A US lawyer from Ohio has been suspended for a year for posing as the mistress of a murderer on Facebook to turn his girlfriend against him.
The assistant county prosecutor, Aaron Brockler, got creative on social media while he was working a case involving a 2012 murder.
The victim was Kenneth “Blue” Adams, 36, shot dead while working at the Red Zone Car Wash in Cleveland, as Courthouse News Service reports.
The prosecution had fingered 29-year-old Damon Dunn, of Cleveland, as the murderer. When the opposing attorneys exchanged witness lists pre-trial, Dunn handed over the names of two women who could provide an alibi.
Dunn claimed that at the time Adams was killed, he was on the other side of the city with his girlfriend, Sarah Mossor, and her friend Marquita Lewis, and that they’d vouch for him.
Brockler wanted to break that alibi. In order to do it, he relied on that saying about hell having no fury as great as … well, in this case, the fury of two alibi witnesses.
First, he took advantage of the fact that calls from jails are routinely recorded. As court papers recount, by listening to Dunn’s conversation, Brockler discovered that the suspect’s girlfriend just might sell him down the river if she found out she’d been cheated on:
As part of his investigation, Brockler listened to recordings of telephone calls that Dunn had made from the Cuyahoga County Jail. On the morning of December 14, 2012, he listened to a recording of a heated conversation in which Dunn and Mossor argued over Dunn’s fear that Mossor would not be a reliable witness and Mossor’s belief that Dunn had not been faithful to her.
Mossor suspected that Dunn had had a romantic relationship with a woman named “Taisha” and indicated that if her suspicion was true, she would end her relationship with Dunn. Believing that Mossor’s relationship with Dunn was near a breaking point, Brockler saw an opportunity to exploit her feelings of distrust and get her to recant her support for Dunn.
Brockler posed as Dunn’s jilted lover – “Taisha,” who’d borne his child – to chat up the two alibi witnesses on Facebook.
He used the pseudonym “Taisha Little” along with a photo of a woman he found on the internet, joined groups, and added photos and “friends,” based on Dunn’s profile.
Then, Brockler contacted Mossor and Lewis separately on Facebook chats, claiming that “Little” had an 18-month-old and needed the purported father – Dunn – to be released so he could pay child support.
He wasn’t convincing. Both women got suspicious after a few hours, so Brockler backed off and deleted the account.
He saved the chats, though, printing them for defense counsel. But the printouts didn’t make it into the hands of the defense: Brockler left the office after a few days for eye surgery and was out for two months on medical leave.
While he was on leave, Brockler’s replacement, Assistant County Prosecutor Kevin Filiatraut, called to ask about the transcripts, which he’d found in Brockler’s files.
Brockler admitted that yes, that was him in the transcripts.
Filiatraut told his supervisors, who yanked Brockler off the case and fired him.
Brockler claimed that he felt sorry for the victim’s mother, feeling her pain over losing a son, and that he’d promised her that Dunn “wasn’t going to walk out the front door of the courthouse. This was a horrible killer and I didn’t want him to get out and go kill someone else’s son.”
He also said that law enforcement pulls this type of ruse all the time, manufacturing phony social media profiles to catch crooks.
Well, he’s correct in that assertion, at any rate.
What’s good for the goose should also cook that gander
Police don’t shy away from arresting people for setting up fake profiles, as well they should.
We’ve seen far too many victims who’ve believed that some nice lady chatting them up online is really what she claims to be, as opposed to the reality: some skeevy creep talking women into sending explicit photos that can then be used in sextortion, for example.
But that doesn’t stop cops from using fake profiles for their own ends – say, to bust an after-prom high school party – even if they wind up getting sued for it.
That’s what happened with Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Timothy Sinnigen, who created a fake Facebook profile for an arrested woman using information found on her seized mobile phone.
Not only did Sinnigen set up the fake profile, he posted photos of the woman, accepted friend requests on her behalf and added a known fugitive as a friend.
How’d that go for the DEA? Well, for one thing, Facebook fired off a letter asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to please stop setting up fake profiles and trampling all over its policies and terms of service.
But who cares about a grumbly letter from Facebook? It’s not like it’s got a lot of teeth to it.
Getting sued by the subject of the fake profile did have teeth, though: she was awarded $134,000, in fact.
The agent had not only accepted friend requests on the woman’s behalf. He also reached out to a known fugitive, sending him a friend request, disguised as coming from the bogus account.
In fact, his actions made the woman look like an informer – putting her in danger of violent retribution from criminals who could have concluded that she was working with the Feds to bust them all.
$134,000? That hardly seems enough to skip town and cover your tracks.
Brockler, however, got off even lighter for setting up the fake profile.
That 12-month suspension was fully stayed. That means he’s still allowed to practice law during his suspended suspension.
What security wisdom can we derive from this tale?
Once again, it’s a lesson in people not always being who they say they are, be it on Facebook, Craiglist or any other online forum.
Be safe: until you can ascertain otherwise, assume that the person contacting you could be a crook, a burglar, a stalker, an extortionist, a cop or a drug agent.
Image of Law book and gavel courtesy of Shutterstock.com
5 comments on “Prosecutor suspended over fake Facebook profile used in murder prosecution”
Hi Lisa – a couple of minor corrections:
…“Taisha,” who’d born his child… — borne
I may be ignorantly sympathizing too much with Bourne, McBain, Murtaugh, and Riggs, (or ignorantly missing a crucially-relevant aspect of privacy), but…
As long as we (the law-abiding) are beset on all sides by snake oil vendors and swindlers who indiscriminately steal identities from infants and retirement from octogenarians, why should a sting operation not be converted to the Matrix from Meatspace?
Retort preempt attempts—I understand that:
1) some government officials have been caught abusing their power/privilege/access
2) suspected !== proven guilty
3) a warrant would likely more easily justify this sort of thing (and cooperation with Facebook might make them willing participants)
4) framing a woman as an informant and putting her in physical danger is not the goal, nor is it acceptable “collateral damage.”
If my child were the victim of a homicide I’d want every imaginable resource utilized to apprehend the culprit (the *correct* culprit to be sure). Is the biggest issue here that Brockler went rogue as “Taisha” without pre-navigating the proper legal channels?
The here issue is that Brockler is not law enforcement but a lawyer for prosecution. He didn’t do this to get evidence but to sabotage the defense’s witnesses. I don’t know about the laws involved but at the very least it is incredibly unethical (IMO he ought to be in jail for this).
With the DEA agent mentioned in the article, he wasn’t ‘undercover’ he essentially stole someone’s identity. Although I’m the kind of guy who thinks that any of these fake accounts are wrong I think most people would agree that government agents impersonating real people crosses a line.
Perfect, thanks. And you’re right–that is unethical at minimum.
I suppose that’s what I get for skimming the article; if I’d spent that time re-spelunking the article instead of composing a convoluted question, I’d likely have found that myself.