NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former mafia informant for the FBI who sued his handlers for arresting him in a murder case lost his case on Monday after a New York judge ruled there was not enough evidence that the agents had conspired to punish him by falsely charging him.
Joseph Barone had sued over his 2009 arrest on what his lawsuit described as “trumped-up charges that he had participated in a murder-for-hire plot,” in a case that offers a glimpse at the sometimes conflicted relationship between informants and their government handlers.
A federal jury acquitted him in 2010 after he had spent 19 months in a Brooklyn prison, much of it in solitary confinement.
Barone, now 55, accused his handlers at the Federal Bureau of Investigation of wanting to punish him for refusing an assignment to trick a gangster from the Gambino crime family into discussing criminal activity over the telephone.
Judge Andrew J. Peck ruled that those allegations were unfounded on Monday, saying in a court order that the FBI had “probable cause” to arrest him and had done nothing outrageous that would warrant damages.
Barone grew up in the suburbs of New York City as the son of a member of the Genovese crime family, and began cooperating with the FBI in 1991 after he was indicted on weapons and extortion charges.
He continued to work as an undercover informant for the FBI after his release from prison in 1995, posing as a Genovese gangster and providing what his complaint called “18 years of dedicated and undisputedly valued service to the FBI” up until his 2009 arrest.
The arrest came only three months after Barone’s main FBI handler, Vincent Presutti, retired. Afterwards, Barone got into arguments over his informant methods with his new handlers, according to court filings.
Barone argued he had free rein to discuss criminal plots with gangsters on the understanding that he would pass on important information to the FBI.
This is all he was doing, his lawsuit said, when he discussed a murder plot with a man called Michael Cooks. Neither man knew the other was an undercover informant, in Cooks’ case for the New York Police Department, according to the judge’s order.
Judge Peck ruled that the FBI acted reasonably in arresting Barone because the informant failed to report the conversations and so appeared to be acting outside his remit.
“Not one of the FBI agents involved in Barone’s handling or his subsequent arrest and prosecution testified that Barone was even arguably authorized to discuss murder for hire,” Peck wrote in his ruling.
The FBI declined to comment on the ruling and a lawyer for Barone did not respond to questions.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alan Crosby