FBI Routinely Hides Payments To Informants, Gives Them A Cut Of Asset Forfeiture Proceeds

from the I-just-love-America(n-dollars)! dept

The Intercept has obtained another secret document -- this one pertaining to the FBI's confidential informant program. The sprawling web of so-called Confidential Human Sources (CHS) is examined in multiple posts at the site. (The document, unfortunately, consists of multiple photos of the source pages, so it won't be embedded below.)

In addition to things already known about the FBI's aggressive pursuit of informants -- including using the CBP to push incoming foreigners to act as informants by threatening to withhold travel privileges or approval of visa applications -- there's much, much more contained in the FBI's guidelines.

One of the interesting aspects is the government's payment of informants. Considering the FBI has more than 15,000 informants in its network, there's always the possibility evidence produced by CHSs could be challenged if it appears the FBI is using private individuals to bypass warrant requirements (with "private" searches) or otherwise routing around legal restrictions pertaining to its investigations.

From the information obtained, it appears the FBI's inelegant workaround is to obscure the money flow in order to head off questions of propriety.

The picture that emerges is of an approach that borrows some of the sophistication of modern banking. The bureau has devised a variety of ways to pay informants, including directly, before or after trial; via reimbursements; and through a cut of asset forfeitures. The guide provides some options that are clearly preferable when trying to sway a jury at trial, even as it explicitly disclaims selecting them for such reasons.

That doesn't stop informants from making big money. There are some additional levels of approval needed when hitting $100k/$500k per year in payments, but for the most part, money flowing to informants isn't watched that closely by the agency.

As is stated above, the FBI apparently uses bogus expense reimbursements to pay informants, giving it the outward appearance of someone working for the agency out of the goodness of their heart, rather than for the thousands of dollars they eventually receive.

Putting money on the table -- even implicitly -- tends to skew priorities. Additional income is hard to give up, even when there's not much criminal activity to report. As we've seen in other law enforcement agencies heavily-reliant on confidential informants, promise of continuing payments results in bogus reports that exaggerate the amount of criminal activity witnessed and portray non-suspicious activities as worthy of deeper investigation.

Possibly the most perverse incentive is the FBI's asset forfeiture program. The ability to directly profit from seized property gives the agency all the nudge that's needed to worry about seizures first and convictions later, if at all. The documents show the FBI cuts informants in on this government-ordained scam, giving even more people -- none of them trained law enforcement agents -- reason to seek cash, cars, and property, rather than the criminals they're supposed to keeping any eye on.

In addition to compensation, an informant may be eligible for 25 percent of the net value of any property forfeited as a result of the investigation, up to $500,000 per asset, according to the guide. This can be a particularly lucrative benefit for drug informants, whose cases sometimes result in the forfeiture of planes, boats, cars, and real estate.

While the guidelines specifically state the FBI is not allowed to structure its payments to hide their true nature from judges, juries, and criminal defendants, the agency apparently treats this as nothing more than empty words written in service of maintaining plausible deniability.

Craig Monteilh, a bodybuilder who worked undercover as an informant for the FBI by spying on mosques in Southern California, said he received $177,000 from the FBI over a one-year period. Monteilh said that his compensation was disguised as expense reimbursements. He said he provided receipts for everything — rent, car payments, gasoline, medical bills, food, even for the steroids he was taking — to justify an $8,200 monthly expense bill.

“Most informants are criminals. So the FBI gets that,” Monteilh said. “They know that I’m going to get the bill for lunch, even if someone else pays for it, and I’m going to say I paid for it. That includes the movies, the theater, going to an Angels game — everything. I’m paying for everything, even though I’m really not.”

That's only a small part of how the informant game is played by the FBI. Informants are cited as reasons for engaging in dubious investigations and as escape valves for unconstitutional searches. Considering the multiple benefits informants provide -- especially when the true nature of the relationship is obscured and obfuscated -- it's no wonder the FBI wants as many agencies as possible engaged in the business of turning our nation's foreign visitors into junior G-men.

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Filed Under: asset forfeiture, fbi, informants, payments


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 8:58am

    Lucky Confidential Human Sources win a 20-minute shopping spree in the nearest Asset Forfeiture Warehouse! Whee! Strategy: look for keyfobs with Jaguar emblems... envelopes stuffed with bearer bonds... and hard drives full of Kim Dotcom's seized porn stash!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:37am

      Re:

      Just avoid looking for BMW keyfobs.

