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Beryl L. Johnston

Beryl L. Johnston was a Pappillon, Neb., gentleman farmer, contractor and finance company owner who thought he was getting a good deal on refinancing a farm, but his 1993 trip to Florida to seal the deal ended in a 78-month federal sentence for money laundering.

As often occurs in government stings, Johnston wouldn’t learn until after his conviction that the key witness against him had lied to him, to the government and to the court in the sting that would cost him his freedom, his farm and most of his assets.

Based on the evidence, the government violated its rules when it snared Johnston in the sting, but because appeals take so long to resolve, vindication might come after his sentence is completed sometime next year at the Federal Correctional Institution at Yankton, S.D.

It all started in June 1993 when Jerry Woody, a man Johnston had tossed out of his office years earlier, met two U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents who were posing as agents for the Cali Drug Cartel. The agents told Woody and an acquaintance that they needed to launder $10 million from cocaine proceeds.

People who operate on the fringes of the law usually know that Cali Cartel members don’t share their affiliation with new acquaintances unless they plan to kill them, but these agents had no trouble hooking Woody, who had once been a banker but was as financially unstable in 1993 as he had been most of his life.

Although he’d never laundered anything more than a load of clothes, Woody told the smugglers he owned a bank on the Island of Palau, a U.S. Territory off the coast of the Philippines. He said he’d laundered "billions of dollars" over the past decade through connections in Lichtenstein.

He didn’t mention that he couldn’t pay his phone bill, had recently run out on several hotel bills and that his foreign bank was simply a piece of paper. His bank charter in Palau had been revoked years earlier because Woody didn’t pay the $50 renewal fee.

Virtually everything he told the agents was a lie.

The clincher came when Woody said he could arrange to launder money already in the United States through a Nebraska farmer who would be willing to put up his farm as collateral.

The undercover police officers said they wanted to meet the farmer — they had $2 million in small bills ready to launder. That complicated things a bit. The farmer was Johnston, and Woody hadn’t spoken to him in years. Johnston simply happened to own a 25 percent interest in a $6 million Nebraska farm and Woody had added his name to the growing list of lies he was feeding the feds.

Woody called an old friend, John Velder, in Kansas City, Mo. — a man who knew Johnston through business dealings. Velder, who’d helped Johnston with a loan in 1991, listened as Woody told him that friends he knew had recently inherited $20 million — another lie — and wanted to invest it. Woody thought that Johnston, a partner in Fleetwood Farms, might be a candidate for a low-interest loan.

He also asked Velder not to tell Johnston that Woody was behind the deal, since Johnston had refused to deal with him on financial matters because of Woody’s tendency to skirt the law. Velder agreed and called Johnston, who jumped at the offer of a 6 percent loan. The deal would get worked out on July 7, 1993, in Orlando, Fla.

Johnston was outraged when Woody showed up with Velder, but the good interest rate kept him talking. At a motel room, the undercover agents joined them. That’s when Johnston says he first learned of the money laundering scheme.

"They told me they were going to give me the loan, but you’re going to launder our money," he said in a recent phone interview from prison.

Velder left the room before they discussed specif-ics and was acquitted of charges filed against him.

Johnston’s apprehension with the agents is evident in several conversations the government recorded, but in the end he agreed to the money-laundering deal.

Why would he do something so stupid? Fear, Johnston says. Woody took him aside during the talks, informed him the men were members of the Cali Cartel and pointed out guards stationed in the hall — to make sure no one tried to sneak away. They were actually FBI agents in disguise.

After his arrest, the government offered Johnston a deal if he would plead to a lesser charge. He refused. "I told [my attorney to tell prosecutors], ‘You know there’s a law against perjury, and if I admit doing this, I’ve committed perjury.’ "

But based mostly on the videotaped conversations from the room, he was convicted. After the trial, he began to discover evidence that the government should have given to his attorneys.

Woody wasn’t interested in laundering money. He was trying to rip off $25,000 in front money from the supposed Colombian money men, and because he was broke, there was no way Woody could launder money. In court, the FBI presented him as an accomplished money launderer of some wealth. Sting operations aren’t supposed to target people who don’t have the means to pull off the crime in question.

Johnston’s attorney asked DEA Agent Russell Permaul, "Do you have any evidence that Woody handled billions of dollars?"

