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Immunity Denied in Murder of Mafia Canary

(CN) - Prosecutors from New Jersey must face claims that a leak from their office led to the murder of a mafia informant, the 3rd Circuit ruled.

Frank Lagano, 71, was shot in the head in April 2007 outside of a diner he co-owned in East Brunswick, N.J.

Three years earlier, Lagano had turned government informant after the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office executed a search warrant on his home and seized $50,000.

James Sweeney, the supervisor of an organized crime unit in New Jersey's criminal justice division, noted in a 2010 retaliation complaint that he began working with an informant described only as FL after a 2004.

In the months before FL's April 2007 death, Sweeney allegedly complained to his bosses that "MM," a prominent employee of an unspecified county prosecutor's office in New Jersey who used to work with FL, was corrupt.

Lagano's estate sued the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and its former chief of detectives, Michael Mordaga, in 2012, claiming that Mordago told members of certain crime families that Lagano was working for the government.

Though a federal judge in Newark found that the prosecutor's office was immune from prosecution, the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit reversed Wednesday.

"The amended complaint clearly alleges that Mordaga's relationship with Lagano extended beyond Mordaga's official role as BCPO Chief of Detectives during the BCPO investigation of Lagano," Judge Thomas Vanaskie wrote for the three-judge panel.

Mordaga allegedly advised Lagano to hire a specific attorney on the assurance that this attorney could make Lagano's problems disappear.

"It can also be inferred from the amended complaint that the alleged disclosure of Lagano's status as a confidential informant was unrelated to any lawful investigative or prosecutorial function," Vanaskie said.

The appellate panel also rejected the lower court's supposition that confidential informants do not have a clearly provided constitutional right to nondisclosure.

"We cannot endorse the District Court's unduly narrow construction of the right at issue, or its statement that the right was not clearly established," Vanasie wrote. "It has been clearly established in this circuit for nearly two decades that a state-created danger violates due process. That we have not applied the state-created danger theory in the context of a confidential informant is not dispositive on the qualified immunity defense."

The court did, however, affirm dismissal of the estate's unreasonable-search claims related to the government's 2004 search of Lagano's home.

Such claims are untimely as "the record demonstrates that Lagano himself knew about the allegedly unlawful search and seizure by March 2005 at the latest, and thus had a complete cause of action at that time," Vanaskie wrote.

"As a result, the two-year period of limitations expired in March 2007, before Lagano's death the following month," he added.

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