Category: Police Informants

Morning Links

Monday, April 12th, 2010

NPR on the “House of Death”

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

NPR recently ran a three-part series about the “House of Death,” in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents refused to close an investigation into a drug operation despite becoming aware of and having the capacity to prevent a number of gruesome murders, some of which were aided by one of their informants, who went by the name of “Lalo.” (Prior Reason coverage of the story here.)

I reported last March that the federal government has been trying to deport Lalo back to Mexico, despite knowing that he’ll almost certainly be killed. According to NPR, the deportation proceedings haven’t yet been resolved, and Lalo is still in solitary confinement—not for his crimes in Mexico, but because the U.S. government no longer needs his services as an informant, and now considers him an illegal alien.

Last May, I interviewed Sandy Gonzalez, the DEA agent who blew the whistle on the House of Death—and lost his job because of it.

Sunday Links

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Got my front door open. Did some shoveling. Took some pictures. Today we have a bright winter sun. It’s beautiful on the snow, if a bit blinding. Hoping to get to Old Town before the Super Bowl this evening to snap some more pics.

On to the links . . .

Sunday Links

Sunday, January 31st, 2010
  • Vikings. Horses. Fire. Vikings and horses jumping through fire. Pictures.
  • If you were planning on donating your own breast milk to Haiti, um, don’t.
  • Here’s a blog post headline I never thought I’d see.
  • The Economist comes up with a really horrible idea for Haiti.
  • Awkward stock photos.
  • South Carolina Lt. Gov. compares welfare recipients to stray animals, then apologizes by saying he is “not against animals.”
  • Rank-and-file employees of Maricopa County terrified of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
  • Obama nominates Bush holdover to head up the DEA. She has a horrible record, including supporting the de facto ban on medical marijuana research and defending one of the most notorious lying DEA informants in the history of the agency.

  • Ryan Frederick Denied

    Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

    Ryan Frederick’s appeal has been denied.

    That’s sad for Frederick. It also seems likely now that we’ll never get that investigation into whether Chesapeake police were sending drug informants to break into private homes to get probable cause for search warrants.

    Snitch Blog

    Sunday, August 16th, 2009

    Alexandra Natapoff is probably the leading academic expert in the country on the use of informants by law enforcement.

    She just started a blog devoted to the issue. Well worth adding to your RSS feed if you’re interested in criminal justice and drug policy.

    Morning Links

    Monday, June 1st, 2009
  • Scalia’s “things that rarely happen.”
  • LAPD officer wrongly raided by LAPD.
  • Well-done billboard ad.
  • I’ve posted a number of times about Lee Lucas, the Cleveland DEA agent accused of lying and encouraging informants to lie in order to secure a number of convictions. The good news is that he’s now facing an 18-count federal indictment.
  • No idea if this is real. It’s so funny, I don’t think it matters.
  • Man fights city hall eminent domain plan to seize private marina homes and hand them over to wealthy developers. Man actually wins. City fights back with ridiculous attempt to evict man, including claim that his dachshund is a “menace” to the community. Man fights back, actually wins again. City goes after man a third time, with new law that would require expensive renovation of his houseboat. City learns its lesson. This time, they get the feds to take the man’s home away before he has the chance to fight back.
  • Morning Links

    Monday, May 11th, 2009
  • The “kid gets wrongly arrested due to PATRIOT Act” story is getting more and more dubious.
  • Why I like the ACLU, even though I disagree with them a good percentage of the time. Reminds me of this classic piece from The Onion.
  • This seems like a bad idea. Pretty sure there’s no way in hell my dogs would go for it.
  • I am shocked, shocked to hear that former Drug Czar John Walters is full of crap.
  • Great movie mustaches.
  • Ryan Frederick was formally sentenced last week to 10 years in prison.
  • Bush officials trying to alter legal ethics report on torture from behind the scenes.
  • CNN covers the asset forfeiture shakedowns in Tenaha, Texas.
  • More on Bad Philly Cops

    Friday, May 1st, 2009

    I want to elaborate a bit on the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police’s shameful defense of Officer Jeffrey Cudjik, a cop now under internal and federal investigations for habitual lying on affidavits; harassing, terrorizing and possibly stealing from immigrant shop owners; and routinely violating procedures on dealing with informants (see post below). Cujdik’s exploits have been exposed by the Philadelphia Daily News. Check out this February article on the FOP’s rally in support of Cujdik:

    The Fraternal Order of Police and Officer Jeffrey Cujdik’s lawyer joined forces yesterday to attack Daily News stories that raised questions about Cujdik’s relationship with a paid police informant.

