Website rouses informants' fear, investigators' ire
When a team of police, federal agents, and a drug-sniffing dog burst through the front door and scoured every corner of the house, the woman and her boyfriend figured they knew who had turned them in. So she struck back: In the shadowy realms of cyberspace, she publicly identified the informant who she suspected had ratted on her boyfriend, landing him in court on drug possession charges.
On a website launched seven months ago from the North Shore, the woman posted a note saying her alleged informant, a 27-year-old man from the Tewksbury area, was a ''narc" who made a practice of snitching on others to minimize his own legal problems.
''In this day and age, you can't be a rat and not have people know," said the woman in an interview, speaking on the condition that her name not be used. ''I think it kind of opens up people's eyes in town to people who are doing shady deals."
The website, which was launched by Sean Bucci, who is battling his own marijuana charges, has quickly become the largest online database of its kind. It currently holds more than 800 profiles of alleged informants, and new additions appear frequently, posted by people who want to take revenge on federal agents, former friends-turned-snitches, and others who they believe have informed on them to law enforcement agencies.
Law enforcement officials worry that the site will impede their ability to use undercover agents and informants, who often provide information critical to criminal cases, especially those involving drugs. And they worry that criminals might use the site to find out the names of informants, which could imperil the people whose information is posted there.
The Globe is not naming the website because it is impossible to verify whether all the people listed there are informants, and because publicizing access to their identities could jeopardize their safety.
In Boston, a paid informant for the FBI has been living on the run, afraid for his life, since his profile appeared on the website about seven months ago. The informant had been working undercover on a case when he got an ominous phone call from one of the men he was investigating.
''I'm looking at your information on the website," the suspect told him, recalled the informant, who spoke on condition that his name not be used. ''You're an informant."
The FBI informant said he immediately hung up the phone, fear coursing through his body, and fled his apartment. ''I ran as fast as I could," he said.
Now, he never carries identification, worried that someone might learn his true name. He has not worked for the FBI since his cover was blown, but hopes he can soon return. In the meantime, he said, he spends his days walking around Boston.
Since it debuted last August, the website has grown popular, both among people who want to unburden their anger at those they believe have wronged them and others who peruse the profiles of alleged informants. The site has about 7,000 registered members and has received an estimated 1.5 million hits, said Anthony Capone, a spokesman for the site who said his day job is in marketing.
But not all the profiles posted on the website are real. The woman who publicly identified the Tewksbury man said that she had knowingly posted false information about people she did not believe to be informants.
''You're going to find a mixture of truth and fiction because pretty much anyone can go on and post," she said.
The site's home page includes a disclaimer, which notes that information posted ''may not be 100 percent accurate and should be used for information/entertainment purposes only." It also states that the website's administrators do not condone violence against alleged informants.
Capone said that websites such as his are protected by law. He cited the website of Leon Carmichael Sr., a Montgomery, Ala., businessman charged with drug conspiracy and money laundering. Carmichael had posted the pictures and names of government agents and informants who were scheduled to testify at his trial, and asked for information about them. Last year, a federal judge in Alabama ruled that Carmichael's website was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Capone said the administrators of the North Shore website use a computer server in India, to ensure further protection.
The website contains information about suspected agents and informants across the country and overseas. The lists suggest that informants come from all walks of life: the Massachusetts files include a plumber from Worcester, a 17-year-old swimmer from Belmont, a tanning salon owner from Peabody, and a stripper from Revere.
The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees to stay away from the site, since even visiting it could provide website administrators information about government computer networks.
The department has issued an advisory, warning that ''danger exists for exploitation by criminal and/or terrorist entities."
Law enforcement officials in Oklahoma have also issued a warning that the website could jeopardize the work of undercover agents and informants.
The site does not contain the profiles of notorious informants such as Salvatore ''Sammy The Bull" Gravano, who turned state's evidence against Mob boss John Gotti.
Many of the alleged informants on the North Shore site have been posted on the site by people who got in trouble with the law for buying or selling drugs, or by their own relatives.
''We specifically ask people not to add any information that's related to violent crimes, because we don't agree with violent crimes," Capone said. ''But as far as drug problems, and people setting people up just to get out of their own problems, that's a no-no in our books."
The woman who posted information about the Tewksbury man said she believes the website performs a service by warning others away from informants.
''This punk has bragged on several occasions about doing a controlled buy to bust a known local dealer so he could get a lesser sentence for getting caught with shrooms, ecstasy, steroids, and funny money," she posted on the site about the man she believes had informed on her now ex-boyfriend to the police. ''He has admitted to being a snitch to various people."
Jeannie Stokowski-Bisanti's husband, former Springfield chiropractor John Bisanti, was sentenced last year to 41 months in federal prison for income tax evasion. After she saw a magazine ad for the North Shore site, she posted information about a car dealer and a tax attorney she believes cooperated with federal authorities, who then, in her opinion, wrongly brought charges against her husband.
''We put it on there, kind of just in a little way, to make a difference," said Bisanti, a flight attendant. ''Honestly, I'm angry that this injustice took place and nothing will be done about it."
Another local poster turned to cyberspace after her brother was arrested and charged with helping plan a bank robbery. One of his friends, she argues, exaggerated her brother's role in the plot in his testimony to the police to bargain down his own sentence.
''I think people should know, he's not a man of his word," she said.
So she posted his name on the website, promising to add affidavits from the case.
''This kid can be out of jail, but he'll never have a life," she said. ''He's known within the whole entire city as a black sheep."
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.