This is exactly the kind of scenario criticized by Prof. Alexandra Natapoff, arguably the nation's leading academic expert on the uses and abuses of confidential informants, who maintains that snitch agreements can actually produce and tolerate crime instead of preventing it. As she wrote in 2006 in the San Francisco Chronicle ("California reconsiders snitching," Nov. 19, 2006):
Stanford guaranteed himself against fraud investigations by working with the US DEA, turning over details of money-laundering from Latin American clients from Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela and Ecuador, the corporation claims.
"We were convinced that Stanford's bank attracted millions of narco-dollars, but it was very difficult to get the evidence to nail him," sources apparently told Panorama.
"The word is that Stanford has been a confidential informer for the DEA since 99."
Unlike the law-abiding citizen who calls 911 to report a crime or who testifies at trial, criminal informants face prosecution for their own crimes, and thus have deep incentives to lie. If a snitch can convince the police officer or the prosecutor that his information is useful, he may avoid arrest, avoid the filing of serious charges or obtain a reduced sentence.
Snitches may also receive cash, drugs, permission to buy drugs, forgiveness for prior crimes and lenience for new crimes, even those committed in other jurisdictions. In return, law enforcement agents obtain information and convenience: They avoid having to expend time and resources prosecuting the snitch.
These secret deals between the government and criminals can last for years, and they can be very costly to the public welfare.
In the worse cases, informants continue to commit new crimes, while government handlers may turn a blind eye as long as the informant is useful.
This makes snitching a kind of "get-out-of-jail-free" card.
That's apparently what may have happened in the Stanford case. In retrospect, though, the crimes the feds tolerated arguably dwarfed any offenders who Stanford's information helped finger.
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