Controversial website names names

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2008 - 9:49 PM

Its founder says its goal is to help defendants and their attorneys, but others see an effort to intimidate.

Boston disc jockey Sean Bucci created whosarat.com in 2004 while awaiting trial in a marijuana conspiracy case. He said his database of informants and undercover officers would help defense attorneys and their clients prepare for trial.

Since then, the controversial website has collected profiles of about 4,540 informants and 437 agents -- including 169 informants and five law-enforcement officers with supposed links to Minnesota. The website doesn't vouch for the accuracy of the information.

Though the site is protected by the First Amendment, it has government prosecutors and judges wringing their hands. Prosecutors in Minnesota have asked to seal records and even entire cases in part because of the concern over whosarat.com.

John Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis who chairs a Judicial Conference of the United States committee on court administration, said this week that he is concerned judges might overreact to the website. His committee has sent out a message urging judges to seal only what is required, and to open records as quickly as possible.

Tunheim said in general he thinks that informant agreements should be filed under seal but plea agreements themselves should not.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter K. Levitt, who prosecuted Bucci in Boston, said that Bucci used whosarat.com to intimidate witnesses and as a bargaining chip in an unsuccessful ploy for a reduced sentence. Bucci was sentenced in July to more than 12 1/2 years in prison.

A friend of Bucci's, who goes by the pseudonym "Chris Brown," has kept the site going and is soliciting contributions to help pay Bucci's appeal.

Brown said in an interview last week that he believes the site helps defendants and their attorneys discover misdeeds by informants or government agents -- such as plagiarism or thefts of government funds -- that can be used to attack their credibility.

But government concerns about intimidation have merit. One posting included two photos of a Minnesota informer and the text: "[name deleted] kills people for drugs ! he killed three people from pillager mn. ... i hope they haunt you till you DIE . your day is coming you will suffer like they did. you and your brother [name deleted] and [name deleted] will rot in HELL."

On Friday, whosarat.com completed a monthlong contest with a $500 prize for the "most interesting" new informer profiles. The entries required documentation of the informers' cooperation, and photos were encouraged.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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