FBI: No role in staging march. But use of informant at neo-Nazi rally doesn’t surprise some
The FBI played no role in staging a neo-Nazi rally last year in Orlando, a statement released Friday says.
Questions about the bureau’s possible involvement were raised earlier this week when a hearing in federal court disclosed that a paid FBI informant and member of the National Socialist Movement organized the white supremacist march.
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“In no way did the FBI initiate, organize, or sponsor the NSM rally,” the statement from the agency’s Orlando office says.
The Orlando march, through a predominantly black neighborhood last February, came just months after neo-Nazi marches in Toledo, Ohio, erupted into violence.
The identity of the informant and march organizer, David Gletty of Orlando, came out in a hearing Wednesday concerning the arrests of two white supremacists charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
The suspects were arrested by the FBI with the help of Gletty, 39, who wore a recording device when he agreed to help John Rock, 35, and Tom Martin, 23, impersonate police officers in a scheme to rob black drug dealers, according to testimony.
Rock and Martin remain held without bail in the Seminole County Jail.
Word that there was an FBI informant at the Orlando march came as no surprise to neo-Nazis, the ACLU or anyone involved with law enforcement.
Many agencies use informants, and in its statement Friday, the FBI explained some of the benefits.
“By the nature of its investigative mission, the FBI . . . must aggressively pursue intelligence avenues that bring it into contact with individuals and/or organizations in unsavory and/or illegal activity,” the statement says.
In fact, snitches are so common in the underworld and fringe political movements that almost everyone is suspect.
“If someone starts talking about building bombs, we know right away they’re a government agent or an idiot. We don’t want either,” said Jeff Schoep, head of the National Socialist Movement, in a telephone call from headquarters in Minneapolis. “We have a strict policy with our members to remain 100 percent legal.”
Glen Katron, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Orlando office, said it would have objected to the FBI’s involvement only had the agency tried to restrict the marchers’ constitutional rights.
Quite simply, observers say, the world of cops and robbers revolves around often dangerous characters willing to sell out their friends, family and enemies.
“It’s kind of a delicate balance,” said Boston College Law School Professor Robert M. Bloom. “How much do you allow an informant to do certain things?”
Law enforcement agencies often help informants avoid jail time on minor or nonviolent crimes in return for making cases against more dangerous criminals, Bloom said.
That type of arrangement came out in federal court Wednesday when an FBI agent detailed the bureau’s work with its informant, who a defense lawyer identified as Gletty.
FBI Agent Kevin Farrington and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Bodnar did not name their informant during that hearing.
But without naming him, Farrington testified under cross-examination that Gletty had been picked up in Alabama last year on a charge of impersonating a police officer. That charge was dropped after Alabama authorities contacted the FBI, even though the FBI did not request special treatment, Farrington said.
Gletty could not be reached for comment Friday.
The FBI has a long history of using informants and occasionally getting burned by them.
One of the most notorious examples was James “Whitey” Bulger, still on the 10 Most-Wanted List in connection with 18 murders alleged to have been committed while Bulger was working as an FBI informant in Boston.
“The costs outweighed the benefits,” in that case, Bloom said.
Law enforcement agencies in Orange County spend more than $100,000 a year to buy information, primarily in drug cases, according to interviews Friday.
“All the good stories you get about busts going down are based on informants,” said Bill Lutz, head of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, which has used 1,100 informants since 1978.
“Here’s the problem: As one of our lawyers once said, ‘In order to catch fish you’ve got to use stinky bait.’ They’re the bait that allows us to catch the bigger fish.”