DEA Paid Millions to Confidential Informants Who Could No Longer Be Trusted

One informant lied in court and still worked for the DEA, pocketing over $469,000 in a five-year span.


Generous with the loot
DEA/Wikimedia Commons

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) relied on information provided from 18,000 confidential informants from 2010 to 2015, of which it paid about $237 million to over 9,000 of them, according to a recently published audit by the Justice Department's Inspector General (IG). During the period covered in the audit, a mere nine sources earned $25 million collectively, and one source who has been working for the DEA for 30 years has been paid over $30 million by the government.

Included among the roster of informants were 800, who despite being "deactivated" for serious offenses, continued to receive payment from the DEA. Collectively, they received approximately $9.4 million in DEA cash. As noted by McClatchy DC, one of these deactivated sources had continued to work with the DEA—earning over $469,000—despite being deactivated for lying in court.

The IG's audit report states that "DEA headquarters offices do not provide comprehensive oversight to ensure that field offices' establishment and use of sources, and payments to them, are appropriate, reasonable, and justified." Just as importantly, the report expresses concern about the DEA's reliance on "Limited Use" sources, commonly known as "tipsters," who share information with the DEA voluntarily and are paid for the service:

Limited Use category is regarded by the DEA as low-risk and therefore DEA policy requires the least supervision. Yet we found that Limited Use sources were some of DEA's highest paid sources, with 477 Limited Use sources during the period of our review having received an estimated $26.8 million.

Among these "Limited Use" tipsters were 33 Amtrak employees, who together pocketed over $1.4 during a four-year span, often for handing over personal information about train travelers to the DEA. The best part is that this was in violation of Amtrak's own policy as a participant in a "joint task force" with the government, meaning this very same information could have been delivered to the DEA at no additional cost to the government, but that DEA agents didn't feel like putting in the effort of making requests through the required official channels. They just preferred to make payouts for swifter results.

In a statement to The Intercept, an Amtrak spokesperson wrote:

"The DEA violated federal regulations by selectively approaching and paying Amtrak employees for information that the DEA would have received for free," the company said of the DOJ audit. "Amtrak does not tolerate fraud, waste, abuse or any behavior inconsistent with our company values and standards of conduct. Our employees are expressly prohibited from sharing information for personal gain."

Other "Limited Use" sources included TSA, airline, and parcel company employees, who made a nice chunk of change handing over customers' information and packages to the DEA.

Read the whole report here.