'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes': Not just Andrew Sadek, here's how law enforcement uses students as informants

There seems to be widespread use of young college students as confidential informants in the war on drugs in America


                            'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes': Not just Andrew Sadek, here's how law enforcement uses students as informants
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In 2014, 20-year-old college student Andrew Sadek went missing from his college dorms while he was working as a confidential informant (CI). Sadek had been apprehended in 2013 for selling marijuana and was told by the police he could be sentenced to a long time in prison. He agreed to work as a CI for a local multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force in exchange for having the charges dropped. Under police supervision, he bought more marijuana from other dealers around the North Dakota State College of Science campus.

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The following year, when Sadek disappeared, the task force initially suspected that he had run away to avoid being a CI. They charged him with two felonies to motivate him to return. However, two months after his disappearance, Sadek's body was found in the Red River near Breckenridge, Minnesota, just across from Wahpeton. The body was beyond recognition and was identified through dental records. 

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While the police believed Sadek's death to be a suicide, his parents did not — he was two weeks away from graduating when he disappeared, he had a new girlfriend and had even made plans for the weekend after his disappearance. Virtually no protection was given to Sadek as he carried out the dangerous work of a CI and after his body was found, no law enforcement agency took charge in finding out the truth behind his death. Sadek's death is the subject of a new docuseries coming to Sundance Now called 'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes'.

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Unfortunately, Sadek's story is not unique. Another name frequently associated with the case of Sadek's potential murder is Rachel Hoffman. In May 2008, when 23-year-old Hoffman was making a controlled buy for the police, she disappeared. When she did not respond for a long time, investigators went looking for her but there was no trace of her. Two days later, Hoffman's body was found in a ditch riddled with bullets. As a result, Florida passed “Rachel’s Law” which requires protection for informants. Under the measure, police officers must tell informants there is no guarantee their charges will be dropped or reduced to misdemeanors and would-be informants must be given the option of speaking to legal counsel before investigating.

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But it would seem that similar laws would have to be implemented in other states. A 2015 report by Buzzfeed News showed that there was widespread confidential informant use on the campus of the University of Mississippi. This was a year after a CI had died of a drug overdose on the campus, prompting criticism that if his parents had been notified, he might have been able to receive treatment for substance abuse. The Buzzfeed News report stated that the four-member Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit would recruit 30 confidential informants on average each year, many of them college students. Around half of those arrested by Metro Narcotics in 2014 were first-time offenders, and the unit made three times as many arrests for marijuana as for any other drugs. The report also stated that a controversial program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was shut down after an internal investigation found that college students are particularly vulnerable to coercion.

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In 2017, the student newspaper for the University of Illinois wrote that students were working with the University of Illinois Police Department (UIPD) in solving drug-related crimes as confidential informants. For the past decade, an average of 20 or 30 confidential student informants worked with the police. However, the report noted that the UIPD is "very transparent about the process and encourages people to talk to their attorneys before making the decision". According to a 2015 report by CBS' '60 Minutes' found that as many as 100,000 college students could be working as confidential informants for law enforcement across the country.

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'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes' will premiere on Sundance Now on Tuesday, October 27, at 3 am EST.