Video: Whistleblower mistreatment?

updated 6/7/2005 7:28:16 PM ET 2005-06-07T23:28:16

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government promises as much as $25 million for information leading to the capture of the world's most-wanted terrorists and criminals. But how easy is it to actually collect that money? One undercover informant who helped the FBI arrest one of the 10 most-wanted international fugitives says, in his case, it was a nightmare. The secret informant has never told his story, until now.

"It was the worst process I ever faced in my life," says the informant we'll call "John."

He asked NBC News to conceal his identity for fear of retribution.He worked undercover as a paid informant for the FBI for two years to help track down the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998.

The murderer, James Kopp, was placed on the FBI's most-wanted list on the same day as Osama bin Laden.

"These individuals are to be considered extremely dangerous and armed," said then-FBI Director Louis Freeh when making the announcement on June 7, 1999.

John says an FBI agent promised a big reward if he helped the FBI capture Kopp.

"He promised me that he will come down by airplane and he will carry [an] attaché with a million dollars," recalls John.

Lisa Myers: "The FBI agent promised you a million dollars?"

John: Yes.

Myers: If you would help?

John: Yes.

Myers: And it was the money that was seductive?

John: Well, money, yes, [it] was seductive, no question about it. I'd be lying.

John claims he was not told about the fine print until much later; namely, that some of the million-dollar reward would come from the FBI, some from the Justice Department, and some from Canada. He claims he was never told the Canadians would pay only if Kopp were convicted there, for several unsolved shootings of Canadian doctors who provided abortions in Canada.

The FBI admits John did deliver — providing key information that led to Kopp's arrest, including a Western Union receipt that revealed Kopp's alias and where he was hiding in Dinan, France.

After Kopp's arrest in March 2001, the FBI immediately paid John $50,000.After Kopp pleaded guilty in 2003, John tried to collect the rest of his money, hounding federal officials, taping hundreds of hours of calls to them, even writing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to complain the government was "dragging its heels." He says he got no response.

Lisa Myers: So you helped the FBI capture one of the 10 most-wanted fugitives.

John: That's correct.

Myers: And you have to harass the Justice Department to get your reward money?

John: That's correct.

In December 2003, nine months after Kopp's conviction, the FBI paid John $100,000 more. Last summer, on June 30, 2004, days after John began talking to NBC News and 15 months after the conviction, the Justice Department finally paid $500,000 more.

Why did it take so long?

Senior U.S. law enforcement officials say the FBI misplaced key documents and the Justice Department money got bogged down in red tape. But they argue John eventually was paid handsomely — $650,000.

However, John claims he's still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by Canada and cautions prospective tipsters to get everything in writing.

"A promise made by the government doesn't also mean that they will deliver," he says.

Canadian officials say as long as Kopp is in a U.S. prison and hasn't been convicted in Canada, John won't ever collect.


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