A Penn Hills woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to an unusual federal contempt of court charge after a prosecutor said her refusal to testify against her boyfriend forced the government to reveal a confidential informant.
Marquetta Lavelle Mitchell, 41, who is already serving a 10-year sentence on a cocaine distribution conspiracy charge, now faces sentencing Jan. 8 for defying a judge’s order to testify in her boyfriend’s trial.
“The government was required to call a well-placed confidential DEA informant to the stand as a result of her unwillingness to testify,” assistant U.S. attorney Ross Lenhardt told U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch.
Mr. Lenhardt, though, said he would recommend that any contempt sentence be served concurrently with the drug term, rather than as additional time. Judge Bloch noted that he is not obligated to accept that recommendation and can impose any sentence he wants, including unlimited additional prison time.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed the case against Mitchell, a former home health aide and mother of two, in an April story.
Her then-boyfriend, Andre Allen Williams, 43, also of Penn Hills, sought 5 kilograms of cocaine from a man he believed to be a major drug dealer. The man was actually a paid Drug Enforcement Administration informant with 34 years of experience. The DEA paid the informant $31,000 for his work on the case, which netted Williams, Mitchell and two Texans.
Mitchell pleaded guilty and initially agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. But at Williams’ trial she refused to testify against him, despite a judge’s order, an immunity grant and a clear warning that she could face additional prison time.
That led to the informant’s testimony.
“The government never wants to put a confidential informant on the witness stand, because [informants] are notorious for not being good witnesses,” said Dennis Fitzgerald, a former DEA agent who is an attorney and author of the book “Informants and Undercover Investigations: A Practical Guide to Law, Policy and Procedure.”
“It burns the informant,” Mr. Fitzgerald added. “Now the cat’s out of the bag that he was an informant.”
“That probably is the end of a long and celebrated career as an informant,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now a law professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
The informant’s testimony helped to seal a conviction that resulted in a 20-year sentence for Williams.
The grand jury’s subsequent indictment of Mitchell solely for contempt appears to have been the only case of its kind in federal court nationally in the last five years. She had scant defense, however, other than to claim that she refused to testify out of love or fear.
“Honestly, that kind of thing, it might not have even been admissible, because it’s not a defense,” said Mr. Antkowiak. “You were warned, you were advised and you refused to testify. There’s very little defense to something like that.”
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542. Twitter @richelord.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 of on Twitter @richelord. First Published August 13, 2014 12:00 AM