Woman wins $134,000 settlement after drug law enforcement police set up a fake Facebook page in her name

Officers hoped her friends would reveal information about the woman

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The Independent US

A New York woman has won a $134,000 (£88,500) settlement after federal drug agents set up a fake Facebook page in her name as part of a sting.

The tactic raised questions of privacy, and led to a federal government review, according to court papers filed on Tuesday.

Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Timothy Sinnigen lifted photos and other information from Sondra Arquiett’s mobile phone, to put together a phoney account after she was arrested in 2010. The page used the pseudonym Sondra Prince rather than her real name.

Sinnigen hoped Arquiett’s friends would reveal incriminating information on drugs secrets via the profile.

For three months, the agent maintained the profile, accepted and sent several friend requests, and uploaded photos of Arquiett, her young son and niece.

Arquiett was later arrested, and pleaded guilty in 2011 to one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute.

She was sentenced in 2012 year to time served and given a period of home confinement.

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In 2013, Arquiett sued the federal government and said she suffered fear and emotional distress and was put in danger, because the fake page created the impression that she was cooperating the investigation.

The Justice Department initially defended the sting and did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement with Arquiett, but later announced a review in October into whether the tactic went too far, MailOnline reported.

In a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Facebook said the agency had committed “a knowing and serious breach of Facebook's terms and policies” by lying about a user's identity, NBC reported.

“This settlement demonstrates that the government is mindful of its obligation to ensure the rights of third parties are not infringed upon in the course of its efforts to bring those who commit federal crimes to justice,” Richard Hartunian, the US attorney for the Northern District of New York, said in a statement.

While the settlement does not prohibit the DEA from using similar tactics again in the future, a Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement that department leadership had met with law enforcement agencies to “make clear the necessity of protecting the privacy and safety of third parties in every aspect of our criminal investigations.”

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