      Based on what I've seen BMWs have way too many engineering problems. Turn signals never seem to work. Acceleration control problems when the traffic light turns green. Various control problems cause BMWs to follow too closely or swerve into other lanes. Especially carpool lanes or the road shoulder followed by sudden uncontrolled acceleration. They should all be recalled as unsafe.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 9:59am

    IRS

    Are they liable for taxes on this income? Do they pay those taxes? Has the FBI somehow embargoed the IRS from collecting those taxes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      zerosaves (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:34am

      Re: IRS

      Somehow I doubt it. I was also thinking how normal people hiding any kind of money/payments would end up in jail.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:45am

      Re: IRS

      I'm thinking of a more modern issue:

      Uber drivers, courier drivers, bank employees and others hired (or fired then rehired) as "private contractors" to avoid employee benefits have been winning back those benefits in court.

      Could those 15,000 FBI informants do the same?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 11:42am

      Re: IRS

      Not when they're presented as reimbursments for expenses.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:50pm

        Re: Re: IRS

        Those expenses need to be legitimate business expenses. What business would these snitches claim to be in? Where would that business fall within the SIC classification system? Typically, the IRS is fairly stringent in allowing expenses, especially those of a questionable nature.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tommy Selu, 1 Feb 2017 @ 5:40pm

      Re: IRS

      If snitch is smart it gets paid in cash. As long as it doesn't buy extravagant items the IRS won't know. FBI know the snitch is dumb, so they are anecdotally hoping for it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:07am

    Work for the DEA or the FBI.
    Huge income, no effort.
    All you need is a phone and a few vaguely suspicious neighbors.
    Truth is optional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris, 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:31am

    Organized Crime (Investigators)

    The more info that leaks out, the more that the FBI looks like a criminal organization.

    They hide money and evidence at every opportunity, and create false trails to cover their tracks. If an average Joe did something like this, they would be regarded as a highly suspicious person of interest, at the very least.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:40am

      Re: Organized Crime (Investigators)

      Let's not forget Parallel Construction. A conspiracy of prosecutors and law enforcement to commit perjury by lying to the court and the defense about what their evidence actually is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:44am

      Re: Organized Crime (Investigators)

      If the Justice Dept is lying to courts and juries, judges really need to start throwing out cases - and vacating judgements in older cases handled by related people. And this needs to be on the judges, as this is exactly their "check" in the check-and-balance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:51am

        Re: Re: Organized Crime (Investigators)

        Which will be kind of hard for a Judge to do so if the FBI tells the Judge that one of their informants saw the Judge visiting a hooker and it would be a shame if that were to become public knowledge.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re: Organized Crime (Investigators)

        Throwing cases out is not enough. If these people are committing perjury in front of judges, they need to be tried and prosecuted for it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:57pm

        Re: Re: Organized Crime (Investigators)

        > And this needs to be on the judges, as this is exactly their "check" in the check-and-balance.

        Most judges are firmly on the government's side.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 10:51am

    No one likes a snitch

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 11:44am

    Not really surprising

    Sans the forfeiture money, because they don't get any, even my local Village cops use the same sort of stunts to pay off their CI's.

    And I have no doubt that if they started getting forfeiture cash, they'd offer a percentage of it as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 11:50am

    Don't Rely on Judges

    The FBI might "investigate" them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 1 Feb 2017 @ 1:09pm

    Now here is the difference to a corrupt banana republic:

    Possibly the most perverse incentive is the FBI's asset forfeiture program. The ability to directly profit from seized property gives the agency all the nudge that's needed to worry about seizures first and convictions later, if at all. The documents show the FBI cuts informants in on this government-ordained scam, giving even more people -- none of them trained law enforcement agents -- reason to seek cash, cars, and property, rather than the criminals they're supposed to keeping any eye on.

    See, in a banana republic nobody would bother doing the paper work documenting just how much you steal of whom where and when under which circumstances. Under the fascist doctrine of state interests trumping private interests, you can write everything down and properly account for every stolen bit without fear of significant interference or repercussion. With modern data mining methods, this can give Law Enforcement crucial clues where to most effectively plan the next holdups.

    Nobody can say that American Police operates like some African backwater corrupt officer asking for baksheesh (well, it's not really an African term, but you get the grift).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 4:49pm

    Best Buy Geek Squad Agent Digbert reporting! So, after I submit this hard drive, I'd be no longer be a registered sex offender right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tommy Selu, 1 Feb 2017 @ 5:57pm

    One direct example of this practice is Bill Fulton of Drop Zone

    in Anchorage Alaska. He needed money and started snitching for FBI to convict public speaker Schaeffer Cox (of all people!) with bullshit planted evidence.

    http://usobserver.com/archive/march-16/fed-framing-of-schaeffer-cox.htm

    Why? Schaeffer was digging into feds' tyranny:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9JLH9wufrY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 8:40pm

    So, the FBI is paying for leads to victims.

    Nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2017 @ 2:12pm

    So are drugs bad or are users good people to associate with?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Therealcsi (profile), 6 Jun 2020 @ 10:15am

    They treat minority informants like crap.

    I have never seen them do anything as described in this article for anyone of color such as these things!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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