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Tampa revises rules on use of informers

TAMPA — Prompted by the bungled Latin Kings gang investigation, the Tampa Police Department is tightening its protocol for handling informers.

The proposed changes would require stricter scrutiny of informers by case agents and all levels of management — a direct response to a judge's ruling two weeks ago that criticized law enforcement's lapse of supervision in the Latin Kings case.

The informer's misdeeds, which included threatening people with violence if they didn't attend gang meetings, persuaded a judge to throw out racketeering charges against 23 defendants.

"We want to make sure that nothing like this happens again," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Wednesday.

The policy revisions will be reviewed by attorneys, the police union and a board of high-ranking officers before getting forwarded to the police chief for his signature.

McElroy said the agency also is reviewing whether its officers followed current rules while supervising Luis "Danny" Agosto, a felon who avoided prison on grand theft charges by providing information on purported gang members to law enforcement.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet found that Agosto, 30, also stole motorcycles, threatened to beat his baby's mother, dealt in counterfeit money and drove on a suspended license while working as an informer.

Agosto's latest run-ins landed him in court Wednesday, facing allegations of violating his probation with a series of driving offenses.

Four times between August and December 2007, he was cited in South Florida for driving without insurance or registration, operating a motorcycle without a valid license and with an obscured tag and having prohibited flashing red and blue lights on his used police cruiser.

According to a Dec. 6, 2007, incident report, Agosto told Fort Lauderdale police that the Bloods gang was looking for him. He was ticketed and taken to jail but released on his own recognizance after Hillsborough sheriff's Detective William Gergel intervened on his behalf.

Records show that the incidents did not get reported to probation officials until months later. The Florida Department of Corrections violation report is dated March 17.

Agosto was jailed April 8, a day after Sleet's ruling throwing out the racketeering charges. He got out of jail within hours after Hillsborough Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez allowed him to be released again on his own recognizance. Court records don't contain an explanation for that decision.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry, who handles probation violation charges, wondered aloud Wednesday why Agosto was out of jail.

Then the judge learned that Agosto earns too much to qualify for a public defender. Perry asked how Agosto could afford a private attorney.

"From the money I get from the government," Agosto said.

"How are you employed?" Perry said.

"I get a per diem from the FBI, sir."

Agosto has previously testified that the FBI, which stopped using him as an informer in March 2006, still pays him $2,400 a month for his work in the Latin Kings investigation. An FBI spokesman had no comment Wednesday about that arrangement.

The last time Agosto came before Perry — for violating his probation last May by driving on a suspended license — he was flown to Tampa on the Sheriff's Office plane, then warned by the judge that he faced prison time if he violated the law again.

Law enforcement transported Agosto to Wednesday's hearing but it was unclear how. Gergel, the sheriff's detective, sat outside the courtroom with Agosto after Perry denied a request to sequester him in a jury room until his case was called.

Perry gave Agosto until May 21 to hire an attorney.

The judge didn't let him leave without some harsh words.

"I know he's been given some wide leeway on this probation," Perry said. "But, I tell you what, sir, that's not leeway to commit any crime you want to commit and do anything you want to do."

He ordered Agosto to get a job, report to his probation officer each month and undergo drug screening. He halted the hearing briefly to have the informer take a drug test, which Agosto passed.

Perry told probation officials to start treating Agosto like any other probationer.

"Somebody needs to supervise (him) because nobody is because he's gotten all these other charges," Perry said. "So yeah, supervise him."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Tampa revises rules on use of informers 04/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 28, 2008 10:18am]
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