"No, not short of him owning a bank," replied Permaul.

There was no bank. Woody had been living on his girlfriend’s credit cards.

Johnston maintained at the trial that he’d known nothing about the money laundering deal until the day he walked into the motel room, which the government disputed.

Johnston’s son would later learn that DEA documents showed no record of Johnston until the day before the Orlando meeting. Further, Woody was prepared to verify Johnston’s story on the witness stand, if prosecutors granted him immunity for those statements, since otherwise he might face still more charges.

Federal prosecutors refused, Johnston said. So the witness who had lied to set him up was denied the opportunity to set him free. Woody was sentenced to 80 months for his role in the deal.

Finally, Johnston wasn’t satisfied with the videotaped conversations from the sting that prosecutors had played in court. The tape abruptly ended the moment they announced his arrest. After he was convicted, the jury foreman told his attorney that he couldn’t understand why Johnston didn’t simply flee the room.

Had the foreman seen the agents throw him to the ground and handcuff him, he might have appreciated the fear Johnston says he experienced.

"I was scared; what else can I say," Johnston said. "I’d like to see the jury foreman in my shoes when they grabbed me."

Johnston’s repeated requests that the government turn over the original tape have been denied. Johnston figures the DEA’s real interest in him stemmed from one thing: his substantial interest in a Nebraska farm that could be seized under federal forfeiture laws.

He was right. The DEA seized Johnston’s $1 million interest in the farm then sold it for $360,000 to his former partners. -----

----- Federal sting often put more drugs on the streets

November 23, 1998 By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Rodney Matthews noticed lawmen waiting as he veered his airplane loaded with 700 kilograms of cocaine toward a remote Houston airstrip on New Year’s Eve in 1989. He landed anyway.

Police sirens blared, and officers drew their guns, thinking they had made a major bust

Matthews didn’t flinch. He handed over the high-quality Colombian cocaine with a street value of more than $50 million, and before the new year was even a few hours old, Matthews — who could have been imprisoned for life based on the weight of his load — was at home in Texas with his family, with the blessing of the U.S. Customs Service.

All it took, Matthews said, was a phone call to a key federal agent. For not only did he have the government’s blessing to bring in the drug; he had permission to sell it, too.

That might seem like a strange way to fight the war on drugs, but it’s a common tactic used in government sting operations, the Post-Gazette found. The object is to snare key leaders in drug smuggling operations. In this case, it succeeded only in putting more drugs onto America’s streets.

When feds deal in drugs

It is against the law for federal agents to distribute illegal drugs, just as it is for ordinary citizens, but there are exceptions.

Under "extraordinary" circumstances — to nab big-time dealers or smugglers, for example — top Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI or Custom’s officials may issue an order to allow it.

It is that kind of order that Matthews said he was given, but two years after his close encounter near Houston, Matthews was arrested with a boatload of cocaine in Florida and eventually sentenced to three life terms in prison. He insisted that he was double-crossed, that he was busted for an operation that the government had approved.

Two U.S. Customs agents corroborated his story in court, but top officials at the U.S. Justice Department denied that. They even brought perjury charges against the two agents who vouched for Matthews, saying they wouldn’t go along with what Matthews calls a "high-level coverup." A jury acquitted the agents.

The only certainty in this mess is that Matthews is doing life in prison at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, one of the toughest in the country.

>From his cell, he has staged a one-man assault against the government, which, he says, tried to cover up its deals with him by asking him to perjure himself and then condemned him to life in prison because he refused.

A criminal’s initiative

Often, it’s the criminals who suggest this country’s drug stings — even when those suggestions seem far-fetched.

Mustaq Malik knew the only way he’d be freed early from his 24-year sentence at the federal prison in Petersburg, Va., for drug trafficking was to help federal agents set up a sting that would snare other big-time drug dealers.

The native of Pakistan would do anything to ensure the sting’s success, even lie in court, he later told a defense attorney.

Malik testified in 1993 that he had lied in court before and that he was willing to testify against people he didn’t even know, so long as prosecutors agreed to shave years off his prison sentence.

Defense Attorney: "What you would do is . . . use the government in any way that you possibly could [in] . . . getting your sentence reduced from 24 years and five months to something lesser, wouldn’t you?"

