TUCSON, Ariz. — It’s been obvious for some time that law enforcement will monitor social media accounts for signs of illegal activity or criminals.
In fact, it makes sense when you stop to consider the brazenness of people’s online activities.
Just this week, two teenage girls were arrested for posting threats against the victim in the Steubenville rape trial. There was Jason Valdez, the Utah man who took his girlfriend hostage and posted updates to his Facebook account while police were outside the room they holed up in. Then there was Dustin McCombs, the Alabama man accused of rape who used Facebook to tell the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office they couldn’t find him. A flame war erupted after he posted his taunts to his own mugshot on the sheriff’s page.
So certainly, I expect cops to use the same platforms the rest of us use.
But I didn’t expect that the Feds would be running random undercover operations on Facebook until I came across this federal search warrant filed last winter.
According to the warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson:
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent logged on to Facebook and called up the profile of Jeremy O. I’m not using his full name because while the Feds tracked him, they never charged him with a crime.
Jeremy O. listed his occupation as a fry cook at a Texas Roadhouse. Keep in mind, the agent never states in the warrant why he tracked Jeremy O. down. This is important because it suggests the Feds are simply logging on to Facebook and trolling random profiles to see who bites.
In this case, it seems the ATF agent was monitoring the Facebook account of a convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
“On the same date,” the agent writes, he saw a photo of Jeremy O. holding an AR-15 assault rifle. “I then commented on the photograph using an undercover account.”
(Court bureaucracy requires a certain vernacular and I kind of enjoyed the ATF’s writeup: “Commenting on a Facebook photograph allows a user to begin communicating with the user who posted the photograph”). He asked Jeremy O. if the firearm was real.
“The choppa? WOULDN’T TELL YOU DAT ON FB!! Haha!” Jeremy O. wrote back.
The agent then sent Jeremy O. a private message to continue the conversation. “During the conversation, I advised that I had shot an AK before,” the agent wrote in the warrant.
Jeremy O. responded, “If you shot an ak and was straight… you should be good wit my AR.” So the agent asked him where he shoots and Jeremy O. replied: “I go to this lil spot out towardz Vail…lil spot in dah desert.”
This is where Jeremy O.’s real problems begin.
The agent told him he enjoyed shooting. Jeremy O. responded, “Me too…so much it was my downfall…did 7 yearz in prison for shootin shit and people up…lol…smh!”
Shake my head, indeed. Please keep in mind that Jeremy O. did not know who he was talking to a cop, let alone a federal agent. They weren’t even friends on Facebook. But he apparently had his privacy settings set so low that the agent was able to comment on his posted photos.
This does make me wonder exactly what kind of “undercover” profile the ATF agent was using. I’m giving Jeremy O. the benefit of the doubt that he’d talk about his illegal gun collection to just anyone.
So was he using one of a constructed woman? A fellow former convict? Or am I just being generous to Jeremy O.?
The agent asked Jeremy O. what had happened.
Jeremy O. said he shot one person for owing him money, another for "puttin his handz on my lil cousin." He said he then brandished a weapon to others, or as he described it, "then I pulled out on a group of muthafuccaz, just wildin out wit pistolz…smh!”
With this information in hand, the agent ran a check of the Arizona Department of Corrections website and “I observed that the inmate photograph of Jeremy O. resembled the individual on the Facebook profile for Jeremy O.”
Then the agent saw another photo of Jeremy O. on Facebook. This one was titled, “Weekend fun.”
“The photograph portrayed an individual, believed to be Jeremy O., holding a large capacity drum-style magazine, possibly for an AR-15.” The caption, the agent writes, stated, “Say cheese ——-! That that 200 round clip succas so get flashy if ya want! Hahahaa!”
By now the agent has a photo matching Jeremy O. on Facebook to a mugshot, a driver’s license photo and a pair of guilty charges, specifically: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon/dangerous weapon, class three felony and aggravated assault/substantial disfigurement, class four felony as well as three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
One week later, the agent again wrote Jeremy O. (The former convict must think this is all normal). He asked Jeremy O. what kind of rifle he had. Jeremy O. told him it is a Smith and Wesson. He also told the agent he had a 9mm Desert Eagle and a .45 “glocc (sic).”
Another day, more questions from the agent. This time, Jeremy O. tells him, “My dezi is a 44,” and this, “I might sell my 9 and dezi.”
On January 26, 2012, Jeremy O. writes him, “Im goin back to the pen on Monday///dropped dirty for dro…”
Agent: “I understood this to mean that [Jeremy O.] had tested positive for marijuana during a drug test and that he was being revoked on his supervised release.”
The warrant doesn’t state what the outcome was. The agent asked the judge to sign off on giving him the right to demand from Facebook all information pertaining to Jeremy O's. account. That included: contact information, status updates, rejected friend requests, comments, gifts, pokes, tags, private messages, pending “Friend” requests, user “check-ins,” IP addresses and records of the account’s usage of the “Like” feature.
The warrant was approved. So far, Jeremy O. hasn’t been charged in federal court.
But the story makes me wonder, how many random fishing expeditions are the Feds running online?
For more Fronteras Desk news, visit fronterasdesk.org.