Ruth: How much does it cost to pay rogue informant?

Published May 4 2013

This probably is what happens when a confidential informant with an inflated sense of derring-do watches Goodfellas just one too many times.

And as a result, city of Tampa taxpayers find themselves on the hook for $260,000 all because in addition to his law enforcement overseers, informant Luis "Danny" Agosto probably also needed a babysitter — with handcuffs and a Taser.

It was supposed to be a big deal bust that night back in 2006 when 100 gendarmes stormed into the Caribbean American Club to round up suspected members of the infamous Latin Kings gang. About the only thing missing from the moment was Al Pacino's Tony Montana muttering: "Say hello to my little friend."

In all, 52 patrons in the bistro wound up being charged with racketeering charges for their alleged membership in the Latin Kings. And there was great chest beating among the badges.

The gathering of the supposed gang members was the handiwork of Agosto, a felon turned informant for the FBI and the Tampa Police Department in what was then called "Operation Down Crown," which more appropriately might have been better titled "Operation Blown Clown."

For what seemed like a major crimes case turned out to be one huge cluster boo-boo, when nearly half of those arrested accepted plea deals for probation and 23 others had the charges against them tossed by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet, after hizzoner discovered that in addition to being an informant for the cops, Agosto was also a one man crime wave that made the Latin Kings look like Up With People.

Indeed, it was Agosto who had cajoled and threatened people who had precious little to do with the Latin Kings to show up the Caribbean American Club the night of the raid just so they could get busted.

And while Agosto was whispering sweet informant nothings into the ears of detectives he was also engaged stealing motorcycles, carrying a gun (a huge no-no for a convicted felon) and dealing in counterfeit money. The informant even used an FBI issued cellphone to send photos of stolen motorcycles to prospective black market buyers.

Now before we get all down on Mr. Agosto's apparent lack of scruples at least we can all acknowledge he certainly is a man of enterprising ambition.

Nevertheless, Sleet was not impressed with Agosto's indifference to law and order, noting he played a key role in entrapping innocent people and brazenly wove a "web of deception in the face of his police handlers."

Several people ensnared in the Latin Kings bust sued the city for essentially turning their lives into a living hell, all because law enforcement was duped by Agosto. One unjustly arrested man, Mitchell Bernier, who spent 152 days in jail, saw his marriage crumble, his reputation crater, lost his job and required therapy for depression (no kidding), stands to receive a generous settlement from the city.

Government attorneys advised that even though they maintained the city had no liability it was still a good idea to simply pay the settlements, arguing if these false arrest cases went to court Tampa would very likely lose.

But because the FBI had stopped using Agosto as an informant once it became clear he was about as reliable as Jon Lovitz's congenital fibber Tommy Flanagan, one might argue the city was facing plenty of liability.

You can't put a price on justice, or ruined reputations, or law enforcement run amok, but $260,000 is probably a good place to start.

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