DOCUMENT: Investigation, Crime

Meet The JFK Informant

Terror scheme snitch dealt cocaine, plotted to kill rival druglord

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Footnote Cites Source

Criminal Information

Financial Affidavit

Order Of Detention

Francis Judgment

NYPD Cocaine Bust

JFK - "Found The Bag"

Francis Bail

Francis Voter Registration

JUNE 14--The government informant who played the central role in building the JFK airport terrorism case is a longtime New York City drug trafficker who began cooperating with federal investigators after NYPD detectives arrested him on a Bronx street and charged him with possession of about $2 million in cocaine, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Additionally, the informant, Stevie "Toro" Francis, was previously convicted on felony charges for his involvement with a violent drug gang, a role which included him attempting to murder the leader of a rival Brooklyn narcotics operation.

Earlier this month, when federal officials announced charges against four men for plotting to blow up gas lines at JFK, a paid "confidential source" was credited with infiltrating the terror cell and gathering critical information--via tape recordings, documents, videos, and photographs--on the alleged plot. A footnote in a criminal complaint notes that the source had two prior drug convictions and was, through his cooperation, seeking leniency in sentencing on the latter trafficking rap.

While investigators have offered no additional information on the source's identity, a TSG probe has confirmed that Francis, 36, is the informant who spent almost a year helping agents build the JFK case. Citing confidentially concerns, spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment on the government source and his prior criminal activity.

Along with recording dozens of meetings and phone calls in New York, Francis traveled several times to Guyana, where he spent a total of three months gathering evidence for the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Last month, days before arrests were made in the case, Francis flew to Trinidad in a failed bid to meet with a leader of Jamaat al Muslimeen, a Muslim terror group based in the southern Caribbean nation.

A review of court documents filed in Francis's last two criminal cases (one federal, one state) reveals that he has twice opted to snitch after being caught dealing large quantities of cocaine.

In March 1994, Francis was arrested by federal agents and charged with distributing "large quantities" of cocaine in West Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. Prosecutors alleged that Francis was a member of a drug gang that trafficked crack cocaine and "engaged in violence, including murder, to intimidate and eliminate competing drug groups, and to enforce discipline among the organization's members." The group also distributed heroin under brand names like "Caution," "Predator," and "Undercover."

While accused of possessing "revolvers and semi-automatic pistols," Francis was not charged with a homicide (though it was not for a lack of trying on his part). According to a criminal information filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Francis and his cohorts attempted to murder Willie "Little Will" Mora, a notorious Brooklyn drug boss, in early 1994. Mora, who survived the hit attempt, headed a ruthless gang that dominated the crack trade in East New York, Brooklyn. He was later convicted of federal charges and sentenced to life in prison.

After his arrest, Francis filled out a financial affidavit in a bid to qualify for court-appointed counsel. He claimed to be jobless and described his sole income as a twice-monthly $264 unemployment check. He reported being married and listed three dependents: his mother, younger brother, and wife.

Francis was jailed following a detention hearing after a magistrate ruled that he was a flight risk due to the "severe penalty" he faced if convicted of racketeering and narcotics conspiracy counts. Also, Francis's "substantial" family ties to the Dominican Republic were cited in an order of detention (it is unclear whether he or his parents were born there). Francis was charged in the federal case under the name Steve Francis Taveras, though he is referred to as "Steve Francis" and "Stevie Francis" in other court documents. A charging document lists him as "a/k/a 'Toro.'"

In what would prove to be a template for his future work with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Francis--facing a possible lengthy prison stretch on the drug and RICO charges--cut a cooperation deal with federal investigators and pleaded to both felony counts. While the nature and extent of his government cooperation remains confidential, Francis benefited greatly from it when he was sentenced in 1996.

Though federal guidelines called for an "imprisonment range" of between 27 and 34 years, Francis was only hit with a seven-year sentence. In a court filing, Judge Loretta Preska reported that the greatly reduced punishment, known as a "downward departure," came following a prosecution motion citing Francis's "substantial assistance" to the government. Francis was also fined $100 and placed on five years probation upon his release from prison.

Francis eventually did about six years in custody and was released in April 2000, after serving the final six months of his term at a New York City halfway house.

Records indicate that Francis lived in Queens and upper Manhattan following his release. But it was in the Bronx where he ran into trouble in late-2002.

On November 2, Francis was arrested by detectives assigned to an NYPD Tactical Narcotics Team. He was nabbed carrying a Gap bag containing five kilogram packages of cocaine. A subsequent search of a Kingsbridge apartment connected to Francis turned up 44 more kilo-sized packages. When asked about his cocaine-filled satchel, Francis told one cop that he "just found the bag." At the time of his bust, a kilo of cocaine wholesaled for about $25,000. Since the street value was double that amount, the coke seized from Francis was worth around $2 million.

Indicted on four felony charges, Francis was jailed and his bail was set at $1 million.

He remained in custody, records show, for nearly a year, until mid-December 2003. It was then that Francis cut his second cooperation deal. Though that agreement and his guilty plea are not part of the public record, the criminal complaint in the JFK terror case notes that, "The Source was...convicted on drug trafficking charges in New York Supreme Court in 2003. His sentence in that case is pending as part of his cooperation agreement with the government."

On December 11, Francis's bail was slashed from $1 million to $50,000. He was released after his older brother Jan deposited $5000 with the court. As for the $45,000 balance, Jan; Francis's mother Kirsche; and a second woman signed affidavits pledging to cover the sum if Francis bolted. But the government's desire to spring Francis and put him to work was reflected by the fact that the bail package was only partially secured and the guarantors--a hospital clerk, a $15,000-a-year custodian, and a clothing store manager--were far from financially sound.

Since pleading guilty in state court, Francis's case has been continued 18 times over the past 3-1/2 years. The matter is next due to be called on August 13, when 1726 days will have passed since his indictment. As noted in the JFK criminal complaint, the unnamed government source eventually expects a "reduced sentence" in exchange for his most recent round of cooperation.

According to the JFK complaint, the government "has been working with the source since 2004." The document makes no mention of Francis's "substantial assistance" following his mid-90s plea to federal drug and racketeering counts. The complaint also fixes the start date of the alleged airport scheme as January 2006 and reports that the source first met with the plan's ringleader, Russell Defreitas, in July 2006. As for what Francis was doing for the government in 2004, 2005, and early-2006, that information will presumably surface at a future trial (ditto as to the extent of the "financial assistance" that investigators said they provided to the source).

Tracking Francis's whereabouts during that period is difficult, though New York City Board of Elections records show that he registered to vote in October 2004 from a small apartment building in East New York, Brooklyn, one of the blighted neighborhoods where his old drug gang peddled crack cocaine in tiny Ziploc bags.

Likely owing to a busy schedule of government informing, Francis has yet to find time to actually vote.