The lead FBI agent in the federal theft trial of three Cuban immigrants admitted on the witness stand late Tuesday that he may have unknowingly violated Justice Department guidelines by not documenting his communications with an informant who fled the country.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Thomas Pitaro, FBI agent Shay Christensen said he didn’t know he was supposed to keep a written record of his conversations with the informant.
“You know that that’s a mandatory disclosure, don’t you?” Pitaro asked in a raised voice.
“I know now,” Christensen replied.
Pitaro’s cross-examination was cut short after roughly 15 minutes because U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey wanted to let the jury go home for the evening. He will resume his questioning today.
Christensen had spent most of the day testifying about his contact with the informant, Yordani Corona Del Toro, who worked undercover to help the FBI break up the Cuban theft ring.
The FBI agent, who is fluent in Spanish, testified he had several conversations with Del Toro while he was on the lam last year and was slow to tell his supervisor about his initial contact. Defense lawyers were not provided with reports of those conversations.
Pitaro wanted to show Christensen the Justice Department guidelines and question him about them, but Dorsey wouldn’t allow it after Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Schiess strenuously objected.
Outside the presence of the jury, Dorsey told defense lawyers that Christensen was not on trial, and she instructed Pitaro to soften his pursuit of the subject.
Pitaro said he merely was trying to show what the defense has maintained throughout the trial — that Del Toro was allowed to “skate free” after he agreed to help the FBI.
On Monday, Pitaro grilled Del Toro, a six-time felon, on the witness stand about his claims not to know what Christensen did to get him probation in two state burglary cases.
Del Toro, 23, who also is a Cuban immigrant, got probation despite plea deals allowing state prosecutors to seek life in prison for him as a habitual criminal after he left the country for several months last year.
He testified Friday that he fled to Mexico and then Cuba, leaving his newborn daughter behind, out of fear for his safety.
The wife of one of the defendants sent his mother a threat, indicating he would pay for cooperating with FBI agents, he said.
In direct testimony Tuesday, Christensen said he never made any specific promises to Del Toro but told him he would “fight for him” and try to get him the best deal he could in his state cases because of his undercover work.
The three defendants — Julio De Armas Diaz, 54; Alexis Torres Simon, 46; and Alexander Del Valle Garcia, 42 — are standing trial on felony charges tied to the theft of drugs and expensive merchandise from delivery vans and warehouses around the Las Vegas Valley.
Del Toro testified last week that he secretly recorded conversations with the defendants planning the robbery and kidnapping of a delivery van driver hauling pharmaceutical drugs.
De Armas Diaz and Simon were taken into custody April 8, 2013, as they were about to rob the driver at gunpoint, according to prosecutors. Del Valle Garcia was arrested several days later.