    “It’s a shame we have to stand here today to defend a highly decorated police officer in the Narcotics Field Unit, an officer who confiscates a ton of drugs, a ton of guns and is out there doing what a lot of other citizens in the city of Philadelphia do not want to do,” FOP President John J. McNesby said.

    Flanked by more than a dozen officers at a news conference inside FOP headquarters, on Spring Garden Street near Broad, McNesby said that the FOP would defend Cujdik “to the wall.”


    At times the attack seemed personal: “You have to remember, you’re dealing with a confidential informant here. A confidential informant in the city of Philadelphia is one step above a Daily News reporter,” McNesby said, prompting cops to applaud and laugh.

    McNesby is referring to allegations against Cujdik made by one of his former informants. But those allegations have since been bolstered by statements from victims of Cujdik’s raids, and by a review (see post below) of search warrants conducted by Cujdik’s unit.

    The sad irony here is that when an informant makes an allegation against a citizen, his word is considered good enough to send a squad of police officers to kick down that citizen’s door. In some states, the word of a confidential informant, without any corroboration, is enough for an indictment and arrest on drug charges, putting even innocent people in the position of having to decide whether to fight the charges and risk a prison term or plea to something they didn’t do, and accept probation and a criminal record. This is what happened in places like Tula and Hearne, and what I’m sure happens all over the country with these narcotics unit, whose funding tends to rest on how many arrests and seizures they make.

    But witness how quickly cops will trash an informant whose word was gold in search warrant affidavits for years the moment he comes forth with allegations of police corruption.

    Update on Bodega Raids by Rogue Philly Narcotics Unit

    Friday, May 1st, 2009

    Previously (here and here), I blogged about a rogue narcotics unit in Philadelphia that was raiding bodegas on the flimsy excuse that the stores were selling resealable zip-lock bags that could potentially be used by drug dealers. Bodega owners say the cops were cutting the lines to surveillance cameras, then stealing cash, alcohol, cigarettes, and snack food from the stores. The Philadelphia Daily News was able to obtain footage of the cops cutting off one of the cameras during a raid, then inquiring to the store owner about whether the camera feeds went to a computer that was on or off-site.

    The lingering question, here, is how this unit was able to operate like this for so long without any oversight. Why wasn’t anyone questioning the use of such aggressive tactics in searches not for drugs, but for no more than an otherwise legal product? Why did no one in the department ask why an “elite” narcotics unit was wasting its time busting immigrant shop owners with no criminal record for selling bags instead of pursuing actual drug distributors?

    It’s one thing to have a few rogue cops that, once caught, are fired and—hopefully—criminally charged. It’s a more wide-ranging and serious problem if there are institutional failures in the Philadelphia police department that allowed Officer Jeffrey Cujdic’s scam of terrorizing immigrant shop owners to flourish.

    Now, the Daily News has published the results of its review of the search warrants obtained by Cujdik’s unit over the last several years, and the results are troubling. They find a wholesale lack of supervision of Cujdik and his men, even as complaints against them mounted.

    Narcotics enforcement is ripe for corruption because officers handle large amounts of cash and drugs, legal experts say.

    So the Police Department has procedural safeguards: A supervisor must review and approve all applications for warrants, officers must never meet an informant without another officer present, and at least two officers should conduct drug surveillances.

    Yet supervisors and officers often disregarded those rules, a Daily News review of hundreds of search warrants found.

    In several cases, officers worked alone with informants and were the only ones to watch drug buys. Yet supervisors approved those search-warrant applications…

    Cpl. Mark Palma, a narcotics-squad supervisor, was apparently not bothered when Officer Richard Cujdik, Jeffrey’s brother, worked alone on a three-day surveillance job in September 2007.

