

The officer answered, "Oh yeah, nobody knows. ... Don't nobody know
nothin' about that money ... but me and you."

Later, the supervisor with the DEA's Confidential Source Unit in
Arlington, Va., called Lunsford and demanded that he explain his
informant's role in a case. According to court papers filed by

"He put me on to the guy and um, he got the guy and was able to get to
the guy's house and he showed him, you know, the 'coke,' the product
of the 'coke,' and he told him, you know, what it looked like, it was,
you know, it's good [expletive]. He even, while he was there, he
talked to him about buyin' a gun and he was able to tell me exactly
where the [expletive] was in the house. You know, he said it was in
the basement."

Law enforcement officials are reluctant to talk about how they use
informants, but Andrew C. White, a defense attorney and former federal
prosecutor in Baltimore, said he's heard of cases around the country
in which informants were paid in the six figures. There's a whole
industry in "cultivating, protecting and paying informants," he said.

Cops who use snitches must walk carefully along an ethical line,
especially when they send informants out to buy drugs to build cases.
"The line between right and wrong gets blurred with an effective
informant," White said. "The best informants are the ones most deeply
ingrained with criminals."

Gordon Mehler, a former federal public corruption prosecutor in New
York and now a defense attorney who has written a well-received book
on criminal law, said informants are "universally despised" but "seen
as necessary evil because they provide access to criminal
organizations that law enforcement doesn't otherwise have."

With informants, he said, rather than following a guideline of "trust
and verify," police should use "don't trust and verify." Mehler said
the biggest problem in running informants is allowing them to
exaggerate their worth either to gain bigger payouts or leniency
toward their own criminal troubles.

"The incentive to nail somebody is sometimes so strong that the
temptation to lie increases," Mahler said. "You can talk all you want
about purifying the territory with informants. It will never happen.
You're entering a den of iniquity, and you aren't going to do it with

The U.S. attorney general's office has published a 28-page booklet on
how police should legally and ethically develop, use and properly
register informants.

Paid informants can break some laws to help law enforcement, but the
guidelines warn that they must be carefully supervised and that they
are not, under any circumstances, allowed to "participate in an act of
violence." They also cannot break laws that cops themselves can't
break, such as enter a home without a search warrant or tape a
conversation without approval from a judge.

Sanctioning an informant to break the law even has its own lingo -
called committing "Otherwise Illegal Activity." The attorney general's
rules require police or federal agents to "ensure that the [informant]
does not profit from his or her participation in the authorized
Otherwise Illegal Activity."

Federal prosecutors said the informant in the Lunsford case snitched
on his own handler. (I wonder what the bonus is for that?) Undercover
FBI agents staked out a parking lot in Sykesville and said they
watched the informant hand Lunsford his share of a bonus. The bills
had been marked and logged. The conversation was taped on hidden

Now that's the stuff of movies. 
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