FOR THOSE of you rushing to presume Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis guilty of drug conspiracy charges (and you know who you are), remember two things.
The FBI and a confidential informant are involved.
You remember the FBI, don't you? That gaggle of incompetents who hounded Atlanta security guard Richard Jewel and investigated him for allegedly planting a bomb and killing two people had egg on their faces when facts revealed Jewel was innocent.
Yes, the same FBI whose agents can't tell a Honda Civic from a Pontiac Grand Am (remember the shooting of Joseph Schultz in Anne Arundel County two years ago?) are swearing to us that Lewis helped set up a drug deal in Atlanta four years ago. We should all eat a giant bowl of Skeptic Flakes for breakfast when we listen to anything the FBI says about this one.
Forget for the moment that the confidential informant's contacting Lewis (according to the FBI affidavit) reeks of entrapment. The question should be how reliable is the testimony of confidential informants, whether they work for the FBI or local police agencies.
I once heard the head of a Maryland law enforcement agency, in one of those off-the-record moments that all reporters wish were on-the-record, admit that confidential informants are often people who should be in prison themselves. That speaks to their character. What about their reliability?
Exhibit No. 1 would be Andrew Chambers, a Drug Enforcement Administration informant in the 1980s and 1990s who pocketed $1.8 million of our tax money - while chumps like us actually worked for a living - to snitch on drug dealers.
The problem is, Chambers, who was also an informant for - you guessed it - the FBI, lied under oath on 16 occasions and was arrested 13 times while on the government's payroll for crimes that included forgery and fraud. The DEA got him off the hook on some of the charges.
Lest you think Chambers was the exception, not the rule, consider the words of one defense lawyer quoted in news stories when the informant's perjuring ways came to light. Attorney Rick Escobar said there are "hundreds" of informants like Chambers. Only time will tell whether the informant in the Lewis case is one of them.
The case of Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old resident of New York City's Harlem, is more horrifying.
Spruill was sleeping in her apartment when New York police burst threw the door and hurled a concussion grenade inside. Spruill died of a heart attack induced by the explosion. Police, acting on the tip of a confidential informant, were looking for a suspect, drugs and guns. They got no drugs and guns. The suspect was in jail at the time of the raid. The police informant, as it turned out, was fatally wrong.
The FBI's history with informants of what can be at best called dubious character goes back a ways. Remember a guy named Gary Thomas Rowe Jr.?
Rowe was quite the piece of work and one of the bureau's top Ku Klux Klan informants in the 1960s. When Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit housewife who had gone to Alabama in 1965 to participate in the march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, was shot to death, Rowe fingered the three Klansmen who were eventually convicted of violating Liuzzo's civil rights.
The problem was that some witnesses said Rowe was the trigger man. Alabama prosecutors charged him with the crime. According to a March 2003 Seattle Times article, prosecutors dropped the case after the feds said Rowe's undercover informant status gave him immunity.
Rowe did admit to being involved in acts of violence against civil rights workers while he was an FBI informant. He went into the federal witness protection program - courtesy of tax dollars taken from the likes of us - under the name Thomas Neal Moore and died of a heart attack in 1998.
The Seattle Times article ran under the headline "A rogues' gallery of feds' snitches." On the list was a guy who committed 11 murders while an FBI informant and brothers George and Larry Stiner, who were bureau informants and members of a black nationalist organization started by Ron Karenga when they murdered two Black Panther Party members on the UCLA campus in 1969.
The incident with the Stiners was part of the FBI's plan to protect the internal security of America.
It's ironic that bureau agents didn't have the same passion in 2000 and 2001, when they were more concerned with busting drug-dealing homeboys in Atlanta's Bowen Homes housing projects than with investigating allegations that Middle Eastern immigrants were taking flying lessons and not bothering to learn how to land the planes.