The Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account using photographs and other personal information it took from the cellphone of a New York woman arrested in a cocaine case, to trick her friends and associates into revealing incriminating drug secrets.
Sondra Arquiett's Facebook account looked as real as any other. It included photos of her posing on the hood of a sleek BMW and a close-up with her young son and niece. She even appeared to write that she missed her boyfriend, who was identified by his nickname. But it wasn't her. The account was the work of DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen, Arquiett said in a federal lawsuit. The case is scheduled for trial next week in Albany, New York.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement to NBC News on Tuesday that "the incident at issue in this case is under review by Justice Department officials."
In court papers filed earlier in the case, which was first reported by BuzzFeed, the federal government defended the practice, saying Arquiett "implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in ... ongoing criminal investigations."
It was unclear exactly what she agreed to, and her lawyer did not return requests for comment.
Arquiett said in her filing that she suffered "fear and great emotional distress" and was endangered because the fake page gave the impression that she was cooperating with Sinnigen's investigation as he interacted online with "dangerous individuals he was investigating."
Arquiett was arrested in July 2010 on charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. She was accused of being part of a drug distribution ring run by her boyfriend, who had been previously indicted. Court records show she pleaded guilty in January 2012 and was sentenced to six months of weekend incarceration.
A spokesman for Facebook declined Tuesday to comment on the legal dispute, but the social-networking site's policies prohibit the practice, telling users: "You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."
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