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Ex-Informant Bilked by FBI, Suit Contends

Court: Man claims the agency encouraged him to infiltrate drug cartel, then abandoned him.

June 29, 2002|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former law enforcement officer sued the FBI in Los Angeles federal court Friday, alleging the agency abandoned him after he served for years as a confidential informant infiltrating a violent drug cartel in Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed by Arizona resident Avery "Skip" Ensley, 56, also contends the FBI bilked him and his wife out of more than $1 million in promised proceeds from the drugs, cash and weapons seized during his years as an informant on an arm of the notorious Arellano Felix syndicate.

"One of the reasons I'm going forward with this thing is that I want other people to know the FBI does not take care of its people," Ensley said by phone. "My experience is that they will put anybody at risk for their own benefit."

An FBI spokeswoman declined comment on the lawsuit, citing the agency's policy not to discuss pending litigation.

According to his lawsuit, Ensley's odyssey as an informant began in 1987, when he told the FBI that a man shot and killed by Upland police was the brother of a major drug trafficker named Luis Valenzuela. Valenzuela, the lawsuit says, was a leader of the Castro drug organization, which for years ran the Los Angeles-area operations for the Arellano Felix drug cartel.

At the time he first spoke to the FBI, Ensley says in his suit, he knew of Valenzuela's activities because the drug dealer's brother was married to his own wife's sister.

"When I learned of these drug connections, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror knowing I had access to this information," said Ensley, a onetime police officer in Oregon and police chief of North Sioux City, S.D.

After hearing Ensley's account of Valenzuela's drug activities, the lawsuit claims, the FBI asked Ensley if he would try to "get close" to Valenzuela and provide evidence that could be used in prosecuting a case.

"The FBI repeatedly assured the Ensleys that the government would do everything it could to protect them," the lawsuit says, claiming agents also assured the Ensleys they would be "well compensated" with a 10% share of all cash seized and 10% of the value of all drugs collected in the investigation. With that understanding, the lawsuit alleges, Ensley and his wife successfully fostered a "personal relationship of trust" with Valenzuela that enabled them to provide detailed information about his drug activities.

Specifically, according to the lawsuit, Ensley negotiated a hand-to-hand purchase of black tar heroin for $24,000 in March 1997.

Six months later, his lawsuit adds, Ensley arranged a meeting on a yacht off Southern California where federal agents posing as drug distributors were introduced to Valenzuela.

Those activities, along with more than 15 trips to Mexico and other evidence provided by Ensley, enabled the FBI to secure court-ordered wiretaps and audiovisual recordings that were eventually used in the successful prosecution of Valenzuela's drug operation, according to the lawsuit.

Since 1998, Valenzuela has been wanted on a federal fugitive warrant after indictment under federal drug kingpin statutes, according to federal officials.

But in devoting themselves to the FBI investigation, the lawsuit says, the Ensleys encountered "financially devastating" consequences--losing two homes, a trucking business and a construction company in South Dakota, as well as other business ventures in Oregon and Fresno.

"The Ensleys accepted these adverse financial consequences because FBI agents repeatedly told them that they would be compensated for their efforts," the lawsuit says.

Over the years, according to the Ensleys' attorney, Darius Nickerson, the couple received less than $50,000 for their assistance to the FBI even when, the lawsuit claims, they provided authorities with leads resulting in the seizure of at least $12 million in cash and more than 1,200 kilos of cocaine.

"I am absolutely flabbergasted that they would put my family and I at risk like this," Ensley said, "And do so with no more consideration than if they were dealing with some person they've arrested who's trying to make a deal."

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