Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2015 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Rich Lord
Note: Full DOJ report at:


Drug Enforcement Administration informants - some paid, others 
working to stay out of jail - can sell large quantities of drugs 
without much supervision, and sometimes set up busts for years while 
simultaneously collecting federal workers' compensation, according to 
a scathing report issued Tuesday by the Department of Justice's 
Office of the Inspector General.

The report, a year in the making, described one informant who was 
injured in 1997, and from then on got $500 a week in federal workers' 
compensation, even while continuing to serve as a paid source. 
Inspectors "estimate that between 1997 and 2012, the DEA paid this 
individual a total of $ 2,186,813," including $353,000 in workers' 
compensation, a $1 million award for a bust, plus other payments and 
housing expense checks, the inspectors wrote.

"This kind of compensation can be corrupting, and we don't get to 
explore it - nobody gets to explore it," said JaneAnne Murray, a 
federal criminal defense lawyer and practitioner in residence at the 
University of Minnesota Law School. "The judges aren't questioning 
these [informants] even though their information may be at the heart 
of a search warrant or an arrest warrant," and they are rarely put 
under oath at hearings or trials.

The DEA's system does not require that agents get upper-level 
approval before allowing informants to do drug deals involving less 
than 90 kilograms of heroin or 450 kilograms of cocaine, according to 
the report, which defies Department of Justice guidelines regarding 
authorization of otherwise-illegal activity.

"I am blown away by this report. I can't believe it," said Dennis 
Fitzgerald, a former DEA agent, now an attorney and author of the 
book "Informants, Cooperating Witnesses, and Undercover 
Investigations." Without fealty to Department of Justice rules on 
handling informants, he asked, "What on earth are the agents being 
held accountable to? ... It's as if they've gone rogue."

The report comes three months after Michele Leonhart retired from her 
post as head of the DEA, following her widely criticized response to 
reports that agents overseas partied with prostitutes. The agency did 
not respond Tuesday to requests for comment on the latest criticism 
from the Office of the Inspector General. The DEA's parent, the 
Department of Justice, concurred with the inspectors' seven 
recommendations for reforming informant practices.

The Post-Gazette, following a yearlong look at the use of informants 
by federal law enforcement, found this year that the DEA paid 
informants at least $146 million over five years. The newspaper also 
found instances in which informants served the agency for decades, 
despite concerns that such lengthy service could result in inadequate 
agency control. A disproportionate share of federal acquittals in 
Western Pennsylvania were attributable, at least in part, to problems 
with informants, particularly in cases built by the DEA.

The Department of Justice has guidelines, last revised in 2002, for 
the use of informants by its investigative agencies. They require 
supervisory approval of the recruitment of "high-level" informants, a 
review any time an informant is used for six years or more, and 
careful consideration before a source is allowed to do something that 
would otherwise be a crime.

DEA agents, inspectors wrote, are "able to use high-risk individuals 
as confidential sources without the level of review as would 
otherwise be required." A supervisory board called the Sensitive 
Activity Review Committee only meets approximately every other year, 
and has "spent minimal time meeting to determine the appropriateness 
of the continued use of long term sources," according to the report.

While federal agents are supposed to consult with supervisors before 
they allow informants to commit what would normally be illegal acts, 
the DEA's internal rulebook "explicitly excludes drug buys and other 
routine confidential source activities," inspectors wrote. The DEA's 
vague rules, according to the report, wouldn't even prevent an agent 
from allowing an informant to deal two dozen kilograms of crack 
cocaine or hundreds of kilograms of powder.

"That's incomprehensible. I really can't wrap my head around allowing 
that," said Mr. Fitzgerald. "You're giving the informants a free pass 
- - a free pass to commit crime."

Seventeen DEA informants who were injured in the course of their work 
for the agency got $1.034 million in federal workers' compensation 
benefits during the year ending June 30, 2014, according to the 
investigators. Some had been on workers' compensation for decades.

The DEA "had not established a process or any controls regarding the 
awarding" of workers' compensation to informants, who are independent 
contractors, not employees of the government, the inspectors wrote. 
They found no legal basis under which the DEA could get workers' 
compensation for informants, some of whom were not U.S. citizens.

In several cases, inspectors found that informants receiving federal 
workers' compensation were injured while they were not even on a DEA 
job, or continued to work for federal paychecks while getting injury benefits.

The inspectors wrote that the DEA dragged its heels during the 
yearlong review of its informant practices. As a result, the audit continues.

The Department of Justice in its written response assured its 
inspecting arm that the DEA will improve its cooperation with the 
auditing process going forward.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom