FBI Agent Took Gifts and Cash, Ex-Mobster Informant Alleges
Informant says agent "obstructed" murder case, FBI opens internal investigation.
May 29, 2013 — -- The FBI has opened an investigation into accusations that one of its agents took lavish gifts and cash from an informant who has been indicted in the murder of a popular Atlanta rapper known as Lil Phat.
The informant, Russian ex-mobster Mani Chulpayev, has told investigators for the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General that he was asked for and gave the FBI agent gifts of cash, jewelry, watches, expensive sports shoes, basketball game tickets, hotel rooms and the use of luxury cars, according to his lawyer, George Plumides.
"The agent obstructed a murder investigation," Plumides told ABC News in an interview to broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline".
"That's my opinion and it is Mani's as well," said the suspect's lawyer, claiming the FBI agent's efforts to get local police and detectives to leave Chulpayev alone actually complicated his client's case and led to the murder charges against him.
"Well, it's nice to have an FBI agent that is looking over your shoulder, I guess. But I think he was ill served. He didn't get a bargain," Plumides said.
The FBI confirmed to ABC News that the DOJ's Inspector General and the FBI's own Inspection Division are both looking into the allegations against the agent, Dante Jackson.
"We take the allegations very seriously," an FBI spokesperson said. "The policy on this could not be more clear."
Phone messages and a letter sent by ABC News to Jackson at the FBI office in Atlanta seeking comment were not answered.
The murder case grows out of the 2012 death of Melvin Vernell III, 19, a popular rap artist in Atlanta who used the name Lil Phat.
Prosecutors in Fulton County, Ga. allege that Chulpayev, who says he has worked with the FBI since the 1990s, helped arrange the murder in league with four other men. A grand jury indictment charges them with murder, felony murder, street gang criminal activity and weapons counts.
Prosecutors said Lil Phat was involved with Chulpayev and the other suspects in a dispute over "drugs and other 'business' dealings."
Chulpayev's lawyer said his client will enter a plea of not guilty and has an alibi for the night Lil Phat was murdered outside an Atlanta hospital where Lil Phat was waiting for his fiancee to give birth to their child.
It was the alleged role of Chulpayev in the murder that led to the significant FBI investigation of one of its own agents.
As an apparent informant for the FBI for almost a decade, Chulpayev has twice been able to avoid long prison terms of possible deportation.
Even before the murder charge, an ABC News investigation found that someone in the FBI attempted to divert law enforcement attention from allegations that Chulpayev was selling stolen luxury cars to unsuspecting victims.
One of the victims, Travis Jones of Atlanta, said when he reported to local police that Chulpayev had sold him a stolen car, he was told by a detective that Chulpayev was protected by the FBI.
"He's just untouchable," Jones told ABC News.
When a reporter from ABC News' Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV confronted Chulpayev earlier this year, he said he received a phone call from the FBI office in Atlanta asking why he was interested in Chulpayev.
"I've been doing this 32 years, it's never happened before," WSB-TV reporter Jim Strickland told ABC News. "I tells me that Mani was interwoven with the FBI in Atlanta deeply enough that he can make one phone call and they're instantly calling me to find out exactly what the story is."
In an interview with ABC News, Chulpayev confirmed that agent Jackson had served as his handler.
Chulpayev's lawyer, Plumides, said the agent asked for the gifts and $3,500 in cash at the very time Chulpayev was under investigation for the murder.
But he said the agent told his client the requests were for "lawful law enforcement purposes."