Malik: "Well, that’s the system."

The deal that Malik offered federal agents in 1990 seemed especially odd. The guy he set up, 63-year-old New Yorker Raphael Santana, was already serving a life sentence in prison. As part of the sting, Malik persuaded Santana to arrange from prison for the distribution of a shipment of heroin that Malik would bring into the country. Then the federal government would bust everyone involved.

But in its zeal to grab a few small-time colleagues of this lifer, the federal government turned over a package of almost pure heroin from its own drug lockers to Frank Fuentes, a small-time criminal with a bad drug habit.

Agents could have arrested Fuentes, Santana and the other conspirators before Fuentes took possession of the heroin. For reasons not clear, they did not. So Fuentes promptly got the heroin into the hands of street dealers in New York City.

Experts testified that it would have been cut into 8,500 individual packets and sold on the street for $170,000.

Federal agents arrested Santana; Fuentes, a down-on-his-luck former dealer who was so broke that he once missed a meeting with federal agents because he didn’t have money to get his car out of a tow pound; Santana’s wife, who was dying of cancer; and four street-level dealers.

A Senior U.S. District Judge eventually ordered that the conspiracy charges against the defendants be dropped, saying the amount of heroin given to Fuentes "boggles the mind" and constituted outrageous government misconduct.

His ruling was overturned on appeal, and Fuentes is again appealing his life sentence.

Most of Malik’s court records are sealed, so his fate isn’t clear, but the Post-Gazette found a few records that show he continued to buy down his prison term as an informant in New York and Chicago. One court paper also shows the government paid him $50,000 for his efforts. At last report, he was in the federal witness protection program.

A little help from his friends

There’s another problem with government drug stings: They sometimes create a drug problem where none existed.

Ben Kalka had been a bit player in the San Francisco drug world off and on for most of his life — mostly scoring small hits of cocaine — but at the time of his arrest in 1982, he’d become a major supplier of methamphetamine on those same San Francisco streets.

Cheaper than cocaine and heroin, it induced many of the same sensations, including quick addiction.

Federal agents had set Kalka up in a sting. But by the time Kalka began manufacturing the drug, the Drug Enforcement Administration insists the sting had ended, an argument Kalka finds bizarre.

By the time the government caught up with him, Kalka figures he’d produced 8,000 pounds of drugs worth $10 million, using ingredients federal agents had arranged for him to buy.

Kalka should have been suspicious of his good fortune in 1980.

A chemist friend had asked him to find a barrel of phenyl acetic acid, a key precursor for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Kalka had a contact at a chemical company who said there was no way he could get him the chemical. While it wasn’t illegal, the government scrutinized who bought and sold the chemical.

A week later, this contact called to say he could get Kalka a semi-truck load of the chemical precursor weighing 25,000 pounds. All Kalka needed was the money — $250,000.

What Kalka didn’t know was that in the interim, the contact, Paul Palmer, had become an informant for the government after being busted for selling the very precursors Kalka had bought. Michael Riconosciuto goes through his notes while explaining his role in a federal drug sting in California. On orders of federal agents, Riconosciuto obtained chemicals needed to make methamphetimine and distributed it on the streets. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) By now, Kalka was hooked. He set up a partnership with another drug dealer, Paul Morasco, to get the money, then began his search for the last ingredient he’d need for the speed — monomethylamine. Palmer put him in touch with Michael Riconosciuto, whose past included shadowy connections with various U.S. intelligence agencies, unbeknownst to Kalka.

Riconosciuto greeted Kal-ka like a long, lost brother. He claimed Kalka had once talked him out of suicide when they were imprisoned in the 1970s at Lompoc federal prison. Kalka vaguely remembered Riconosciuto.

Riconosciuto said in a recent interview that he was working for the FBI when he connected with Kalka and the agency told him to find the monomethylamine for Kalka as part of the sting operation. When the chemical was delivered, the FBI planned to bust Kalka and various subordinates.

The plan failed miserably, an array of court documents show. Kalka, naturally mistrustful of almost everyone, managed to divert the tractor-trailer truck carrying the chemicals away from federal agents who were tailing it.

Even so, Kalka wonders today why the FBI didn’t track him down once the methamphetamine began hitting the streets. The agency maintains it eventually stumbled across Kalka’s drug enterprise during another undercover operation.

