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Reverse Sting Operations-The American Hustle: The Unethical Use of Reverse Sting Operations and the Creation of Crime

By: Michael Levine
Tel: 845-687-9642
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Relying on data taken from 45 years of professional experience as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supervisory agent, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) expert on undercover and informant handling procedures, trial consultant, expert witness, and police instructor, the author details the evolution of the Reverse Sting operation and its related informant-handling practices, from a once valuable and effective investigative tool to a headline grabbing scam that has severely damaged our system of justice by obliterating the entrapment defense and turning the Reverse Sting into a way to make money for criminal informants.

The headline of the ABC News Report read, "How Undercover Cops Make Millions Selling Cocaine" (Gutman, Brady, & Smith, 2013). The article, part of a series, pointed out that the Reverse Sting tactic as employed by the Sunrise, Florida, Police was a financial windfall for this small suburban city. For years, undercover officers of this tiny department, which served a population of 85,000, had been posing as drug dealers and using criminal informants (CIs) to lure potential buyers from all over the country to come to their city with wads of cash, from pockets to suitcases full, to buy drugs from the undercover cops.

If the Reverse Sting was successful, the buyer would be handed the drugs, relieved of his cash, and busted. He'd be charged with Possession, Conspiracy to Possess, and Possession with Intent to Distribute-charges that carried a potential of many decades in prison if convicted. The cash would go into the coffers of the city, and the CIs would receive large cash awards usually based upon the amount of assets seized and/or the "media value" (headlines) the case garnered. One of them received more than $800,000. And the Sunrise cops didn't do so badly either. The sergeant running the operation made $240,000 in overtime during a three-year period. With the publication of this series of articles, the City of Sunrise shut down the operation. If you are wondering why, read on.

The article offered a brief but much too simplistic peek into a police procedure that is little understood by the administration levels of most of the law enforcement agencies that employ it, the prosecutors and judges who try to enforce it honestly, and the lawyers that are tasked to defend some of its victims.

The trouble with this series is that, like most reporting on this tactic, it only scratches the surface of its dark side. It fails to even touch on how the bastardization of this once legitimate undercover tactic has turned America's law enforcement agencies into fire departments that start their own fires, severely damaging our system of justice by obliterating even the notion of entrapment as a defense and turning it into a cash cow for CIs. And worse, the tactic has created a safe haven for the most inept and/or corrupt of law enforcement officers and prosecutors while at the same time causing a massive nationwide misdirection of resources and manpower resulting in significant damage to our national security, and it is only getting worse.

Typical of the usual media reporting associated with Reverse Sting operations, the series also failed to reveal how the tactic has now been bastardized to widespread misuse in just about every crime known to man, from conspiracy charges related to acts of terror, homicide, and weapons trafficking, to pedophilia, prostitution, and every commercial crime on the books. Most importantly, it failed in identifying the specific police procedures and standards that are often violated in the misuse of this technique.

To understand what I mean when I say "bastardization" and "misuse," I invite readers, in particular those in law enforcement and the legal profession, to first experience the evolution of the Reverse Sting and its concurrent destruction of the entrapment defense through my personal involvement with it from its inception when I took part in the very first reverse sting ever authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to the current cases that I am party to as a trial consultant and police instructor (see "Michael Levine," 2014). The controls that the DOJ always used and/or counted upon to prevent the misuse of the Reverse Sting operation, based upon the obvious dangers of CIs entrapping victims into its snare, have vanished. There is no better case to use as an illustration of how the entrapment defense has gone missing than U.S. v. Jorge Olmos (Goddard, 1998).

U.S. v Jorge Olmos

. . .Continue to read rest of article (PDF).


Michael Levine is one of the most decorated supervisory agents in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration. A US Law Enforcement Procedure Expert, Mr. Levine has over 45 years of courtroom experience (civil & criminal) as a Trial consultant and Expert Witness, including 25 years of service with DEA, Customs, BATF, and the IRS Criminal Investigations Division.

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