A Florida judge Monday threw out charges against nearly two dozen defendants in the Tampa Latin Kings drugs, racketeering, and conspiracy case, citing FBI and Tampa Police use of a confidential informant with a lengthy criminal record who threatened nearly two dozen people into participating in the "conspiracy." While he rejected defense assertions of prosecutorial misconduct, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Daniel Sleet excoriated law enforcement as he dropped charges against 23 of the more than 50 original defendants in the highly-publicized case.
While some of those arrested have been jailed, unable to get bail since the August 21, 2006 raid on the Caribbean American Club in South Tampa, others have already accepted plea bargains to probation or prison sentences. Charges remain against only a handful of key players in what was described at the time as a "close-knit, well-organized" gang.
Judge Sleet was particularly appalled by the role played by confidential informant Luis "Danny" Agosto, who cut a deal with the FBI and the Tampa police to "take down" the Latin Kings, but had to resurrect the moribund local chapter to do it. He used threats and intimidation as part of his scheme. And on the side, he stole motorcycles, plotted drug deals, and threatened women while working as a paid snitch.
According to a detailed account of the case in the Tampa Tribune, Agosto, who already had a long record of felony convictions, was in jail facing armed burglary and grand theft of a motor vehicle charges when the FBI and the Tampa police hired him to investigate possible drug and weapons activity among the Latin Kings. In return, the burglary charge vanished and Agosto got 10 years on probation for the car theft, according to testimony and Sleet's written order. He also got a rent-free apartment, a cell phone, $2,400 hundred a month living expenses, and the promise of a $100,000 bonus upon conviction of Latin Kings members.
But, as the order noted, "A little over a month after he was employed by law enforcement, [Agosto] ventured back into his previous life of crime." After listing a litany of criminal acts by Agosto while being paid by law enforcement, Sleet called him "an out-of-control convicted felon abusing his role as an informant." Law enforcement should have arrested Agosto, Sleet wrote, instead it "excused" his crimes.
Worse yet, Agosto used beatings, threats, and intimidation to compel people to attend meetings he called, which in some cases were the sole basis for the racketeering and conspiracy charges they faced. In essence, Sleet found, Agosto created the conspiracy, and law enforcement abetted that behavior. "A court should not allow this illegal and impermissible conduct to snare criminal suspects," Sleet wrote.
"This court finds that law enforcement's conduct, by and through [the confidential informant], was so outrageous toward those defendants... as to violate the Florida Due Process Clause," Sleet wrote. "Dismissal is an extreme sanction; however an extreme sanction is warranted to punish extreme conduct."
Lyann Goudie, a defense attorney in the case who wrote a 114-page motion to drop the charges, congratulated the judge on his decision in her favor. "Most of these defendants should not have been charged at all," she said. "That offended all of us."