Soon, he had produced what might have been the largest batch of methamphetamine produced in this country.

And it was all with chemicals supplied with the help of federal agents.

When he was finally arrested, Kalka gave the government $1 million and 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine, all that remained of the 8,000 pounds of the drug he’d produced, in exchange for a promise that he would serve no more than 10 years in prison.

A judge ignored the prosecutor’s request and slapped Kalka with a 20-year sentence. In the meantime, Riconosciuto was arrested and convicted on a methamphetamine manufacturing charge. From his prison cell in Coleman, Fla., he described the role of federal agents and their authorization for him to sell Kalka the final ingredient needed to make the methamphetamine.

Kalka says the government’s complicity in supplying the drugs might yet win him release from prison if he can convince a court to hear him.

In the meantime, he has been moved from one prison to another because of his repeated attempt to sue the government over his case and the conditions of his incarceration.

A drug-related millionaire

Charles Hill also earned a fortune in illegal drugs, but he did it legally.

He opened Triple Neck Scientific Co. in 1985 near San Diego. Four years later, he had amassed more than $9 million in profit from the specialty chemical business, selling the precursors needed to manufacture methamphetamine, which was becoming popular in Southern California.

Hill didn’t need to hide his operation from the government. He was working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which tracked down more than 100 of his customers, arresting them for using the precursors in illegal drug-manufacturing operations.

The only problem was that the government didn’t recover all the chemicals that Hill had sold. Federal officials admit that the precursors they didn’t recover were likely transformed into thousands of pounds of methamphetamine that was eventually sold on American streets.

Most of those caught in the government’s web quickly pleaded guilty and went off to prison.

Those who appealed based on the government’s tactics were rebuffed. The appeals court said convictions could be overturned only if "government misconduct has been so outrageous that it results in a violation of due process," or was "so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice."

The court ruled it was not. "Unsavory conduct alone will not cause the dismissal of an indictment."

Turning the tables

Rodney Matthews was the centerpiece in the government sting called "Operation Shanghai," an example of just how little control the U.S. sometimes has in its drug interdiction efforts.

Matthews agreed to smuggle drugs with the government’s blessing in 1984 to avoid a three-year prison term for smuggling marijuana.

It wasn’t a bad trade. Government agents said he could keep anything he earned from the smuggling operations, and he earned millions.

The government sting had two objectives, Matthews said in several letters responding to questions the Post-Gazette posed:

Snare a South Texan named Vic Stadter, an outspoken government critic who made his opinions known through his newspaper. Federal agents believed he was a longtime drug smuggler. Stadter denied the charge and accused the government of harassment.

Bust Pablo Escobar, the notorious leader of the once-feared Medellin Cartel in Colombia, which the government said was responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine that came into this country during the 1980s.

Matthews said he got nowhere with Stadter, managing only to take one of his secretaries on a few dates.

His pursuit of Escobar was more complicated and ultimately unsuccessful. Escobar died of multiple gunshot wounds after a shootout with Colombian police in December 1993, before U.S. agents ever laid a hand on him.

During the years in between, Matthews smuggled more than 50 loads of cocaine for the U.S. Customs Service. At the direction of federal agents, he delivered his loads to illegal drug syndicates in the United States, which then distributed them across the nation. Matthews said he invested most of his profits in property and aircraft and made sure the operation never cost the government a cent.

He said the government wasn’t interested in pursuing the people who bought his drugs. By not busting them, agents hoped to enhance Matthews’ reputation with Escobar and Stadter, creating an image of a super trafficker who could avoid the government’s web.

That he never got close to Escobar wasn’t for lack of imaginative schemes.

At one point, Matthews tried to sell the cartel leader the coastal schedules of U.S. AWACS surveillance planes, used to detect smugglers in boats and planes, for $6 million. It was all a scam, he said. He was hoping the ploy would get him closer to the Colombian.

He said his encounter with scores of federal agents in 1989 at the airport near Houston was a wakeup call. His contacts for the smuggling sting were two Customs Service agents and two Texas Department of Public Safety narcotics agents, and he no longer believed they had enough support for the operation to protect him.

"It was glaringly apparent that the people who had given me authorization had over-reached their authority, so from that point on I made sure that no cocaine hit the street," he said.

