Hey, all you convicted felons out there! Want to find out who snitched on you? Check out whosarat.com, the website that exposes the identities of witnesses and informants cooperating with the government. But you better hurry, federal prosecutors are getting wind of the site and they are mad.
Prosecutors are trying to block the site from displaying information about plea agreements, reports the New York Times.
The site posts witness names and mug shots, along with documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences. The site boasts that it has identified 4,300 informers and 400 undercover agents.
"We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment," a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.
For those who want to read the details on cooperating witnesses, whosarat.com charges between $7.99 for a week and $89.99 for life. The latter option comes with a free "Stop Snitching" T-shirt.
"The reality is this," said a spokesman for the site, who identified himself as Anthony Capone. "Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale."
It isn't just people with names like Capone who are unhappy about the bid to block access to plea agreements.
"If there is an issue in a particular case, then let's address it, but to sweep everything under the rug isn't right," said David O. Markus, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami. "It doesn't advance any of the stated safety goals, and it just serves as a roadblock to the public's constitutional right to access to their court."
Of course, defendants whose cases go to trial will learn the identities of the witnesses who testify against them. However, the site also posts those people who are involved in undercover operations and those whose information is merely used to build a case, as well as informants. This leaves them open to possible retribution.
Judge John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis and the chairman of a Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, acknowledged the gravity of the safety threat posed by the Web sites but said it would be better addressed through case-by-case actions.
"We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely," Judge Tunheim said. "But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record."