No Dinero for Informant|in Cuban Mob Takedown

     (CN) – A federal judge dashed an informant’s long-held hopes of reaping a monetary award for his role in the government’s racketeering case against reputed Cuban mob syndicate La Corporacion.
     On Wednesday, Judge Thomas Wheeler of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims dismissed Harold Marchena’s lawsuit seeking compensation for aiding in the prosecution of the syndicate and its alleged boss Jose Miguel Battle Sr., a former kingpin of New York’s illegal “bolita” lottery.
     The law enforcement agents to whom Marchena reported may have pledged to use their “best efforts” to help him obtain an award, but this “does not translate into a firm promise by the government, because higher officials with actual authority needed to ratify the agreement,” Judge Wheeler wrote in an 11-page opinion.
     Marchena, who worked at a Peruvian casino run by Battle in the mid-1990s, had insisted he contributed to the prosecution by relaying information to agents, testifying in the criminal case and securing two other witnesses.
     Marchena said he and the other witnesses were initially under the impression that they would be required to testify before a grand jury only. However, they ended up appearing in front of Battle and his associates in open court, according to Marchena’s complaint filed earlier this year.
     It was no feat for the faint-hearted, as the syndicate had developed a reputation for offing snitches and backstabbers.
     The racketeering case culminated with Battle, his son and their associates being accused of multiple murders, arson, and illegal gambling across an empire stretching from the Big Apple to South America.
     Among other charges, syndicate leaders were said to have orchestrated a campaign of firebombings in 1983 and 1984, including a deadly attack that killed a 3-year-old girl, according to a 2005 New York Post report.
     Battle pleaded guilty to racketeering amid failing health in 2006, and was sentenced to 20 years. The 77-year-old, a former soldier known for working alongside the U.S. during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, died in 2007.
     Separate forfeiture orders in the amounts of $1.4 billion and $642 million were recorded against members of the syndicate, though the U.S. government reported recovering only a fraction of those sums.
     Battle’s son, Jose Miguel Battle Jr., was sentenced to 15 years.
     Marchena says he filed a lien against forfeiture assets as per instructions from the agents with whom he had worked: Metro-Dade Detective Dave Shanks and special agent Robert O’Bannon from the U.S. State Department.
     He says the Peruvian casino owed him $106,000 in back wages, and that the agents repeatedly led him to believe they would help him fetch restitution, given that he risked his neck as an informant.
     But the court in the Battle case and later the U.S. Attorney General’s Office rebutted Marchena’s demands for payment.
     Though Marchena secured a judgment for the casino back wages in Peru, the Attorney General’s Office wrote that he was not “a victim of the crime nor a recognized lienholder because he did not…record his foreign judgment and file a lien before the government’s indictment and seizure.”
     Marchena persisted and submitted his breach-of-contract lawsuit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims in January of this year, arguing that he “did everything that Detective Shanks and Special Agent O’Bannon asked him to do, and even more.”
     Dismissing the action, Judge Wheeler wrote on Sept. 21: “The main issue here is whether the government agents with whom Marchena interacted had actual authority to bind the Government. Government agents must have actual authority to bind the government in contract—they do not have apparent authority.”
     “Private parties bear the risk that government agents may not have actual authority to [contractually] bind the government, even when the agents themselves believe they have such authority,” the judge wrote.
     Neither O’Bannon, Shanks, nor the assistant U.S. attorney involved, had implied or express authority from the government to contract with Marchena, Wheeler ruled.
     The judge likened the matter to SGS-92-X003 v. United States, where an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency informant known as “The Princess” filed a lawsuit claiming she was owed a large cut of millions of dollars in assets seized as a result of her participation in an investigation into Colombian drug traffickers.
     In that case, it was clear that the DEA agent to whom The Princess reported could seek out approval from higher-ups to grant her up to 25 percent of seized assets. But the agent was not in a position to personally grant that commission, the court ruled.
     The Princess, who purportedly had already received more than a million dollars in payments for her work as an informant, was denied the hefty commission.
     She did manage to persuade the court that the government breached its duty when she was sent without safeguards on an ill-fated mission to Colombia, and ended up captured and held for ransom by guerillas.
     Marchena attempted to amend his complaint to include a similar allegation: that the government reneged on a promise to protect him and his family during his time as an informant in the Battle case.
     Citing a lack of Tucker Act jurisdiction, Wheeler denied Marchena’s motion to amend, finding that Marchena failed to show any potential monetary liability on the part of the government with respect to his failure-to-protect claim.
     The Court of Federal Claims meanwhile is still fielding a related action filed by a second informant seeking compensation for helping with the prosecution of La Corporacion. That plaintiff, who also worked at Battle’s Peruvian casino operation, purportedly provided “the keys to the kingdom” regarding the crime syndicate, by handing over a mountain of business records to federal agents, according to court documents.
     He put his and his family’s lives at considerable risk by working with prosecutors, he says.
     Indeed, Idalia Fernandez, a prospective witness against Battle, was reportedly killed by a La Corporacion hitman within two weeks of being deposed.
     Fernandez had been on the syndicate’s radar for years: Near the height of the group’s prominence in the 1970s, she was in a Florida apartment, when, according to court documents, a hitman for the group stormed in, shot her and fatally wounded her beau Ernestico Torres, who was believed to have betrayed La Corporacion by kidnapping one of its bankers.
     In 1997, Battle Sr. was found guilty of organizing the Torres murder, but an appeals court overturned the conviction, remanding a count of conspiracy to the trial court. Battle then avoided a lengthy sentence by pleading guilty and receiving credit for time served.

%d bloggers like this: