In April 2013, Andrew Sadek, a small-time campus pot dealer at the North Dakota State College of Science, was set up by a confidential informant working for the Southeast Multi-County Agency Drug Task Force (SEMCA). Sadek sold weed to the CI (who was trying to extricate himself from his own recent pot bust) on two occasions—an eighth of an ounce for $60 on April 4, and a gram for $20 on April 9. The deals were dutifully reported back to SEMCA, which eventually raided Sadek’s dorm room in November, finding an orange plastic grinder coated with cannabis residue that Sadek admitted belonged to him.
The following day, when Sadek reported to the Law Enforcement Center in Wahpeton, North Dakota, he was told that, because his deals occurred in a school zone, he was looking at two Class A felonies and a possible 20-year sentence.
Understandably frightened, the 20-year-old Sadek agreed to become an informant and set up other low-level dealers on campus. On three occasions between November 2013 and January 2014, he bought an eighth of weed from two different individuals.
On May 1, Sadek vanished without a word. A security camera last captured him leaving his dormitory alone at 2 a.m., dressed in blue jeans and a red-and-black Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoodie, and carrying a black backpack.
In an interview with the Wahpeton Daily News, Sadek’s mother described him as a “quiet and shy boy” who had become more outgoing in college. He’d grown up raising cattle on his family’s farm in Rogers, North Dakota, and enjoyed hunting, fishing and hobby cars. Shortly before his disappearance, Andrew had interviewed for jobs in Bismarck, Grand Forks and Valley City, hoping to become an electrician, and had recently started dating a girl.
Tammy Sadek used the Daily News article to issue a public plea to her son: “Please come home or call and let us know you’re okay.”
SEMCA had its own reasons for wanting to find him: Andrew still had two more buys to set up before they would give him a pass on his $80 pot bust. After he disappeared, SEMCA referred his case to the county prosecutors, who proceeded to charge Andrew with the two felonies he’d been trying to avoid. It was a futile gesture on their part, however, as the young man whom they were hoping to imprison for the crime of selling two bags of weed was likely already dead.
On June 27, Sadek’s body was pulled from the Red River near Breckenridge, Minnesota, a backpack filled with rocks strapped to his body and a small-caliber bullet hole in his head. While his family admitted that a .22-caliber pistol had gone missing from their home, they emphatically denied that Andrew took his own life.
“There was no suicidal tendencies. There was no note. There was no depression. And his grades were excellent,” insisted Tammy Sadek. In a radio interview with KFGO last August, she asked: “Who shoots themselves in the head and fills their backpack with rocks, ties it to themselves and ends up in the river? It’s just too much.” Nor did police divers find a gun at the scene, leading Tammy to believe that her son was murdered, perhaps by someone he’d been forced to set up.
Insisting that Andrew had been bullied into cooperating, Tammy Sadek demanded that the North Dakota attorney general launch an independent investigation into SEMCA’s handling of the case. The review was conducted by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which released a report on January 27, 2015, stating that it “did not have any concerns,” though the BCI did make four minor recommendations for future dealings with confidential informants.
The Sadek tragedy is just the latest case in which someone arrested for a low-level drug crime has met a gruesome end after being forced to become a confidential informant by law enforcement.
Rachel Morningstar Hoffman was a 23-year-old psychology and criminology student at Florida State University when, on February 22, 2007, she was pulled over by police, who found 25 grams of marijuana in her car. On April 17, 2008, a raid on her apartment turned up five ounces of pot and four ecstasy pills. The Tallahassee Police pressured her to cooperate. In exchange for leniency, Rachel agreed to participate in an undercover sting, in which she would buy a gun, two ounces of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy pills from two men she had never met.
The bust went south after the two targets, Deneilo Bradshaw and Andrea Green, changed the location of the buy and drove off with Rachel in a stolen BMW. The cops lost her. When the perps discovered that Rachel was wearing a wire, they shot her five times in the head and chest and then dumped her body in a ditch.
In 2011, a 19-year-old transgender woman, Shelly Hilliard, was smoking a blunt on the balcony of a Motel 6 in Madison Heights, Michigan. When the cops arrived and searched her room, they discovered a half-ounce of marijuana. Shelly (born Henry Hilliard Jr.) was terrified at the prospect of doing jail time, but the cops offered her a pass if she agreed to set up her dealer, Qasim Raqib. Shelly called Raqib to the hotel for a buy; he was arrested in the parking lot and soon released.
Three days later, Raqib and an accomplice, James Matthews, lured Shelly to an abandoned house in Detroit, where they murdered her and dismembered her body, burning her torso near Interstate 94.
Other stories abound—far more than can be recounted here—regarding the coercion of young, naïve informants by law enforcement and the subsequent disastrous mishandling of their cases. All beg the question as to how far the police should be able to push minor drug defendants to atone for what can easily be considered youthful indiscretions. So commonplace is this practice that, when SEMCA was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Sadek case, Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson told the Valley News: “These types of investigations are conducted the same way pretty much everywhere where people breathe in and out. [SEMCA] never did anything wrong that needed to be changed.”
While the exact circumstances of Andrew Sadek’s death remain unknown, there is little doubt that the young man would still be alive today had the Southeast Multi-County Agency Drug Task Force not set him up with an informant and then threatened him with two decades in prison for the crime of selling less than 5 grams of pot.