Unlawful Entry--Related Story

Officer Bini's Informant: An Interview From the Shadows

The man on the phone says he doesn't want anyone to know his name. He may wind up being the star witness in a police perjury trial, but right now he doesn't need to have his name in the newspaper. That stuff can get you killed.

Still, it takes only a few minutes for the Man With No Name to establish that he is who he says he is. He knows things about the drug buy on High Street that led to Ismael Mena's death last September, as well as things about other drug buys set up by Denver police officer Joseph Bini, that only the ultimate insider would know. He knows things the cops don't know.

"I was Joe Bini's informant," he says. "Joe Bini is the wrong person to be messing with. It was just a mistake that day. I'm the one who started it, and it was an honest mistake on my part."

The no-knock warrant mistakenly listed a house at 3738 High Street; the informant says he made his buy behind the house next door, at 3742.
David Rehor
The no-knock warrant mistakenly listed a house at 3738 High Street; the informant says he made his buy behind the house next door, at 3742.

Bini's informant wants people to know that Bini, now charged with perjury for sworn statements he made to obtain a search warrant for Mena's house, is a dedicated officer and "great guy" who never meant to send police to the wrong address. Bini's only failing, he suggests, is that he put too much trust in the word of his informant, a former crack user who'd been his paid operative on more than a hundred drug buys over the previous eighteen months.

Yet the informant's version of the drug buy on High Street last September -- a random buy that had nothing to do with any prior investigation of Mena's house or even the crackhouse next door -- is significantly at odds with the account set forth in Bini's request for a search warrant. His story raises a host of questions about the kind of police work that led to the fatal drug raid and the ease with which no-knock warrants can be obtained, no matter how bad the information they present.

Bini's informant considers himself among the most reliable of the Denver Police Department's legions of "previously reliable confidential informants." He came to his calling the way most of them do. He was arrested for possession of crack cocaine, taken to jail and presented with a way out of his troubles. "I was offered a thing: 'You make three buys and we'll drop the charges on you,'" he says.

He made the buys. After it was over, the police officer who'd busted him introduced him to his partner, Joe Bini. The officers wanted to keep working with him. They started paying him $40 for each buy he made. He went to twelve-step meetings, got off the crack, got himself rehabilitated.

Being clean made him an exceptional law-enforcement resource, he says: "They were having problems with informants. They would get informants who would go out and make a buy with DPD money and pocket the stuff, shove it up their ass or whatever, and give [the police] soap in return. They kept the crack for themselves for later use. I remember one particular person, they had to let him go. They just threw him off the car."

The Man With No Name never tried the soap trick. His handlers said he had a way about him, a way of blending into the scene. "I'm pretty street smart," Bini's informant says. "I'd been in that whole crack thing for a while and got out of it, thank God. But I was able to buy crack from just about anybody. I just had a certain way of acting. I would put on my drug-buying suit or whatever and was able to have these people sell to me even though they didn't know me."

He bought rock all over town, sometimes making multiple buys at the same address. It was quick, often dangerous work. He didn't talk to the dealers much. "I just wanted to get it over with," he says. "I didn't want to know who the people were."

Once in a while, though, he heard about the no-knock raids that followed in the wake of his purchases. A lot of the raids had disappointing results, possibly because too much time had elapsed since the initial buy. "I would go make a drug buy, and they wouldn't hit the house until seven or eight days later," he recalls. "There were times when Bini said we did great -- we busted a whole bunch of people and got a lot of drugs. But there were times when they wouldn't get nothing."

But Bini never blamed him for the bad luck. He was the officer's top producer -- the principal, if not the only, informant in dozens of drug investigations. He was also intensely loyal.

"It was an extremely good relationship, very tight," he says. "We became friends. I met his kids. It wasn't just a drug informant and a cop."

Last September, for reasons that still aren't clear to the informant, Bini's demand for his services suddenly intensified. Bini's informant did six buys in three days, more than he had ever done before. The buy that would come back to haunt them was one of these six, a completely unexpected twist to a deal that was supposed to be with someone else.

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