Sunday, September 25, 2016

Informants and Law Enforcement

The FBI has used informants and the RICO statute to rip the guts out of the mafia in recent years. Why do they need informants?

The mafia was almost untouchable until the 1980’s because they had a structure with a defined chain of command.  The FBI or the local police would make a case and they would mostly get the low hanging fruit: soldiers or associates, occasionally a capo.

Then they started using a four pronged attack plan to go after the mafia: 1) informants 2) electronic surveillance 3)RICO and 4) witness protection.

They would use RICO to enhance sentences, seize assets and take down members who for a long time were almost immune to prosecution.  Decades long sentences made guys think twice about keeping their mouths shut.  

There are two kinds of informants. One flips when he is already awaiting trial.  He will testify at the trial of his co-defendants and others.  Another is an informant that agrees to help law enforcement gather proof of crimes by wearing a wire and gathering intelligence.  Both kinds of informants can be of immense help to law enforcement because of their historical knowledge and unique access to the group. They can give valuable insight into the types of crimes and the M.O. of the people being investigated.  They can can give layouts and details about places that will be bugged.  They can get and give up cell phone numbers that are used for crimes.

Then law enforcement began to master electronic surveillance.  They use pen registers to figure out what numbers are frequently called by a target.  With that knowledge and other information from informants they can obtain a wiretap and begin listening in on criminal conversations.  In the old days they would have to put a device in the phone or tap into the actual wires.  Most of the wires they use are not transmitters but recorders that last 10 hours or more. They are so small they can fit inside a watch.  They had remote video cameras all over because they are cheap and small. Today they just serve a warrant to your carrier and its done.  

Then comes RICO, which allows them to charge people with crimes that they may have already served time for in the past.  All they have to prove is that you committed them in concert with the organization.  They can seize assets that you gained or were used in crimes. This hit the mafia hard because guys would do the time and come back to economic ruin.

All of this would have not been so effective if not for the WITSEC or witness relocation program.  If you would just be left on street to be killed you might as well do the time.  The program offered a new life, new name and a new place to call home.  This is one of the most effective tools in law enforcement's arsenal against organized crime.

They do let some bad guys off with short sentences but they believe the long term good for society more than makes up for it. There are some bad apples that return to a life of crime, but most just live out their lives.  This aspect of law enforcement is very different in the United States than it is in Europe where they rarely use informants.  When they do, they refer to them as infiltrators and they do not provide WITSEC.

This week in Florida Governor Rick Scott and the clemency cabinet agreed to commute Kevin Bonner’s sentence.  Bonner had cooperated against the Gambino family in the Florida case 10 years ago.  He testified that John Gotti Jr. stabbed Danny Siva to death at the Silver Fox bar in Queens in 1983.  The jury chose not to convict Junior Gotti for that crime or a host of others.  
The FBI and the US Attorney's office went to bat for Bonner.  They all sent letters and some testified.  One of his letters was from Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States.
Bonner did not commit the murder with the Gambinos, but he was around them.  

You decide, are informants good?

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