from the pros,-cons,-and-pro-cons dept
It’s well known many confidential informants are criminals. Acting as informants is supposed to keep their criminal acts to a minimum while providing access to bigger criminal fish. The same goes for undercover officers and agents. Some illegality is presumed but those running CIs are expected to be making the world a better place, not ignoring vast amounts of criminal activity simply because the informant is now on their side. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The DEA’s informant program is being run with almost no oversight, according to an Inspector General’s report. Money flowed to informants who were still under federal investigation and no one up top seemed too concerned about the program’s bang/buck ratio. The FBI made abusable programs worse by hiding payments to informants and giving them a cut of forfeited property.
It’s not that informants can’t break the law. In some cases, they must. But the illegal acts must be done with permission and as an integral part of an investigation. But that’s not how things work out. Trevor Aaronson of The Intercept tells the story of FBI informant Mohammed Agbareia, who participated in terrorism stings while making a healthy, illegal profit on the side.
According to court records, Agbareia began working for the FBI only after being convicted in U.S. District Court in Alabama for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
After pleading guilty to the wire fraud case in March 2006, Agbareia was ordered to report to immigration authorities for possible deportation. But instead of being removed from the United States, Agbareia signed up with the FBI.
The threat of removal and/or the dangling of citizenship is a powerful motivator. This is why multiple federal law enforcement agencies have turned the nation’s borders into unofficial recruitment posts.
But old habits die hard. The Intercept reports Agbareia has again been indicted for the same criminal activity.
According to a new wire fraud indictment handed down in Florida on June 27, Agbareia has continued to swindle people with his stranded traveler scheme. He received six Western Union wire transfers from 2012 to 2017 from victims in Texas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, and Germany. Two of the wire transfers — one for $1,414.26 from Berlin and another for $1,000 from Brooklyn — occurred around the time he was working undercover in the FBI’s ISIS sting.
The government is trying to bury this damaging information. It has already asked for evidence of Agbareia’s illegal sideline to be placed under a protective order, supposedly for national security reasons. The government is also refusing to turn over information of Agbareia’s criminal efforts to one of the accused, despite two of three suspects targeted in the sting having already pled guilty.
Federal prosecutors’ position has been that they do not have an obligation to provide information about the FBI’s informant so far in advance of a trial, since Hubbard’s is not scheduled until October 30. “In a national security case at this point, I mean, we understand our obligations to turn it over, but the trial is in late October,” federal prosecutor Edward Nucci said in the March 14 hearing.
The remaining suspect’s defense lawyer has been asking for this information since 2016, pointing out that the proactive nature of sting operations should result in proactive delivery of evidence by the government.
Agbareia is now in the awkward position of having government demands for secrecy work both for him and against him. In the terrorism stings, the government is playing keep-away with anything that might damage his status as a source of evidence. In his wire fraud prosecution, the government is looking to bury info he might use in his defense. National security-related suppression is being asked for in this case as well.
Agbareia’s lawyer, Murrell, noted in a June 30 filing that federal prosecutors haven’t specified the level of classification — top secret, secret, or confidential — the evidence involves, raising questions that the information “is not ‘classified’ simply because it might embarrass law enforcement or in some way hinder prosecution of this or other cases.”
Federal prosecutors have requested Agbareia’s witnesses disclose up front the testimony they intend to offer, giving the U.S. Attorney’s Office an opportunity to agree to the release of “a stipulated, declassified summary of that information.” In other words, federal prosecutors want to use claims of classified evidence to control the information Agbareia can use in his defense
If the government succeeds in this evidence suppression, it might be able to run the prosecutorial table — convicting a suspected terrorist and the crooked informant it used to rope him in.