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New Web Site IDs Government Informants

CBS | May 22 2007
Joel Roberts

New Web sites devoted to exposing the identities of informants who cooperate with the government are making federal prosecutors furious and prompting calls to limit public access to electronic court files.

According to The New York Times, the sites, like one called whosarat.com, post the names and mug shots of government witnesses, along with court documents outlining the plea agreements they made in return for more lenient sentences. Much of the data is obtained from files readily available on the Internet.

Last week, for example, whosarat.com posted information about a Florida man who agreed to plead guilty to cocaine possession but not gun charges in exchange for working in an undercover role to contact and negotiate with drug dealers.

Whosarat.com says it has identified 4,300 informants and 400 undercover agents since 2004. The site was started by a man named Sean Bucci, who was indicted in federal court on marijuana charges after an informant provided information to prosecutors.

The Times says the site was "initially modest and free, the seeming product of a drug defendant's fit of pique." It now charges between $7.99 for a week's access to $89.99 for a lifetime membership, which includes a free “Stop Snitching” T-shirt.

A Justice Department official, in a letter quoted by The Times, said these sites were set up "for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment," and pose "a grave risk of harm to cooperating witnesses and defendants."

The letter says that in one case, a witness in Philadelphia had to be moved and the FBI called in to investigate after information from whosarat.com was mailed to neighbors and posted on utility poles and cars in the area.

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