DEA created fake Facebook account in drug sting, woman sues
by Carol Thompson
A Facebook page created surreptitiously by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who had seized a woman’s phone July 2010 after arresting her, mined it for photographs, then used the pictures to establish a fraudulent profile that allowed authorities to impersonate her in an investigation into an alleged New York drug ring.
When the woman, Sondra Prince, found out, she filed a lawsuit against the United States government and DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen.
Prince, who now goes by the name Sondra Arquiett, first learned her identity had been pirated in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. She was surprised because she said she hadn’t set up a Facebook account. The account had been set up by Sinnigen.
Prince was arrested July 2010 as part of a joint drug investigation conducted by the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the St. Lawrence County, NY Drug Task Force, according to Prince’s civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of New York. At the time of her arrest, various personal items were seized, including her cell phone.
On or about August 13, Sinnigen set up a counterfeit Facebook account without Prince’s knowledge or permission, the lawsuit alleges. Sinnigen posted pictures that were in Prince’s cell phone in an attempt to initiate communication with those believed to be involved in a narcotics distribution ring. The lawsuit alleges that among the photographs posted were Prince’s minor child and niece as well as a picture of Prince in her bra and panties.
In the government’s response, it is admitted that Sinnigen established the fake Facebook account and is justified by claims that Sinnigen had every right to do so. The government claims that Prince gave implicitly consented to the use of the information stored in her phone to aid in an ongoing drug investigation. The U.S. attorney has asked the court to dismiss the case.
The account in Prince’s name had been used by Sinnigen for approximately three months.
Image: Flickr: A picture taken from the bogus Facebook page created by a DEA officer.