Soon, he was accepting only contract assignments from federal law enforcement agencies, for a fee of $50,000 a flight. He brought in the drugs and let the federal agents take it from there.

These flights often included overnight stops at U.S. military bases in the Carib-bean, including Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, "where I would fly in loaded with Colombian cocaine, using prearranged code names like ‘Dark Cloud’ and ‘Hot Rod’ for tower clearance."

The final irony: The government still owes him $180,000 for those flights, which agents corroborated during his trial.

Matthews’ last operation was in 1992 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. An old friend set him up to be busted.

Jimmy Norjay Ellard was an ex-police officer from Texas, a pilot and a longtime associate of Escobar, and he had served as liaison for Matthews with the cartel leader.

Ellard’s resume was bloody. He had instructed Escobar in how to attach a bomb to an Avianca Airlines plane, which the drug leader did in the early 1980s to eliminate two informers. More than 100 innocent people died in the mid-air blast.

Federal agents busted Ellard in 1985 for cocaine smuggling, and he was sentenced to life in prison. He had been in jail for four years when he cut a deal with an assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Lauderdale, based on his promise to deliver Mat-thews.

>From prison, he arranged an illegal drug shipment that Matthews would pick up.

Federal agents had falsely told Ellard that Matthews not only worked for the government but had been responsible for setting Ellard up in his 1985 arrest, Matthews said.

Federal prosecutors and agents in South Florida told Matthews they didn’t believe his story about working for the federal government, despite the drug agents’ corroboration. During pre-trial meetings, when Matthews’ lawyer named the agents he was working with, prosecutors suggested they had conspired in his crime.

So prosecutors offered Matthews a deal: Implicate the agents in some of his crimes, and he’d be recommended for a reduced sentence.

Matthews refused; they were honest officers, he said.

Matthews was convicted of drug conspiracy and sentenced to three life terms in prison, based on the amount of drugs he’d smuggled. Ellard, because of his help in nailing Matthews, got only five years, but his luck didn’t last. In September, he and his son were arrested in Fort Lauderdale and charged with conspiring to import marijuana. He is back in jail.

The agents were charged with conspiracy based on facts that came out of Mat-thews case. Both were acquitted.

Matthews thought he would find some relief, because he believed the government would surely come to its senses — the government’s agents, after all, had corroborated his story and been found innocent of trumped up perjury charges. He sent a package of information to 140 Members of Congress.

He got five responses, most of them "offering good wishes," he said. Last summer, he did an extensive interview with the ABC show "Prime Time Live" in which he explained his story.

Shortly before that story aired, he was put into an isolation cell at Leavenworth, where he is only allowed out for a short walk each day. -----

----- Informant lured him into a costly deal

November 23, 1998 By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was the kind of part-time job that never makes the classified pages.

Albert Barruetta needed money. The U.S. Customs Department needed to nab drug dealers. So Barruetta told agents he had a line on a major methamphetamine dealer in Pasadena, Calif.

Barruetta knew no major drug dealers, but he did know Cristobal Crosthwaite-Villa, a Mexican citizen whose car U.S. Custom’s officials had seized in September 1992 at Tijuana, Mexico, as he was trying to cross the border illegally.

Barruetta tried to fleece Crosthwaite, telling him that for $1,000 he would not only get his car back but would get him permanent residency status in the United States. Then he learned Crosthwaite sometimes used drugs, so he told Customs agents that Crosthwaite was a major drug dealer.

The agency, without checking Crosthwaite’s background, agreed to hire Barruetta as a confidential informant and pay him, on a contingency basis, cash for each drug dealer he could lure into a sting operation.

Barruetta began cajoling Crosthwaite to find him a source who might buy methamphetamine. Crosthwaite had no luck until he encountered Bobby Thomas, who had used drugs with Crosthwaite in the past and, on one or two occasions, had sold Crosthwaite a few $20 doses of the drug.

Barruetta offered to sell Thomas drugs, saying the deal would also get Crosthwaite’s car returned. Thomas told him he couldn’t help. Barruetta kept pressing him with offers to sell him cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine.

Thomas finally relented, agreeing to buy three pounds of methamphetamine in the hopes of helping Crosthwaite get his car.

