Snitchin’ Economics: How The U.S. Government Spends $500M+ A Year On Snitches And Informants
The New York Police Department paid a civilian informant in July to circulate among Black Lives Matter protesters, befriend one and help him cut the brakes on a police van, according to a new federal complaint.
Jeremy Trapp, a 24-year-old Brooklyn man, was accused of sabotaging an NYPD vehicle.
It’s unclear how many other paid informants the NYPD may have embedded in recent protests against police brutality, The Gothamist reported. However, it’s hardly a new practice. The department used the controversial tactic to surveil Muslims in the wake of 9/11.
The U.S. government spent $500 million on snitches and informants in 2014, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Most of the disclosed awards went to whistleblowers. Confidential informants got tens of millions, according to a report sent to Congress on Jan. 29, 2015.
Informant payments came out of the Asset Forfeiture Program, which received $4.47 billion in 2014 through cash and other seizures.
Forfeiture is big business for the Department of Homeland Security. Under federal civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize money and property they come across in the course of their investigations – even if they never file criminal charges, Federal News Network reported.
Records from the Institute for Justice obtained as part of a lawsuit show DHS agencies seized more than $2 billion in currency at U.S. airports between 2000 and 2016. In an overwhelming number of cases, the owners of that cash were never accused of a crime, according to Jennifer McDonald, a senior research associate at the institute.
Some federal agencies — including non-DHS agencies such as the FBI and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) — paid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to be confidential informants.
TSA agents are incentivized when they see cash. “Then (the federal government agencies) give a kickback of whatever they forfeit to those specific agents for being a confidential informant. So there is a very direct profit incentive,” McDonald said in an interview published on Sept. 3, 2020.
An internal government document obtained by The Intercept provides the framework for how informants are paid.
The FBI’s Human Source Policy Guide shows that informants can make a lot of money working for the bureau — more than $500,000 a year. Informants can also get up to an additional 25 percent of the net value of property forfeited as a result of an investigation up to $500,000 per asset. For drug informants, forfeitures can include planes, boats, cars, and real estate.
Large payments are a way for FBI agents to control informants, many of whom are criminals who might otherwise break an agreement, said Martin Stolar, a New York criminal defense lawyer.
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Informants are paid three ways: by expense reimbursements, payments for services or lump-sum payments.
Craig Monteilh, a bodybuilder, worked undercover as an informant for the FBI by spying on mosques in Southern California. “Everything they do is based on covering something up if it goes to trial,” he told The Intercept. “They always told me that 98 percent of cases do not go to trial, but if indeed this one does, then all these payments are for reimbursements.”
Monteilh said he received $177,000 from the FBI over a one-year period.