How Drug War Snitches Buy Their Way Out of Prison

By Seth Ferranti 12/26/12

The information that's passed to the DEA from behind bars is often artificially manufactured and paid for, prisoners tell The Fix.

Snitching can save you some serious time.
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Snitching by prisoners is a crucial weapon in the War on Drugs. In the past five years, over 48,000 federal convicts—or about one our of every eight—have had a prison sentence reduced in exchange for helping government investigators. These stealthy deals keep feeding the criminal justice system. And people sentenced to lengthy, multiple-decade terms are willing to pay big bucks to obtain information they can use to get their sentences reduced. "This has been going on forever," one prisoner tells The Fix. "Especially with the Mexican cartels. This is how it works: a cartel member gets busted dealing drugs in the States and gets a 20-year sentence. Through their lawyer or the DEA agent on their case, they let it be known that they wish to cooperate in the hopes of getting their time cut. When they have an agreement in place, they contact their cartel associates in Mexico and pay them up to $100,000 to give them info on an incoming drug shipment or ongoing enterprise. They then supply this info to the government agents, who set up the bust."

Schemes like these are generally illegal, because the prisoners who buy the information are lying to federal agents about how they got it. But when the intelligence is accurate and valuable, the agents tend to have no qualms about using it. "After the bust and case is made, the cartel guy who gave the info is sent back to court to get his 20-year sentence cut in half. Then the same guy might do the same thing again—even multiple times—to get his sentence cut again and again so that he can go home and resume his place in the cartel," the prisoner says. " This has been going on since the '90s, when the Colombians used this tactic to get their top guys out of prison over here." He recalls, "When I was in FCI Fort Dix, in New Jersey, in the late '90s with a bunch of Colombian dudes, they told me that if I gave them $25,000 they could get someone to fly into the States with 10 kilos of coke. They would have given me exact times and dates of the incoming shipment so that I could in turn use the information to snitch and set up a bust to get my sentence reduced. But I didn't have the money." Providing material for snitches has become a big offshoot business of the drug trade; the money the top echelons can pay to shave years off their sentences makes sure of that.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.