    Palma approved a search-warrant application for Jose Duran’s West Oak Lane grocery store, based on Richard Cujdik’s assertion that he watched a confidential informant – CI #142 – enter the store to buy ziplock bags three times.

    The validity of that search warrant is now in question.

    For the last buy, Richard Cujdik wrote that he “observed” CI #142 enter Duran’s store at about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2007. Yet the Daily News watched the time-stamped Sept. 11 surveillance footage of the store between 4 and 5 p.m., and no one asked for or bought a ziplock bag.

    Sgt. Joseph Bologna supervised the ensuing raid, part of which was captured on video. The Daily News obtained the video and posted it on its Web site,

    The video shows Bologna directing officers to “disconnect” camera wires. They do so with pliers and a bread knife. Bologna makes no effort to stop Richard Cujdik when the officer searches Duran’s van, allegedly without a warrant.

    Duran alleges that officers seized nearly $10,000 in the raid but documented taking only $785.

    While Cujdik has been demoted to desk duty pending the results of internal and federal investigations, Bologna has since been promoted to lieutenant.

    The Daily News reports that all of this has happened less than five years after an agreement between the city and civil rights groups expired, stemming from a scandal in the 1990s in which narcotics cops went to jail for lying on search warrants, shaking down drug dealers, and making dozens of wrongful arrests. That agreement required more vigilant oversight of the city’s narcotics units by police supervisors to guard against mistaken raids, corruption, and false statements on search warrant affidavits. Not only does it appear the brass in Philly didn’t learn from that scandal, the Daily News writes that it’s unclear if Philly PD officials ever actually carried out the requirements put forth in the agreement.

    Hats off to Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker for pursuing and sticking with this story, despite attacks on their character and credibility by Cujkik’s supporters in the Philly police union.

    Lunch Links

    Monday, April 6th, 2009
  • Joe Klein jumps on the pot legalization bandwagon. It really feels like we’re nearing a breakwater moment on the pot issue. Stats guru Nate Silver seems to agree.
  • Steven Wright, the informant in the Ryan Frederick case, says he was promised he’d get leniency in his own case in exchange for his testimony against Frederick. Color me surprised. Of course, prosecutors deny any promises were made.
  • In these tough economic times, we need to band together and sacrifice, America. Unless you’re an already well-paid employee of the federal government. In which case you can expect a pay raise.
  • Why Natalie Cole should be able to buy a kidney. This is where egalitarianism gets absurd. Because we don’t think wealthy people should have better access to donor organs than poor people, the solution is to stick with a strictly voluntary system, in which case the vast majority of all people needing an organ wither and die on the wait list.
  • The U.S. Chamber has released its rankings of “business-friendly” members of Congress. Next time someone accuses libertarians and other free market proponents of being corporate apologists, send them this Tim Carney analysis of the Chamber’s list. Ron Paul, for example, scored lower than 90 percent of the Democrats in the House. Pro-free market, anti-tax Republicans scored lower than left-liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden. When you look at the issues the Chamber considers pro-business, it pretty quickly demolishes the notion that free markets and big business have much of anything to do with one another.
  • British man turns in found cell phone. Police arrest him for “theft by finding.” Reddit user writes up brilliant Monty Python-esque sketch depicting what the whole incident might have looked like.
  • “House of Death” Update

    Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

    A few weeks ago, I posted about Guillermo Ramirez Peyro’s appeal of his pending deportation before a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Peyro (also known as “Lalo”) is the central figure in the “House of Death” scandal, in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are accused of allowing Peyro and members of the Juarez drug cartel to commit as many as a dozen murders because preventing the murders would have disrupted their drug investigation. Peyro is the only non-government witness who knows exactly what happened in that case. If the longtime federal drug informant is deported to Mexico, he’ll almost certainly be killed, rendering moot any possible future investigation of the case here in the U.S.

    The bad news is that at the hearing, the Obama administration continued with the Bush administration’s efforts to deport Peyro. The good news is, the panel of judges appeared to be fairly skeptical of the government’s position.

