An undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) infiltrated Jeremy Halgat’s life for three years before he lured him into drug crimes “designed and engineered by the government.” He had Halgat’s home searched and found nothing. He tried to get Halgat to buy illegal guns and Halgat recited federal gun law. Finally, after many rejected requests and a heavy hand by the agent, ATF Task Force Officer Agostino Brancato got Halgat to play a role in a cocaine sale, in pleas that exploited their false friendship, and Brancato’s false claims of monetary desperation.A federal magistrate judge recommended this week that criminal charges against Halgat carrying a term of up to 20 years in prison be dismissed.
“[T]he government’s investigation deployed techniques that generated a wholly new crime for the sake of pressing criminal charges against Halgat,” Judge Cam Ferenbach wrote.Brancato was investigating Halgat because he was in a suspected motorcycle gang that was the target of a mission known as “Operation Pure Luck.” But Halgat had no criminal record and appeared committed to abiding by the law. Although he was an occasional cocaine user, he stated many times that he had long ago disavowed cocaine trafficking. When Brancato repeatedly asked him over the course of five weeks to buy cocaine, invoking language that they were “familia” and monetary desperation, Halgat repeatedly refused, stating that “I had a wakeup call one day” and on another occasion, “I can’t fucking help. I can’t help.”
Finally, Brancato got Halgat to play a minor role by asking him to introduce him to a friend he knew to be dealer, bringing Halgat along and coaxing Halgat to participate in the transaction Brancato had already scripted. He then falsified records about that first transaction, the court found, and a week later, got him to participate in an even bigger ruse. Brancato asked Halgat to come along to a fake major drug transaction set up to involve a drug courier for a Mexican cartel, an airplane rented by the government, and ten kilograms of cocaine from ATF’s own contraband supply. Brancato told Halgat he needed Halgat to “watch his back” and asked him to bring his guns to protect him. Halgat showed up, and he later accepted $1,000 for risking his life.
ATF used all of this to file felony drug trafficking charges against Halgat. But Judge Ferenbech recommended this week that the charges be dropped, questioning how ATF has in any way furthered the two punishment goals — rehabilitation and deterrence — by actually convincing Halgat to relapse and return to criminal activity he had disavowed.In the biggest trial in the SDFLA right now, the Miami Herald raises covers the defense's strategy to argue that Michael Pizzi was also targeted:
Shohat repeatedly revealed through his line of questioning that Pizzi was interested in the federal grant program only if it would generate money and jobs for Miami Lakes and Medley and would not cost those towns any administrative costs.He pointed out that after Pizzi met with the two undercover agents and Kesti for dinner at the upscale Miami Beach steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, on Feb. 29, 2012, the mayor got upset because the agents used such blunt language about the nature of the scam for the first time.
As the undercover agents sat in a car with Pizzi in the parking lot, Durkacz told the mayor: “I just want to be clear with you mayor, so that there are not any hard feelings down the road. But, you understand a lot of this s--- is just bogus. What we are doing here is just grabbing money.”Pizzi’s recorded response: “I can’t do it if it’s just bogus. That I can’t do.”
Later, Pizzi emailed Kesti, the lobbyist and FBI informant, to call him. In a recorded phone conversation the next day, the mayor told Kesti that he thought the undercover agents’ language was “over the top” and he wanted to “hold off” on going forward with the federal grant application in Medley.Kesti tried to vouch for the undercover agents, saying he had worked with Durkacz in the past on other grant deals. He also said they just wanted to “share the wealth” with him.
But the mayor warned Kesti: “In our position, you have to be f---ing careful because people might get the wrong impression. … We’re the good guys.”But the prosecution is arguing that it didn't have to push:
After winning his second term, Pizzi allegedly accepted these cash bribes:• $1,000 paid by Candia at a Starbucks in Miami Lakes, for the Medley deal. The cash was allegedly tucked inside a newspaper.• $2,000 paid by the two FBI undercover agents at the billiard hall, for the Miami Lakes grant application.• $3,000 paid by Candia in the storage closet of Pizzi's town attorney office in Medley, for the Miami Lakes deal.Just before making the final payoff last July, Candia was confronted by FBI agents about the alleged scheme. He agreed to cooperate by wearing a wire for the last sting against the mayor.Candia, a critical witness, is expected to testify later this month.