By Nick Budnick
Whether you call them informants, snitches or rats, it’s hard to categorize the tipsters that police say are a pillar of public safety and the source of most major busts.
They are crooks’ bitter ex-lovers, and they are down-on-their-luck junkies needing money for a fix. They are well-meaning people protecting their neighborhoods, and they are drug dealers intent on taking out the competition. Many are defendants hoping to stay out of a cramped cell of concrete and steel by helping put others in it.
Now, however, Portland-area snitches are themselves being snitched on. Their foe is a local ex-con who goes by the name ‘Sixpack.’
Ann Lambert spent three years behind bars on drug charges following anonymous tips to police. Ever since she walked out of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville in 2003, she’s been going after the type of people who she says victimized her.
While police typically use a narrow definition of informant, meaning secret and undercover, Lambert’s definition is broader. On her Web site she names people who simply cooperate with police as ‘informants.’
Lambert says she has dozens of allies helping her with this mission, pulling police and court records to confirm the identities of informants and witnesses used by local and federal law enforcement in the Portland area.
Lambert calls her group Women’s Anarchist Black Cross Collective and has a Web site at www.wabc.mahost.org, where she posts the identities of alleged police informants.
‘I’m doing it because I think it’s important for people to know, (and also to) restore a little bit of fairness to our justice system,’ Lambert says.
Lawrence Taylor, an attorney who has represented Lambert in the past, shares many of her concerns, that informants represent ‘real deep rot’ in the criminal justice system and their use can amount to ‘police-state tactics.’
He says that when informants are defendants trading information for their freedom, it is ‘akin to witness tampering. If I were to offer witnesses the kind of inducements that the prosecution is able to offer them then I’d be prosecuted.’
Others see it differently.
Sgt. Doug Justus, whose bust of Lambert sent her to prison in 2001, and who was tipped off to her site by fellow officers, says informants and tipsters are ‘crucial’ to solving crimes, and contends that she is operating from a personal vendetta.
‘She’s a frustrated woman who got busted a couple of times,’ he says. ‘She lost all of her drugs, she lost all her money and she lost all her stuff that she had collected.’
Others are worried that people named on the site will be harmed, whether they really are informants or not.
‘There have been instances where bad things have happened’ to informants whose identities became public, says Senior Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink.
Retired police Capt. C.W. Jensen says the Web site shows that ‘in this age where anyone can have a Web page and anyone can say anything about anybody, it just makes it that much more important to protect (informants).’
He says that she could face legal retribution.
‘I hope that if she incorrectly names somebody they sue her,’ he says.
Cop defends the practice
Police say informants are a vital part of law enforcement, especially when it comes to pursuing drugs, prostitution and gangs, and solving murders.
‘We can’t get in houses,’ Justus says. ‘We’re the straight guys, you know, so we rely on people who have been there to do that.’
But a backlash against them has been growing both nationally and locally.
On a national level, a nonprofit organization called the Innocence Project says that of all the convictions it’s seen reversed due to DNA evidence, 15 percent were due to inaccurate or dishonest information provided by informants.
Locally, cops have problems finding people to provide evidence on gang-related murders, and some merchants in Northeast Portland even sell hats and T-shirts encouraging others not to ‘snitch.’
Lambert, however, is taking it another step, by actually naming those she says have snitched. She said she got the idea from her fellow inmates at the state’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, where she spent nearly three years, starting in 2001.
She says her group documents everything it can. ‘Our credibility is very important to us.’ she says.
She says that her criminal record should not detract from her message.
‘Just because I am an ex-felon does not make me a liar,’ she says.
Lambert says the very fact that informants usually operate through deception is reason enough not to use them.
‘You can’t get justice out of lies, it doesn’t work that way,’ she says. But she added that she does not disapprove of all snitches, and would herself help police with information concerning someone who had committed murder or rape.
On the other hand, ‘I have a problem with invasion of our privacies,’ she says. ‘A person smoking a joint in the privacy of their own home is not hurting anybody.’
Court panel agreed
Lambert says she’s picked up her computer skills in the years since she left prison. Before then, she had worked as a carpenter and machinist, only to be waylaid by the effects of cerebral palsy, she says.
The opening page of the Web site Lambert founded, which is dedicated to Coffee Creek, proclaims that ‘Informants Barter Our Freedom For Their Own,’ adding that ‘A life is not a bargaining tool.’