Thomas, who had no prior criminal record, was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. The amount of drugs Barruetta had pressed Thomas to buy determined the sentence length.

In January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Thomas’s conviction, in part because he’d been cajoled and entrapped into committing the crime. He is awaiting a new trial. -----

Feds sought bigger drug deal to ensure a stiffer prison sentence

November 23, 1998 By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Michael Staufer lost his minimum wage job at about the same time he was robbed and beaten in August 1992 on a Los Angeles street.

Times were so tough he lived in a garage.

So when a friend named Scott suddenly pressed Staufer to find him 10,000 hits of LSD, Staufer wondered if the guy might have been high on the drug himself.

Staufer was 21 years old, partied hard and used LSD when he could afford it. Once, he’d bought 20 or 25 hits of the drug that he resold to his friends, but he wasn’t a dealer, and he certainly didn’t have the money to finance 10,000 hits.

What Staufer didn’t know was that federal agents had busted Scott on drug charges and promised him leniency if he would help the feds snare other drug dealers.

So Scott pressed Staufer, hoping to set him up in a drug deal that agents could then bust. So persistent was Scott that Staufer almost lost a part-time job he’d landed because of Scott’s repeated phone calls.

Finally, Staufer gave in and was introduced to the supposed buyer, who was an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The agent wanted 10,000 hits of LSD.

Staufer’s LSD supplier, who barely knew Staufer, initially resisted the deal because he knew Staufer was not in a position to pay for it. Then, the dealer told Staufer he would sell him 5,000 doses of the drug.

That wasn’t good enough for the undercover agent, who insisted on buying 10,000, knowing it would double Staufer’s prison time. After several conversations, Staufer finally cajoled his supplier to provide the larger amount. He was arrested when he showed the LSD to the agent.

A judge sentenced Staufer to the mandatory 12-year sentence federal law required.

"[The judge] explained to Staufer that the court of appeals had just reversed him for giving a life sentence to a man who had killed his wife by throwing her off a ship where they were spending their honeymoon, and [the judge] expressed his disapproval of a system that compelled him to ‘give Mr. Staufer for the transaction more time in prison than [he was] authorized to give a man who murdered his wife on their honeymoon,’ " according to Staufer’s appeal.

An appellate court eventually affirmed his conviction, but it was sent back to the lower court for re-sentencing. The court ruled his sentence should be reduced because of "sentencing entrapment" — the government forced Staufer into a bigger deal than he could really handle, just so the feds could double his prison term.

Staufer’s sentence was reduced to just more than six years. ----- Drug charge beaten, but at high price

November 23, 1998 By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

John Gardner was a 33-year-old Pittsburgh postal employee when he was arrested on drug charges in 1989.

Gardner had worked for seven years at the post office distribution facility in Warrendale and had won awards for his exemplary service.

He was charged after a government informant with an expensive drug habit talked him into buying drugs to help feed the informant’s drug habit. It was all part of a government sting.

Two years later, a federal judge dismissed the charges, saying the government had "acted outrageously in inducing the defendant to engage in conduct that led to his prosecution."

By that time, Gardner had lost his job and most of his assets fighting the case. No federal agents or prosecutors were punished. -----

Trapped into trying to settle vendetta

November 23, 1998 By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Qubilah Shabazz, daughter of assassinated black leader Malcolm X, was arrested in June 1995 and charged with plotting to kill Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the man she thought murdered her father 30 years before.

The story behind the headline was even more bizarre: ichael Fitzpatrick, the government informant from New York who tipped the feds to the plot, had a history of trying to persuade people to commit violent acts, dating to the 1980s. He also had a history as a paid informant for federal agents.

He told federal agents that, for a fee, he could deliver evidence about the supposed plot. They agreed to pay him $45,000 to nail Shabazz in the sting, court records show.

He sought out Shabazz, whom he’d known since high school, lured her from New York City to Minneapolis, convincing her his interests were romantic, then planted the idea of arranging to have Farrakhan killed, according to court records.

She never went to trial. Instead, she signed a statement accepting responsibility for her involvement in the plot and agreed to two years of psychiatric and drug and alcohol treatment. She received two years probation, which ended last year and all charges were dismissed.

Prosecutors said the paper she signed proved her guilt. Defense attorneys insisted it proved nothing but a government conspiracy that had entrapped an innocent person.


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