Feds accused of targeting minorities in stash house stings

PHILADELPHIA - December 5, 2013

Action News has obtained undercover police video that some defendants say shows they were trapped in racially motivated raids in Philadelphia and across the country.

The video was obtained in the midst of a federal lawsuit where defendants say the ATF coaxed them into committing a crime, they say, simply because they are black.

The stings are supposed to target the worst of the worst criminals with lengthy histories who are a menace to the community. But now those claims and the government's entire sting operation are being scrutinized by a Philadelphia federal court.

The undercover video obtained exclusively by Action News shows the behind-the-scenes workings of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms' controversial fake stash house stings.

"We've got those two dudes in there, at least one of them has got a gun," an undercover ATF agent can be heard saying.

The scenario works like this: A confidential informant helps police identify a crew of allegedly dangerous criminals, and they tell them a load of drugs is sitting in a house.

All the crew has to do is show up and rob the drug dealer, and they can walk away with the equivalent of a million dollars in cocaine.

But the stash house doesn't exist, neither do the drugs. It is all a ploy, according to Attorney Mike Ferrell, to trap desperate prey in a phony crime. The defendants, he says, are predominantly minorities.

"We believe this is not something that we want our federal government and our law enforcement to be involved in. We want them, in fact, to be policing crime not creating them," said Ferrell.

One of Ferrell's clients, Robert Lamar Whitfield, is shown in the video. He is facing between 25 and 30 years in prison after he was convicted in federal court.

Whitfield has had a handful of arrests, but only a disorderly conduct conviction before his family says he was cajoled into this criminal act to support his family.

"He was in between jobs," said Braheem Whitfield. "He didn't have any money. He was selling almost anything he could to make ends meet and that wasn't working."

Another member of the crew, Kenneth Parnell, only had a DUI conviction before he was caught up in the sting.

Ferrell has filed a motion against the federal government and the ATF on the heels of a similar action out of Chicago, both alleging the government is "targeting persons of color," "instigating phony robberies for non-existent drug 'stash houses."

"The government in its opening statement said you know, 'what would somebody do for a million dollars of cocaine?'" said Ferrell.

Ferrell's claim says in the last four years, the Philadelphia ATF has brought at least 4 phony stash house robbery cases charging 20 individuals, all of whom are African American.

"You're talking about 15 to 30 years. That's what people get for murder. That's excessive to me," said Niya Whitfield.

But ATF Special Agent Sam Rabadi defends their operations and says race and gender have no bearing on how they conduct their operations.

"When we target these individuals, we target them because of their prior violent behavior, as well as their extensive criminal histories. If you want to call that targeting, that's what we do," said ATF Special Agent Rabadi.

The ATF points out that the jury who convicted Whitfield and his 7 co-defendants of conspiracy to commit an armed home invasion robbery, found there was no government entrapment.

They are still awaiting sentencing.

And Rabadi says the 35 defendants the Philadelphia ATF has arrested over the last year and a half, have 250 arrests among them, ranging from armed robbery to attempted murder, and even murder.

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