LAS VEGAS – Inside a casino’s lavish high roller’s lair last August, a formally-attired waitstaff served sumptuous plates of steak and Dover sole to some of the world’s biggest gamblers. The floral-scented serenity that evening was broken by two occupants of a corner table who spoke loudly and profanely about kilos of cocaine and how best to conceal assault rifle ammunition in airplane luggage.
One of them – a large, disheveled man resembling a Hispanic Tony Soprano – boomed through a story about a SWAT raid on the hideout of a criminal gang he was with and how he narrowly avoided the jaws of a police dog named Booger.
His lanky, middle-aged companion – who wore an all-black outfit capped by an Air Jordan-branded knit hat – shared a tale about cursing out agents of Australia’s version of the FBI, his telling punctuated with well-timed Aussie accents.
The other diners could fairly assume their sanctuary was under invasion by a pair of particularly reckless criminals. But these two men are, in theory, the good guys.
Both boast of having worked as criminal informants for federal law enforcement branches looking to bring down dangerous drug traffickers and would-be terrorists, sensitive work that requires secrecy and discretion. The men exercised neither skill on this evening.
Instead, during 24 hours in Las Vegas that also included raucous hands of high-stakes blackjack with an electronica DJ and a private jet trip home, the pair fed closely guarded confidential information to a reporter in a gambit to coerce the FBI into paying out $80,000 for services rendered in a still-secret federal operation.
The episode is a rare and unnerving look into the murky world of confidential informants and the questionable characters that law enforcement officials sometimes rely on to ensnare and convict criminals. Though confidential informants are inescapable denizens of the American criminal justice system, their roles are typically only thrust into the public eye when something goes awry. That includes cases such as that of Whitey Bulger, who built his empire as a murderous Boston mob boss through his decades-long relationship with a corrupt FBI agent.
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