    Narcosphere’s Bill Conroy has the transcript of the oral arguments.

    You can read my interview with Sandy Gonzalez, the DEA agent who blew the whistle on the House of Death case, here.

    American Violet

    Saturday, March 21st, 2009


    The movie American Violet opens next month, and is based on the real-life experience of Regina Kelly, a waitress wrongly arrested and charged during a disastrous drug sweep in Hearne, Texas back in 2000. Kelly was one of 28 people arrested. Her refusal to accept a plea bargain eventually helped expose that District Attorney John Paschall case for the massive sweep was a sham, based almost entirely on the word of a pathological informant (who also claims he was beaten by police). Paschall promised his informant he’d drop the theft charges pending against him if the informant could produce information that would lead to 20 drug arrests.

    Even after his case fell apart and Paschall had no choice to drop the charges against those who hadn’t alread plead guilty, he refused to exonerate anyone, telling the New York Times that of those charged, "I don’t doubt one minute their guilt in dealing drugs.” Paschall is still district attorney, and he’s not particularly happy about the movie. He told the Dallas Morning News, "The only way I’d watch it, I’d have to be handcuffed, tied to a chair and you’d have to tape my eyes open."

    Like the series of wrongful drug arrests in Tulia, Texas, the Hearne scandal was largely attributable to the federal Byrne Grant program, which not only creates the unaccountable, multi-jurisdictional drug task forces like those responsible for Hearne and Tulia, but then also sets artificial, improper incentives by tying future funding to the number of arrests and drug seizures a task force makes. Oddly enough, the Bush administration actually phased out Byrne Grants. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are bringing them back.

    I interviewed Regina Kelly a couple of years ago at an ACLU conference:


    Morning Links

    Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
  • British authorities remove kids from parents because of one boy’s leg fractures that “could only have been caused by physical abuse.” Child later determined to have rare form of scurvy; no abuse. Court says, “Oops. Sorry. But it’s too late. We already gave your kids to someone else.”
  • Jackson, Mississippi’s Frank “Worst Mayor in America” Melton gets a hung jury in his federal civil rights case. To refresh your memory, the idiot sent a bunch of young boys armed with sledgehammers to tear down a house Melton says was the site of drug dealing. No warrant. He had no authority to do so. Oh, and it wasn’t actually the site of any drug dealing. But nothing sticks to the guy, despite the fact that he’s a raving lunatic. He has already been acquitted on state charges related to the raid.
  • Dear Redditors: Stop plagiarizing my damned headlines!
  • California state assemblyman introduces bill to legalize, tax marijuana.
  • How prosecutor elections fail us. Thing is, I’m not sure appointing them would work either. The problem is that not only is there no real punishment for misconduct, but that because prosecutors are generally measured on winning convictions, misconduct is often actually rewarded.
  • This local news article isn’t particularly well-written, and I have no idea who’s actually at fault. But it seems to me that the last paragraph ought to be moved up in the story quite a bit.
  • I feel like I should give this story more play than a “morning links” bullet, but there’s so much to it, I’d just end up excerpting the whole thing. Just read, especially if you live in the Philadelphia area. It’s infuriating. All the usual themes: militaristic drug raids, allegations of planted evidence, abuse of the informant system, asset forfeiture—it goes on like that.
  • Morning Links

    Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
  • This is kind of awesome.
  • The NY Times editorializes on the NAS forensics study.
  • “…while fifty per cent of the libertarians would agree to surgery giving them a prosthetic tail if they were paid enough to do so.”
  • Dark-skinned Asian man “randomly” stopped 21 times in New York City subway.
  • Barney Frank to reintroduce bill repealing the online gambling ban.
  • In the wake of the Ryan Frederick case, the Virginian-Pilot looks at the use of jailhouse informants who testify to having heard confessions. This sort of testimony has always struck me as so absurd that it should rarely be allowed. Who just starts confessing to crimes they haven’t yet been tried for to people they’ve just met in a jail cell? As often as informants testify, you’d think it happens fairly often.