Friday, January 26, 2007

Snitches contribute to crime, corruption

Two recent, very different stories about law enforcement's use of confidential informants raise similar concerns: When police rely too heavily on "snitches," they risk tolerating crimes or even committing them.

First off, this month the Fourth Texas Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a Fredericksburg police officer who thought it was "cool" to return seized marijuana to a snitch. (See coverage from the original trial.) Officer Clint Stewart performed a "consent search" at a traffic stop, arrested the driver for marijuana possession, then gave her back a portion of the dope after she agreed to work for police as a snitch. Stewart claimed he thought that was normal procedure. Said the court in a footnote to its decision:
Stewart was asked where he had heard that "this is done ... with some officers, you give a little bit of dope to them and then they bring you information?" He replied, "I've heard it from other officers, just TV, you know, just listening to people." He later explained he had heard of this behavior from a veteran narcotics officer in Corpus Christi. Stewart admitted on cross-examination that his law enforcement training did not include instruction that returning a portion of seized contraband was appropriate conduct.
Great - so now Texas cops are getting their notions about what's good policing from watching television!

To me, though, Stewart's likely innocent error of returning pot to a snitch pales in comparison to his real malfeasance: his willingness to lie in court and cover up the mistake. The ironically named Detective Weed in the Fredericksburg police department testified against his fellow officer:
Weed testified that when Stewart told him about returning part of the marihuana, Stewart asked "whether he should lie about it in court," to which Weed replied, "that's the last thing you'd want to do." As explanation of why he had returned some marihuana to Lavender, Stewart told Weed that he "thought it was cool" to give some back to develop a relationship with an informant. Weed, who had three to four years of narcotics experience, testified that he had not heard of officers giving back drugs to gain the rapport of an informant. Weed stated that he had explained to Stewart that the only time an officer might give drugs back would be in an undercover capacity.
The Fredericksburg police chief is angry about the case and said last year he questioned the motives of the District Attorney who brought it. But I say any DA who knows that a cop offered to lie in court and doesn't prosecute isn't doing their job. Even a snitch with critical information isn't worth that, much less some gal you picked up at a traffic stop with half an ounce of smoke. It's sad, and a shame, that a chief of police wouldn't understand that.

* * *
Meanwhile, the Statesman reported this week that a federal informant has been indicted for stealing thousands of dollars from more than 250 credit cards at convenience stores he ran in Austin ("One time informant pleads guilty to other crimes," Jan. 24).

In 2003, [Muhammed] Aslam became a federal informant, ratting on some associates to help FBI and IRS agents make their case in a multi-million-dollar illegal gambling and money laundering investigation that targeted a network of game rooms and convenience stores in Austin, according to federal court testimony.

In exchange for immunity in the case, Aslam told the agents about the convenience stores he operated that were owned by Tariq Majeed, who has since been indicted, along with 14 others in the case, an FBI agent testified last year.

But as the investigation progressed, authorities began to suspect Aslam was involved in a bevy of other criminal activity.

What is unclear in Aslam's case is whether his cooperation with the FBI and IRS drew authorities' attention to his other crimes. The Majeed investigation was led by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, while Aslam's investigation was led by a state and local financial crimes task force. FBI agent Timothy Stephens testified last year that Aslam was an informant until September 2005.

The federal charges came in August.

As part of the plea deal, investigators agreed not to pursue charges in federal and state court related to other crimes they suspected Aslam committed. According to court documents and testimony, he is suspected of frequently buying stolen gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol and other goods to sell at his stores. Since 2002 he has reported just $1.1 million in receipts for sales tax purposes to the state comptroller, even though more than $8 million went in and out of his bank accounts in that time, the documents show.

Some of that cash was sent to Pakistan, where Aslam has family, court documents show. It is unclear how it was spent.

So this fellow was an informant targeting improper money transfers to Pakistan, meanwhile he stole from more than 250 customers and had $7 million in unaccounted-for income pass through his bank accounts, some of which itself made its way to Pakistan, either to the defendants family or for heaven knows what purpose.

