Mystery Over FBI Agent's Firing
Government shrouds details of why top child porn prober got canned
Mystery Over FBI Agent's Firing
AUGUST 20--The lead FBI investigator on several of the government's highest profile child porn prosecutions has recently been fired in connection with her work on those cases, though details of why the agent was terminated have been sealed by a federal judge.
The canning of Monique Winkis, 40, was just disclosed by federal prosecutors to a Tennessee defense lawyer who represents Timothy Richards, who was convicted in a case in which Winkis was the lead FBI agent. In an August 8 U.S. District Court filing, defense lawyer Kimberly Hodde stated that prosecutors had informed her that Winkis was canned due to her 'conduct in the investigation of cases related to Defendant Richards' prosecution.'
Specific details of Winkis's firing are contained in a court filing made by Department of Justice officials, a submission that was ordered sealed last week by Judge Aleta Trauger. In her court filing, Hodde argues that Richards, pictured at left, is entitled to details about the Winkis firing since the ex-prober was the FBI case agent assigned to his prosecution.
The Winkis firing was apparently first disclosed by government lawyers during a late-June status conference, at which Trauger set dates for court pleadings 're: FBI Wincus,' according to a court filing. Winkis did not respond to a detailed message left with her mother, and the federal prosecutor handling the Richards case did not return a message left at her office. An FBI spokesperson declined comment, noting that the agency is prohibited from discussing personnel matters.
According to court records, Winkis worked for the FBI for about 13 years, most recently from the bureau's Washington, D.C. headquarters where she was a supervisor in the Innocent Images Unit. In that capacity, Winkis developed cases based on information provided by Justin Berry, who began operating an X-rated Webcam business while still a teenager. Berry's cooperation was, in large part, arranged in late-2005 by Kurt Eichenwald, then a New York Times reporter investigating online child porn businesses.
According to a December 2005 Eichenwald story, the Times 'persuaded Justin to abandon his business and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the Justice Department.' That Times report also quoted Winkis commenting on the breadth of potential targets identified as a result of Berry's cooperation and how 'hundreds of other kids that we are not aware of yet' could be saved from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Berry told the FBI that Richards, 27, operated several child porn web sites, including Berry's own, justinsfriends.com. Richards, convicted in October 2006 of distributing child porn, is imprisoned and awaiting sentencing.
Eichenwald has seen his career derailed as a result of his dealings with Berry, to whom the journalist made a series of payments prior to the publication of the December 2005 Times story. The payments, provided to Berry via a cashier's check and PayPal transfers, violated Times ethics rules.
Additionally, the paper's editors only learned of the Eichenwald payments, totaling about $3000, in 2007 after they were the subject of court testimony and filings in the Richards case and a separate child porn trial in Michigan. (5 pages)