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Some gambling is legal in Las Vegas. Some is not. The FBI threw the dice themselves in a unique scheme to get into a hotel room to collect evidence against an international gambling ring.
In this case, law enforcement personnel used questionable means to stretch or break the rules in order to make their case. It occurred in June and July of 2014 at the Caesar's Palace Hotel in Las Vegas. After getting a tip that several rooms had sophisticated computer equipment that might be linked to an illegal gambling ring, the FBI needed more evidence to get a search warrant.
Without a warrant, they would need consent to enter the room. First, they teamed up with a local technology company. They went to the room and offered to go in and check their new computers to make sure they were connected properly. "Can we just make sure they can connect okay?" asked an undercover agent (NPR.org). The answer was no.
Raising the Stakes
The agents devised a second plan to gain entry. They started by cutting off Internet access to the hotel room. Then agents posed as computer technicians who responded to calls for assistance from the roomful of suspects.
The persons in the room not only opened the door but gave permission for the disguised agents to enter. Inside, the agents looked around and took video of the residents and their computer screens with a lapel camera.
"The FBI employed the ruse against the recommendation of an assistant U.S. attorney...according to defense lawyers." (ABCnews.go.com)
It is reported that the FBI failed to mention their role in disconnecting the Internet service prior to posing as repairmen when submitting a request for a warrant based on what they found in the room (NPR.org).
Now a defense attorney for one of the eight defendants has filed a motion to suppress that evidence. "They were trying everything they could to get inside without a warrant," defense lawyer Thomas Goldstein told the AP (Foxnews.com).
Sometimes law enforcement officers must use new, ingenious ways to gain evidence of illegal activity. However, they must play by the rules.
If the court allows the evidence, it would open up the possibility for local or federal law enforcement agencies to disconnect water, electricity, cable, or other services to your home and then pose as utility workers to gain access.
Was it a creative way of tricking the men to give consent for agents to enter their room or a trouncing of the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure?
The court is scheduled to rule this week.
AP, "Federal agents impersonated computer technicians to collect evidence in sports betting probe, lawyers say," Foxnews.com, October 29, 2014.
Caldwell, Alicia A, "Video shows FBI impersonating repairmen in ruse," ABCnews.go.com, October 29, 2014.
McConnell, Duglad and Brian Todd, "Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repairmen," CNN.com, October 30, 2014.
Totenberg, Nina, "Can authorities cut off utilities and pose as repairmen to search a home?" NPR.org, October 29, 2014.
Whitcomb, Dan, "FBI sent fake techs to seek evidence in Vegas gambling case: Lawyers," Reuters.com, October 29, 2014.
Laura Cooper lives in Nebraska and writes crime fiction and a wide range of short stories from her family farm.