But the Joint Terrorism Task Force didn't care about any of that - it took state and local officials investigating to bring this case forward. Aslam's federal anti-terrorism handlers apparently never caught on that their snitch was funneling potentially millions of ill-gotten gains to a country widely known as a terrorism center!

You tell me: Were these snitches' contributions to justice worth the crimes tolerated or the police integrity breached? Or would officers (and the public) have been better served if they tried to make their cases another way?

8 comments:

Jason said...

Anyone with a lick of sense knows better than this. He speaks for himself not all of us.

800 pound gorilla said...

The police have to lie in order to find drug suppliers because there is no harm done until the user makes the decision to abuse the drugs and endanger other peoples' lives and welfare.
As my daddy [who lives in Texas btw]stated in a drunken stupor: "Nobody does anything under the influence that he wouldn't do otherwise." Since he was hypercritical and short on praise when sober, I believe he told me that so I wouldn't discredit his sincerity when he gave positive kudos when he was drunk. It seems that every drug that is reputed to have "mind altering" powers only brings out what is already inside the user. Steroids are supposed to make one more aggressive and abusive but those are typical of anyone who has the monomania necessary to compete at the highest levels of a sport.

Most of the people who buy illegal drugs use them in relative safety and are no danger to those around them. Unfortunately, those who sell drugs - legally or otherwise - make their large profits catering to the most dysfunctional of users. Local taverns stay in business because of the neighborhood drunk who ends up staggering home from a night visit rather than from people like myself who share a pitcher with three others after a game of hoops or volleyball.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know, Jason, I'd be inclined to agree with you except that his police chief took the attitude that this was some big anti-cop conspiracy by the DA, while Detective Weed (what a name to be involved in this case!) found it disturbing and reported it. That tells me that there are schisms among cops, and that some think it should be tolerated while others, like you and Weed, would never countenance such behavior.

To me, the moment it's documented a cop has offered to lie in court, he'll never be a credible witness again, anyway, so he should just be fired. It's amazing to me that that's not how his chief sees it.

Steve-O' said...

Burning Bridges and Making Friends

This is Why I HATE METH COOK TURNED "INFORMANT" ONCE HE GOT BUSTED: TIM "MEET SNITCH" GOEHL who should be serving 25 years minimum to life in prison in Austin, TX right now!

Anonymous said...

Tim Goehl Saved my life in many ways. SO Actually I look at you guys and just sit back and think to myself" Look at these dumbass waste thier time on something that has passed, oh yeah did I mention dumbass?"

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous said... PLEASE write federal inmate Bryan Bowen and share your comments regarding how Tim Goehl saved your life, seeing how Tim ruined his! I'm sure he'd love to hear how the same piece of waste who used to cook for him, was at his apartment went it got raided yet was the only 1 there not arrested! I'm sure BB would love to hear what you gotta say.

You can find BB @ www.bop.gov

His inmate mailing address is:

Bryan Bowen #28585-180

USP COLEMAN I

U.S. PENITENTIARY

P.O. BOX 1033

COLEMAN, FL 33521


He's serving time, as Tim should still be doing, till April 9th, 2020! So feel free to send your comments anytime between now & then, ok?

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Anonymous said...

Ou we talking about the late Chief Of Police Paul Oestrich ? He was dirty and went out of his way to cover for dirty cops in Fbg and there have been many . Detective Weed is a good solid man but FPD still has its bad cops right along with its dirty deputies.
A few years back there was an assault and possible rape case in city limits committed by a deputied dad. Guess who collected and destroyed evidence ? Yes the mans son who is a deputy and was out of juricdiction . The Texas Rangers were involved but instead of working with the victims family and medical staff who said the victim was assualted and raped they only worked with the deputy and a detective with FPD. The man in question has a history of stalking , b&e and other sexual related crimes. The woman was in a coma for weeks and medical staff said somebody shot her up with insulin (a new date rape tactic) . The woman was not diabetic but the attacker is. Thanks to FPD we have a free rapist in town.