“You ... agreed to become an informant for the government.”
“To do whatever they wanted you to do.”
“To tell on whoever they wanted you to tell on.”
-- Key exchange between defense attorney Leonard Goodman and Sherman Bell, a convicted drug dealer-turned- “cooperating” witness in the 1999 trial of nightclub entrepreneur Euka Wadlington.
Perhaps in the interest of impressing France, Bray boasted that he could stuff her in the trunk of his car and take her to Cleveland – and she'd never be heard from again. He then immediately asked France out, an invitation she quite sensibly – and predictably – declined.
Using a thinly veiled murder threat is an odd come-on of the sort that would occur only to a psychopath, or perhaps to a government employee (or do I repeat myself?). Mr. Bray, a veteran drug dealer, may have been the former. He was definitely the latter, after a fashion: He was an informant working under the supervision of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Lee Lucas. On the basis of Bray's unreliable word alone, Geneva France and dozens of others were convicted on drug-related charges.
Last May, Bray – who was still selling marijuana while working as a DEA asset -- shot a man in Cleveland during a drug deal. After being sent to jail, Bray admitted that he had lied when he claimed that he had seen Geneva work as a drug courier. After sixteen months in prisons in West Virginia and Kentucky, Geneva was given $68 and a bus ticket.
Geneva has yet to receive an apology from the federal prosecutors who stole a year and a half of her life. During that time her children were deprived of their mother; her youngest daughter, Leelasha, was 18 months old when Geneva was incarcerated, and didn't recognize her mother when she returned. The family was evicted from its home after Geneva was sent to prison. Had an aunt not been available to care for the daughters, they would have been broken up and taken into the Foster Care system.
This week, fifteen innocent men from Mansfield who were convicted on the strength of Bray's federally suborned perjury were released from prison. Their aggregate prison sentence was 86 years. Even after Bray – whose testimony was the only “evidence” against these men – has been exposed as a liar, notes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Prosecutors refused to characterize the men as innocent.” This is common behavior on the part of the anthropomorphic colostomy bags called federal prosecutors.
Geneva's case is particularly egregious, in that Bray's accusations most likely were retaliation for turning down the degenerate federal informant's request for a date.
“Why me?” Geneva commented to the Plain Dealer. “Why should anyone be so mad at me? Of all the women in Mansfield, why me? Because I didn't go out on a date? Why do that to me over something so dumb?”
At the time Bray sicced the police on her, Geneva was struggling to pay the rent and keep the refrigerator stocked on a minimum wage job at a nursing home. She was getting her older daughters ready for school on the morning in November 2005 when Federal agents raided her home. They found not a particle of evidence that Geneva either dealt or used drugs.
Nonetheless, Geneva was arraigned on charges of selling more than 50 grams of crack cocaine to Bray. In court, Geneva, with a winsome and wholly misplaced confidence that justice is the objective of the “justice” system, refused a plea bargain agreement that offered her 3-4 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit; she was warned that she could be given a life sentence and never see her daughters again unless she took the deal.
The prosecution had no case; it had the unsubstantiated word of a single accuser, a paid government informant who was also an active drug dealer. Yet the federal jury convicted Geneva. This is a typical outcome, since the conviction rate for federal juries is higher than ninety percent.
Accordingly, Geneva went from earning minimum wage at a nursing home to earning 12 cents an hour for cleaning the prisons that confined her. Every penny she scraped together went to purchasing phone cards so she could talk to her daughters.
Now that their mother is free, Geneva's daughters react with acute anxiety every time she leaves, no matter how briefly. The family was evicted from its apartment when Geneva was incarcerated, and now lives in a smaller rent-subsidized apartment. Despite her innocence, Geneva is finding it difficult to get work, on account of the 16-month gap in her work history and a prison stint for which she still hasn't received complete exoneration.
For his part, Bray faces 15 years in prison for perjury and civil rights violations. Fret not for Jerrell Bray, however: He is “cooperating” with the Justice Department's inquiry into the Mansfield scandal, which probably means he will be able to arrange yet another deal. His erstwhile co-conspirator, Lee Lucas, is still on the job and thus far faces no repercussions of any kind for sending at least 16, and as many as a few dozen, innocent people to prison.
This outrage is not an anomaly. It is perfectly typical of the way the federal government and its local affiliates build drug cases and create statistical “successes.” And this helps explain the sometimes murderous “Don't snitch” ethic that has taken root in some urban black communities, which is a predictable and even, in some ways, healthy blowback from the exercise in state terrorism called the War on Drugs.
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Investigative author Ethan Brown explains that dynamic in his infuriating new book Snitch: Informants, Cooperators & the Corruption of Justice:
“The rise in anti-informant sentiment – and the government's increasing reliance on cooperators to make cases – can be directly traced to a series of anticrime bills passed by Congress in the mid-1980s and early 1990s that established severe mandatory minimums for drug offenders while offering the promise of drastic reductions in prison sentences for cooperators. Because the anti-crime bills established significant jail time for even low-level drug game players ... entering into cooperation agreements with federal prosecutors because a near necessity for many defendants.”
The key provision is section 5K1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines, which permits “downward departure” from mandatory sentences to defendants who agree to testify against others. Andrew C. White, a former prosecutor for the Maryland US Attorney's office who is now doing penance as a defense attorney, describes the “5K” option as the “nuclear weapon” in the federal arsenal. It's also a handy time-saver for work- and risk-averse law enforcement officers and DEA agents: Rather than building cases based on shoe-leather investigative work, they can simply create a stable of informants and “cooperators” and manufacture drug cases ex nihilo using their “witnesses” as ventriloquist's dummies.
“The attitude is, `We have ten informants; that's good enough; let's indict,” explains New York defense attorney Robert Simels. “Then, just before trial, they prep the witnesses. Very little investigative work is done.”
The Federal Rules of Evidence have been modified to facilitate bad convictions. Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence permits trial prosecutors to introduce evidence relating to “other crimes, wrongs or acts” for which the defendant has not been convicted or even criminally charged; this is permitted in order to prove “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident” behind an alleged crime. In practice this nullifies the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy.
Former federal attorney Andrew White observes that this gives unscrupulous prosecutors (once again, forgive the redundancy) another huge advantage over defendants: “When I was a prosecutor, I had a defendant who was previously charged with a drug dealing crime in which he was found not guilty. Not only was I allowed to introduce evidence relating to that crime, I was also able to prevent the jury from hearing about the acquittal.”
But the whole process usually begins with an informant, aka “cooperator,” alias “incentivized witness.” This racket is well-known to both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and almost always described to juries in some detail. As the quote above illustrates, many informants blithely admit on the witness stand that they are offering testimony in exchange for “special consideration.” Some even admit that they're willing to perjure themselves in the service of the prosecution.
These people have a point: Yes, some urban criminals are drawn into the "Stop Snitchin'" movement for corrupt and self-interested reasons. But the really dangerous criminals are those protected by, and cooperating with, the Feds.
During the November 2005 trial of “Hip-Hop” impressario Irv Lorenzo on drug money laundering charges, defense attorney Gerald Shargel asked “cooperating witness” Philip Banks: “If telling a lie about Irv Lorenzo could get you out of jail and prevent you from facing the sentencing you're facing, you would do it?”
“Yes, sir,” Banks admitted.
Lorenzo was acquitted. Chicago nightclub owner Euka Wadlington wasn't so fortunate. He was convicted by a federal jury and given two concurrent life terms in prison as a drug dealer despite the complete absence of physical or surveillance evidence, and a case that was built entirely on the word of compensated informants and other “cooperators.”
Among the witnesses who “cooperated” was a troubled young man named Terrance Hood who originally told investigators that Wadlington “nagged him about staying in school and even told drug dealers to stay away from him,” recounts Brown in Snitch. “Hood then went on to describe players in the [drug] scene in great detail – without once implicating Wadlington.” But Hood's memory changed dramatically after he went to prison and was offered a “downside departure” in exchange for testimony against Wadlington: Suddenly Hood remembered the much-loved businessman as a vicious drug lord who would torture inept subordinates by hitting them with minute-long Taser blasts (which is actually the conduct one expects from a police officer, not a drug dealer).
Federal prosecutors went to the trouble of subpoenaing two of Wadlington's old girlfriends, pressuring them to implicate him as a drug dealer, and then terrorizing them with threats of long prison sentences if they didn't “cooperate.”
“If I were you,” federal prosecutor Clifford Cronk told one of them, “I'd be afraid.” They eventually broke and gave the Cronkster and his cohorts what they wanted, and Wadlington – whose petition to the Supreme Court was denied – now sits in a federal prison.
Many victims of the Federal snitching apparatus are dead. Some of the victims perished in paramilitary police raids authorized by warrants obtained on the basis of informant testimony. Other victims are “dead men walking” -- death row inmates. Brown points out that “a 1997 study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions found that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions can be attributed to false information provided by `incentivized witnesses.'”
Today he'd wear a wire: Judas Iscariot, "cooperating witness," helps Roman officials arrest a known radical.
Brown writes that the “Stop Snitchin'” movement – death threats and other forms of intimidation included – is propelled “not by a reflexive anti-law enforcement mentality” or simple thuggishness, but rather a “real sense that the federal system is out of whack and that people are being put away for the rest of their lives” based on the purchased perjury of informants and other “cooperators.”
An increasing reliance on state informants is a reliable symptom of tyranny. Imperial Rome, like imperial America, was lousy with delatores (or informants) who collaborated with accusatores
(corrupt, malicious prosecutors), and wretched individuals of both types disfigure much of medieval history. Informants played an indispensable role in modern totalitarian states.
But the archetype paid informant was probably Judas Iscariot, who – like most “cooperators,” was eager to tell State authorities exactly what they wanted to hear, for a price. There's never been another defendant as innocent as Iscariot's Victim, but most informants are probably at least as craven as Judas.
Department of shameless self-promotion
My new book, Liberty in Eclipse: The War on Terror and the Rise of the Homeland Security State, is now available for sale on-line through The Right Source -- and will soon be available at a bookstore near you (I promise!).
Dum spiro, pugno!