Head to the ‘Not-so-confidential informants’ pages and you’ll find the names of 45 alleged informants, many accompanied by photographs. Two entries were added as recently as Friday.
You’ll also find entries describing court cases, such as a federal case, U.S. vs. Singleton, in which a three-judge panel of federal appeals judges in 1998 ruled that trading time off for informants’ testimony amounted to bribery.
‘The judicial process is tainted and justice cheapened when factual testimony is purchased, whether with leniency or money,’ said the panel’s decision.
The panel soon was overruled by the entire 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the earlier ruling would ‘make a criminal out of nearly every federal prosecutor.’
Lambert says her motive is not personal, but the first few alleged informants she describes were, according to her, the tipsters that put her in prison seven years ago for manufacturing methamphetamine.
According to police reports obtained by the Portland Tribune under Oregon Public Records Law, in June 2000 Justus arrested a burglar who pointed the finger at ‘Sixpack’ to avoid being arrested himself. That led to a search of Lambert’s apartment at Southeast 79th Avenue and Prescott Street.
There, Justus found an apartment full of apparently stolen computers and power tools -as well as the makings of a meth lab.
Before the earlier case was resolved, Justus again arrested her in March 2001 based on an anonymous tip, leading to trial and conviction. Lambert was sentenced to three years behind bars, of which she had already spent a portion in Multnomah County jails.
On her Web site, Lambert claims her ex-boyfriend, Harold Hayes, was the one who turned her in. While she was in jail, she claims, Hayes then looted her apartment of all her money and valuables.
Police concluded that her possessions had been largely stolen goods. Her landlord – whom Lambert also names on the site as an ‘informant’ – told police that she had a constant stream of people bringing her goods, which police felt were brought to her by car prowlers and burglars, then traded for meth, records show.
The police reports do not accuse her landlord or ex-boyfriend of informing on Lambert.
Hayes could not be located to comment on this article. However, his brother, Marvin, says Hayes certainly was an informant.
‘I mean when you’re caught with a whole lot of drugs and you get out two days later, and then everybody else goes to jail for 10, 20 years. … It was pretty obvious,’ he says.
No fan of his brother, Marvin Hayes wasn’t that impressed with Lambert, either.
‘They were both heavily into selling drugs,’ he says.
Besides naming alleged informants from personal experience, Lambert says she verifies tips she receives from others using government records. However, at times she simply prints e-mails she receives from tipsters.
For instance, Rob Taylor, a former Salem-area ex-con and a Web site administrator himself, sent Lambert information about an alleged informant he says led to his son being victimized by her identity-thief friends.
‘It is a real interesting Web site,’ says Rob Taylor, who is no relation to Lawrence Taylor, Lambert’s former attorney. ‘She’s got some good stuff on there.’
Lambert portrays herself not just as anti-informant, but pro-justice. Ironically, her site includes a page for ‘scammers,’ essentially snitching on people she claims are con artists preying on the weak and unsuspecting.
Additionally, she speaks of other efforts she’s made to help people she says are downtrodden, such as trying to help people keep their homes when accused of owning drug houses.
Erna Boldt, 82, of Clackamas County, says that Lambert has tried to help her regain her possessions from a son who tried to declare her mentally incompetent.
‘She is a very nice lady,’ Boldt says.
Lawrence Taylor represented Lambert in 2005 when she beat prosecution for possession of drugs – one she says was bogus.
He said that he hears from Lambert regularly by e-mail concerning her various pursuits.
‘She has a strong interest in fairness and justice,’ he said. ‘Ms. Lambert is a very dedicated person, she puts a lot of energy into her issues and I think her heart is in the right place.’
Informants often paid
Police officers seem well aware that some uses of informants may raise questions for some people.
For instance, Justus now oversees two undercover informants that the bureau uses to purchase sexual contact with prostitutes operating as masseuses and escorts.
The informants, who have held the same job for years, are not motivated by a need to work off other charges. Justus seems to concede that they may not be wholly operating from a sense of justice, either.
They get paid, but ‘not all that much,’ he says with a laugh, adding that the fee per bust is ‘less than a hundred dollars.’
Meanwhile Jensen, a former longtime drug cop, said that in the late 1980s, he and a partner found a drug-addicted prostitute who had witnessed a murder, and made her an informant simply to keep her from dying on the streets before the killer was caught.
