By Allan Lengel
The legal battle between the defense and prosecution is heating up in an undercover FBI sting into gun trafficking in the Philippines.
The battle began when deputy Federal Defender John Littrell in Los Angeles accused a a California undercover FBI agent of using taxpayer dollars to pay for prostitutes in the Philippines for himself and targets of the sting. The agent, in court papers, adamantly denied the allegation.
Then Littrell filed a motion last month alleging that the government only saved incoming text messages the FBI agent received from the targets, but didn’t save the ones that the agent sent out to the targets. Littrelle suggested the government may have intentionally destroyed the texts, which might be of help in proving entrapment.
The government in a document filed on Oct. 24, said that the undercover phone, which was a pre-paid phone purchased in the Philippines, was not capable of saving outgoing messages the agent sent to the defendants.
The government also noted that another phone used by the agent was lost in a cab in the Philippines and was not recovered.
“The government acted in good faith at all times, and there is no reason to believe that the agents’ outgoing texts were exculpatory in any way, particularly in light of the very incriminating nature of the defendants’ email, text, and other communications to the agent,” the government wrote.
But on Thursday, defense attorney Littrell, who represents one of three defendants, Sergio Syjuco, wrote in a motion:
In its opposition, the government admits that the undercover agent failed to preserve any of the outgoing text messages he sent during the 18-month investigation in this case. The government’s excuse for the undercover agent’s failure to preserve his outgoing messages from September 2010 to May 2011 (the “first phone”) was that he lost the phone in a taxi in Manila. Its excuse for the undercover agent’s failure to preserve his outgoing text messages from May 2011 to January 5, 2012 (the “second phone”), was that the “undercover phone did not save outgoing text messages, and they are “not available on the undercover telephone.” The government does not explain why messages are unavailable on the second phone, and it does not attach a declaration from the agent. It does not rule out the possibility that the undercover agent deliberately lost the first phone, or deleted the messages or altered the settings on the second phone to prevent it from saving outgoing texts. The government says only that “there were no messages in the “sent” box.” This explanation is not complete, and it is not convincing.
The fight continues. Stay tuned.