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The Importance of Controlling your Informants

Every so often you need to keep in mind that the motives of informants are not aligned with your own. In reality they are masking hidden agendas. Dealing with informants is an unscripted ballet of achieving your objectives without divulging your goals or intentions.

It was a blustery November day in New York City when myself and two novice detectives from neighboring areas of Miami arrived at the La Guardia Marriott. It was the two detectives’ first out of state trip and a learning/training experience for them. My contact "Gustavo" was to meet us in the morning. Gustavo is an informant of mine in Miami. He was a rogue, brusque and ill mannered Columbian who worked with two other Miami partners in a trio of crime and opportunity. Guns, narcotics what have you; it makes no difference as long as money was involved. Gustavo was a money mercenary and would "sell you" just as easily as a fellow bad guy to make a buck.

The deal was set up before our arrival. In Miami, we agreed to pick up $250,000 in cash from the Dominican drug courier on a Jackson Heights street corner. The courier thought that Gustavo and I were partners, and we were to "mule" (carry out of New York back to Miami) the money back to South Florida. Once back in Miami, we were to implement it through our channels into a Colombian drug lord's coffers. The price for this endeavor was 6% of the $250,000. Unbeknownst to the cartel,Gustavo was working for us and of the 6% commission, he would get 3% and the task force would the other 3% for our operating expenses. We in Law Enforcement are doing this knowing that if this "run" went well we would receive an additional one million dollars to mule within 10 days from the same drug courier. NYPD officers were in place to identify the courier after the deal. If all went well, in the courier could lead them to the 1 million dollars. I hoped that before we started to launder the $250,000 Miami and NYPD could seize the entire $1.25 million before the end of the week.

On the morning of the deal, Gustavo showed up at the hotel. We sat down to breakfast. He declined saying that he had stayed at his mother’s house in Bensonhurst and had already eaten. After a period of small talk, Gustavo left and then returned in two hours. Upon returning he tells me: "We got a problem!"

He went on to say that he met a woman the night before in a hotel bar. He retired to a room with her and left his pager in the hotel bar. This pager was the cartels only way to notify the deal is final. Gustavo says the bartender held the pager for him, but turned it off because cartel pages were annoying. He then says the cartel is angry at the lack of communication and to stay in good graces we have to pick up $400,000 today.

Is it an issue?

Sure it is!

We are in the business to seize money - not launder money. If we take on the new figure we are then laundering nearly as much as we are potentially seizing. In doing so we are not part of the solution but potentially part of the problem.

Gustavo is told very firmly by me, "We are not picking up that much money and it stays at $250,000."

For the next three hours we play phone tag from various pay phones all over Queens, New York. Finally, we settle in to meet the Dominican in front of the famous World's Fair Fountain in Flushing. Like a scene from a movie, I am waiting at the fountain for the Dominican. He never shows. I call the deal off and the two detectives and I go back to Miami that night. Gustavo says he's going to stay in New York City awhile to see his mother. On the airplane ride back, I explain to the two novice detectives what really happened. Gustavo does not want to share the commission with the task force. He wants the 6% for himself. What he was trying to do was raise the pick up to $400,000 then he could recoup the 3% loss on the original $250,000.

The informant is lying to us and he thinks I did not know what he's doing. Utilizing contacts in airline reservations, I make sure when he ended up on a New York to Miami airline passenger manifest we would be notified. Lo and behold, four days later he shows up traveling alone on the 4 pm flight. I go out to Miami International Airport, and he was truly surprised to see us meet him on the jet way. In his carry-on bag: $250,000.

Gustavo did the deal without us, and we seized the $250,000. Gustavo was on his way to jail busted. The confidential informant is out of the picture and with no commission. The importance of controlling your informants is essential to any investigation even when they think you're not.

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