‘We paid her for over a year just to keep her alive because if she died, we would have had no witness. We paid her thousands of dollars,’ he says. ‘Two, three years later, they found her (overdosed), dead.’
While Jensen does not approve of Lambert’s site, he does not think it will have a big impact on law enforcement. ‘You’re never going to run out of (informants),’ he says. ‘They die off, they go to jail, but you’re always going to find another one.’
Police spokesman Brian Schmautz, himself a longtime drug cop, concedes that for many informants, going to work for the police often leads to further drug use and criminal activity, and risk to their lives. So he tried to find them work and help them get off the streets as soon as he can.
But police officers disagreed with Lambert’s claims that informants are too untrustworthy to be used.
Justus said that repeat informants of the undercover variety are vetted carefully and their information substantiated before using it for an arrest or conviction.
‘We don’t base it strictly on what they tell us. You corroborate everything they say,’ Justus says.
Also, informants are fired immediately if they lie, with the news of their untrustworthiness immediately transmitted to other police departments, using a joint database called the Western States Information Network.
Using bogus information for a bust that is later deemed invalid is the last thing any officer wants. ‘Your reputation is all you’ve got,’ Justus says.
He says that Lambert does not risk any police attention for her efforts. But then he seemed to change course, saying that he could suggest officers in her area might want to keep an eye on her.
‘Would that make me an informant?’ he asks.
Some informants’ stories don’t fly
Most informants and cooperating witnesses never make the news, but there have been several instances locally where their use has sparked controversy.
In 1999, busted with a meth lab in his trunk, Humberto Castro Soler, known as ‘Maco,’ told police that in exchange for his release he would solve a grisly double murder in Multnomah County.
He pointed the finger at Jimmy Bryant, a dope dealer with no history of violence.
Investigators working the case warned county prosecutors that their star witness was known as a brutal ‘enforcer’ for a local drug ring and was himself so dangerous they feared he’d kill someone if not kept behind bars.
Five people told investigators that Soler was boasting about having committed the murder and fooled prosecutors. Even Clackamas County detectives, who felt Multnomah prosecutors had been duped, sent them information pointing to Soler as the killer.
On the brink of trial, after spending 13 months in jail, Bryant was released and all charges against him dropped. Soler, the former star witness, was charged with the murders. He pleaded guilty and is serving 25 years in federal prison.
In 2002 federal prosecutors in Oregon dropped charges against a Portland strip club manager, whom their informant had persuaded them was Oregon’s Russian mafia kingpin.
They did so after defense lawyers presented evidence that the informant, a Serbian immigrant named Misko Jovanovic, had fabricated many of his claims and that the ‘kingpin,’ Union Jacks manager Ilya Adamidov, was merely a wannabe gangster; his own mother even took the stand to call him incompetent.
The capper, however, was that Jovanovic scammed roughly $300,000 using his federal informant status, fleeing to Canada before trial with a money belt full of federal cash. As a federal judge put it, Jovanovic ‘took the government and defendants for a ride.’
Federal prosecutors in Chicago took up the case and in 2005 obtained a sentence of five years probation against Adamidov for having, with Jovanovic’s help, participated in a green-card scam set up by undercover federal agents.
In 2005, the Yamhill County District Attorney’s office dropped charges against more than 40 people for purchase of small quantities of marijuana after the McMinnville News-Register revealed that its informant for those cases, a Portland man named Marc Caven, had a long history of entrapment and deceptive tactics – a history that had led to his conviction more than two decades previous.
That same year, a federal prosecution of secondhand stores in Portland for trafficking in shoplifted goods from 10 states led to claims that the use of informants had gone too far.
Defense lawyers argued that FBI tactics in the case amounted to outrageous governmental misconduct, pointing to documents showing that one undercover informant had driven heroin-addicted boosters, many of whom did not have cars, all over the West to steal goods.
The informant even helped them buy the drugs that kept the junkies functional enough to steal.
Prosecutors and the FBI denied any line was crossed, and a federal judge last year agreed the defense had not met the high standards of proof required to throw out the case.
But what can you do to stop snitches? Here’s a list of snitches with pictures and locations. Also read: Control of Information so you can stop snitching on yourself. Also: How to find out who’s a snitch and 10 Ways to Spot an Informant and How the cops are tracking you and No Warrant No Problem and Criminal defenses (How to beat your court case) And to inspire you: 7 Fugitives who Became Folk Heroes, How I Lost my friends