Bait and Snitch

Lying under oath, threatening witnesses, revealing the names of federal agents -- it's just another day on the job for one of the DEA's paid drug informants

In the late '90s, after his conviction on felony money-laundering charges in New York, and despite a probation order to remain in the state, he left his ex-wife and six children to move to Norfolk, Va. Following a conviction for assaulting a Norfolk police officer, he migrated to Michigan and, later, California. In August 1999, the Fresno police -- tipped off by an informant, as fate would have it -- collared Magid on suspicion of trafficking pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making methamphetamine. If convicted, he faced a 20-year sentence followed by deportation to Yemen.

Showing an instinct for self-preservation, and a desire to stay in the United States, Magid agreed to give up the names of other meth and cocaine suppliers in return for reduced charges. He began cooperating before the ink on his fingerprints dried, and when the feds released him almost a year later, he hit the streets as a paid informant. Since then, he has infiltrated drug rings in San Francisco, Fresno, Michigan, and Maryland, enabling agents to nab some two dozen suspected traffickers and seize five pounds of meth and more than $175,000, a DEA affidavit states. His undercover prowess has led to additional assignments with the FBI, the IRS, the California Justice Department, and other agencies.

As a career move, snitching has afforded Magid a comfortable lifestyle, records show, earning him nearly $100,000, a figure that does not include the apartments, cars, and assorted living expenses covered by the feds. (Nor does it reflect that, as of August, the government had failed to garnish Magid's wages even though he owes more than $100,000 in child support.)

He has reaped other benefits. In 2002, federal prosecutors in Fresno, at the urging of DEA officials who vouched for Magid's value as an informant, persuaded a judge to toss the trafficking charges against him and, for good measure, seal the court file. Ironically, the case's dismissal occurred only three weeks after the FBI booted Magid as an informant for a variety of blunders.

The bureau's Sacramento office poached Magid from the DEA to work on terrorist investigations soon after the 9/11 attacks, exploiting his language skills and Middle Eastern background to penetrate the Muslim community. Trouble arose when three Stockton cops arrested Magid on a public drunkenness charge in August 2002. Contending that one officer called him a "terrorist," he retorted that he worked for the FBI, according to a bureau report, thereby blowing his cover -- the original sin of snitch work.

Around the same time, an internal probe determined that Magid disclosed his covert identity and the names of two agents to at least one man under FBI investigation. He also bragged about his agency dealings to "several" other people, the agency found, purportedly telling them to call him if they ran into problems with the FBI.

Officials confronted Magid, who in short order denied their charges, failed a polygraph, and, finally, waxed contrite, saying he "knew the rules" and should "keep his big mouth closed." Notwithstanding his apology, the FBI cut him loose in October 2002. The same day, fully aware of his misconduct, the DEA -- which has no policy that prohibits it from working with an informant deactivated by another agency -- welcomed him back. Two weeks later, agents plugged Magid into a new Bay Area investigation, one that would bring him into contact with a young man named Nabil Ismael.

Hassan Al-Mamari's cell phone chirped as he and Ismael sat in a San Bruno coffee shop in early June 2003. On the line was Magid, a friend of Al-Mamari's brother, and after a minute of chatter, Magid decided to join them. Sam, as Magid introduced himself, showed up "looking like he'd just had a fresh shower," Ismael recalls of the first time he saw him. Short and lean, his black hair slicked back and his mustache neatly trimmed, Magid sported dark sunglasses and a genial manner. The three Yemeni émigrés talked about their homeland and families, according to Ismael and Al-Mamari, before walking over to the used-car lot where Ismael worked at the time. Magid took a stroll around the lot, casually inquired about buying a car, and went on his way.

Over the next few days, Ismael says, Magid made a habit of calling him or dropping by the dealership, his rapid-fire banter echoing through the showroom. Ismael suspected nothing ominous. As it turned out, Magid's wife and Ismael had attended college together, and Magid claimed to know Ismael's uncle, Mansoor, the honorary Yemeni consul to the U.S. in San Francisco. (Mansoor Ismael says they've never talked.) "He seemed like a nice guy," Nabil Ismael says. "I just thought he was friendly."

His perception changed during their fourth or fifth conversation. It was then, he contends, that Magid boasted of working for the government to catch dope suppliers and asked for help finding street peddlers. By Ismael's account, if he brought Magid a few people with drug connections, Magid would make a few calls to land Ismael a Homeland Security job. Unnerved, but still trying to show respect for a countryman, Ismael says he told Magid, "I think about it."

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