Website Identifies Police Informants, Many in Drug Cases
A controversial website posts the names and photos of police informants that users can view for a fee, the New York Times reported May 22.
The site, whosarat.com, features three “rats of the week” as well as a database of information on informants, including court documents that show the plea deals the informants received in exchange for their testimony. The site was founded by a man who was convicted on drug charges in Boston in 2004 based on the testimony of an informant.
Visitors can pay $7.99 a week to view the site contents or pay $89.99 for lifetime access and a “Stop Snitching” t-shirt. The operators claim to have information on 4,300 informers and 400 undercover agents.
“The reality is this: Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale,” said Anthony Capone, a spokesperson for the site.
The site has prompted the Justice Department to consider ways to limit access to electronic court filings in order to make it more difficult to compile such extensive listings of informants.
“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote to the Judicial Conference of the United States, which makes policy decisions for the court system. “The posting of sensitive witness information poses a grave risk of harm to cooperating witnesses and defendants.”
In Miami, plea agreements have been removed from electronic files, although access to paper records is still available to the public. Judge John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis who chairs the Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, said that, “We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely. But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record.”
The site claims to be a resource for defense lawyers and defendants. David O. Markus, a Miami criminal-defense lawyer, objects to banning informant information from electronic records. “The more information out there, the easier it is for the truth to come out at trial,” said Markus. “If there is an issue in a particular case, then let's address it, but to sweep everything under the rug isn't right.”
Frank O. Bowman, a former federal prosecutor and current University of Missouri law professor, called the whosarat.com website “reprehensible and very dangerous. People are going to die as a result of this.” But he also said that plea agreements should not be routinely sealed. “It certainly is terribly important for the public ultimately to know who's flipped,” he said.