The use of snitches in law enforcement is dirty business.  This unholy alliance not only injects highly suspect information into the criminal justice system, bought and paid for by our public servants,  but it also allows often violent criminals the unfettered ability to freely to engage in crime.

Everyone not living under a rock in the Mohave Desert has heard about the FBI’s entanglement with the infamous gangster/informant James “Whitey” Bulger whose recent trial has produced its fair share of comedy and murderous intrigue.

In the midst of the continuing Bulger saga, the agency’s nasty love affair with Mani Chulpayev, a former Russian mobster-turned-informant, surfaced. This snitch has worked with the FBI since the 1990s,  and, like Bulger, is alleged to have continued his criminal enterprise with government acquiescence.

In a 2002 New York Times report, federal prosecutors hailed Chulpayev as “one of the most remarkable mob turncoat[s] … in memory.” One prosecutor went so far as to say Chulpayev was “by far and away the most intelligent and cooperating witness I have dealt with.”

Chulpayev singlehandedly brought down as many as 10 “brigades” of the Russian mafia, including his own, resulting in what the Times said was a “dozen felony convictions” and the solving of a large number of violent crimes. The snitch was rewarded with a five-year, time-served sentence and a trip into the witness protection program.

But a persistent problem with snitches who cooperate with the authorities in exchange for a “get out of jail free” pass is that they feel their cooperation is a license to commit future crimes; that all they have to do is supply the authorities with a steady stream of information—more often than not against their criminal competition—and the authorities will turn a blind eye to their own criminal conduct. This is precisely what happened in the Bulger case, and apparently has once again happened in the Chulpayev case.

Just days before the Bulger trial got underway in Boston, ABC News carried an investigative report by Brian Ross that an FBI agent took “lavish gifts and cash from an informant who has been indicted in the murder of a popular Atlanta rapper known as Lil Phat.” 

It seems that Lil Phat was associated in a number of criminal enterprises controlled by Chulpayev, including what Federal prosecutors’ called “drugs and other ‘business’ dealings.” This led to some sort of dispute between Lil Phat and Chulpayev who, along with four of his cohorts, reportedly decided it was time to silence the popular rapper and send him on his eternal journey.

The FBI took Chulpayev’s lawyer, George Plumides,’ allegations serious enough to have the Department of Justice’s Inspector General open an investigation.

In a rather strange twist that only the FBI could get itself entangled, Plumides charged: “Well, it’s nice to have an FBI agent that is looking over your shoulder, I guess. But I think he (Chulpayev) was ill served. He didn’t get a bargain.”

That’s debatable. Ross reported that “as an apparent informant for the FBI for almost a decade, Chulpayev has twice been able to avoid long prison terms of [sic] possible deportation.” One person, Travis Jones of Atlanta, to whom Chulpayev sold a stolen vehicle, was told by the local authorities when he reported the crime to them that Chulpayev was untouchable because he was protected by the FBI.

As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s daja vu all over again.”

Beyond the similarities with the Bulger case, this story is alarming. The agency, either directly or indirectly, allowed Chulpayev’s criminal activity to take place under its authority. Who did what, and to what extent, in this story remains unclear, but one thing is crystal clear: Newly nominated FBI Director James Comey needs to quickly get a handle on the relationship between his agents and their snitches.

The use of  snitches, who are allowed to operate their criminal enterprises, is a shameful part of our criminal justice system that is in need of serious reform.  Snitches, and the self serving information they provide, are inherently unreliable.  Their “information” is bought and sold; either directly with cash payments or indirectly with their continued liberty. They tell law enforcement what they want to hear as long as the price is right and this has most surely led to wrongful convictions in our criminal courts.

So what about the law enforcement’s often repeated refrain “that it takes a rat to catch a rat?”  Well, it is one thing for a co-conspirator to confess and repent, it is quite another to allow a criminal to continue his crime spree with the blessing of the government.  The latter is morally and ethically bankrupt and its use should be moth-balled along with J. Edgar Hoover’s “Dirty Tricks” program.