As the case of five men charged with plotting to blow up a Cleveland-area bridge goes forward, one of the key questions will revolve around the role of the FBI's confidential informant in the case. That informant was at the center of discussions and, according to at least one defense lawyer, may have been too active.
The five men are scheduled to appear in federal court Monday for a hearing on charges including conspiracy and trying to bomb property used in interstate commerce. The government alleges that the group was involved in an anarchist plot to make a violent political statement against the wealthy and powerful in time for May Day, which honors workers' struggles around the world. If convicted, each faces more than 20 years in prison.
All are expected to plead not guilty. The bigger question will be their defense, and one lawyer already has called into question the role of the person expected to be the key witness, a confidential informant. Such a defense would be similar to that of other terrorism-type cases involving a sting or the use of an informant.
Defense lawyer John Pyle, who represents one of the defendants, Brandon Baxter, told the Associated Press that the informant's role needed to be examined.
"We need to put the case under a microscope," Pyle said. "But just on the basis on the filing in the court, there's some indicators that this informant was playing a really active role."
The informant, identified in court papers as "Confidential Human Source," has been working for the FBI since July 20 and received approximately $5,750 for services and $550 for expenses.
The payments stopped when the informant began probation on a charge of passing bad checks. According to the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, the source's criminal record includes a conviction for possessing cocaine in 1990, a conviction for robbery in 1991 and four convictions for passing bad checks between 1991 and 2011.
Perhaps more important is the source's role. According to the affidavit, the FBI directed the source to attend a demonstration Oct. 21, because law enforcement had "an initial report of potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists who would be attending" a protest in Cleveland. At the demonstration, the source made the first contact with some of the suspects.
In later meetings, the source recorded numerous conversations and was present as the plans to blow up the bridge were allegedly firmed up.