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In March 2009, immigration agents in Miami transmitted an urgent message to the FBI field office at 26 Federal Plaza: Dominican narcotics traffickers had put out a contract on the head of Michael Garcia, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Alarm bells sounded. A plot to assassinate a man who had been one of the most powerful and prominent law-enforcement officials in the country was a big deal.
The FBI quickly dispatched agents, U.S. Marshals, and police to provide around-the-clock guards for Garcia, who had served as U.S. Attorney here from 2005 to 2008 before going into private practice. Federal agents ordered a range of wiretaps, dumped phone records, and sent agents and undercovers to the Dominican Republic.
The threat appeared plausible. After all, Garcia had sent his share of big-time narcotics dealers to prison. He had presided over terrorist indictments and page-one political-corruption cases (see Spitzer, Eliot).
Three months and $2.5 million in investigative costs later, however, the threat on the former federal prosecutor turned out to be a hoax. Even worse, the mastermind of the scam turned out to be a longtime paid confidential informant for both the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and Florida state authorities. His name was Angel Jose Perez, a 30-year-old Dominican native living in Miami.
Worse than that, Perez was not only a convicted sex offender before he was granted confidential-informant status, but he also continued to commit a range of violent and nonviolent crimes over an eight-year period while getting paid by the authorities in exchange for dubious information, records show. Meanwhile, even though he had no visible means of financial support, he gambled nearly $500,000 in a nine-month binge from 2008 to 2009, and the authorities did nothing about it.
Perez was convicted of felonies in 2005 and 2007 in state court, but he was allowed to remain out of prison for years, until his hoax assassination plot was dismantled. And, records indicate, he actually fooled the feds twice—once involving the Garcia plot and a second time involving a 2007 money-laundering investigation in which the feds actually smuggled $500,000 in cash from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic but didn't get a single arrest out of it.
Somehow, the full breadth of this story never came out, neither here nor in Miami, until the Voice recently obtained a sentencing memo in the Garcia case that laid out the bones of Perez's involvement with the government.
One central question is: Why did the government allow Perez to remain an informant? Here are two more: Was Perez running a scam on the feds over a period of years, and were the feds so desperate to keep an informant that they put up with his illegal behavior and lack of credibility?
But Perez appears to be so toxic that prosecutors, defense lawyers, investigators, and federal agents alike either didn't respond to Voice inquiries or refused to comment. (Garcia also did not respond to inquiries.) Sealing more than a dozen official documents in the Garcia case file, prosecutors also went to some lengths to hide a full account of Perez's involvement with the feds.
The feds would not answer any questions, such as: How much was Perez paid? Why did they keep using him? Did they know he was committing crimes? Did he ever provide any useful information?
"We don't discuss our investigative techniques," says Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman for the ICE Miami field office. (Yglesias did not deny any of the facts in the Voice inquiry.)
But in the sentencing memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Everdell cast doubt on Perez's value as an informant by writing, "Perez's work as a confidential informant had produced mixed results in various investigations."
Irving Cohen, Perez's lawyer, declined to comment except to say, "We will be contesting the government's claim about his gambling and the costs they claim for relocating his family members."
Perez himself wasn't available for an interview, but, defending himself and saying he never lied to the government, he made two statements in court last year.
A Miami defense attorney familiar with Perez's activities over the years says: "We've got this system that rewards people for cooperating and creates a huge incentive for individuals like Perez to fabricate and implicate people. Moreover, he continues to commit crimes knowing that he has a safety valve, and the government seems to turn a blind eye to what he's doing."
Says Jose Herrera, a Miami defense attorney familiar with Perez's history: "Good investigators got manipulated by this man, but someone higher up was making the decisions. Once you deactivate an informant, you don't reactivate him. But they did it for him a couple of times, even though it was clear that he wasn't providing reliable information, and he was running a parallel fraud scheme."
If the government enabled a criminal, it could be argued that law-enforcement officials have to do that at times to go after even bigger criminals. But on the other hand, the use of people with shady backgrounds has been a matter of controversy in recent years, especially in terrorism investigations.
In the Newburgh 4 and Albany terror conspiracy cases, the feds used the same dubious informant who had lied on official documents and committed a series of frauds.