JOHN KIRIAKOU: Child’s Play at the FBI

Why prosecute Medicare/Medicaid fraud or bank fraud or wire fraud when you can, let’s say, wait for a kid in a chat room to turn 18?


By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

I had the opportunity last week to meet with a would-be new whistleblower in the public health sector in the Midwest. 

I don’t want to identify her beyond that because she and her attorney are preparing to file a lawsuit soon and I don’t want to cause any problems for them.  I will say this, though:  Like most whistleblowers, she spotted the fraud, she reported it up her chain of command and she was fired.

We spoke for much of the weekend about the kind of waste, fraud and abuse that she witnessed at a major hospital chain and about how that chain was stealing taxpayer money by fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for services and medications that were not provided. 

I referred her to the National Whistleblower Center and said that I would help her find a Washington-based attorney who is skilled in large-scale whistleblower cases.

In the meantime, the new whistleblower, through her local attorney, approached the F.B.I. to report the fraud.  That’s exactly what a whistleblower is supposed to do.  This contact with the F.B.I. began with a phone call. 

When there was no response, the attorney wrote a letter.  But it was to no avail.  There was no response from the F.B.I.  Nobody seemed to care.

I told the whistleblower about my own most recent experience with the F.B.I. I was offered a job several years ago with an international investment firm.  I accepted the offer and began working there at the executive level.  It only took me two weeks to realize that the CEO was engaged in bank fraud and wire fraud. 

I resigned immediately and consulted an attorney.  Together with the attorney I took a thumb drive with 15,000 pages of damning information to the F.B.I.

It was exceedingly difficult to get an appointment there.  Indeed, we only got an appointment because my attorney had a friend who in the past had been a deputy director of the F.B.I. 

But just a few minutes into our meeting with a low-level F.B.I. agent at the Bureau’s Washington Field Office, he put his hands up and said, “Guys, if this doesn’t have the word ‘terrorism’ attached to it, we’re not interested.” 

We got up and walked out.

This wasn’t a one-off.  It’s been my experience that the F.B.I. as an organization is generally lazy and only develops interest in a case if it is easy, low-hanging fruit, or tailor-made for the media.  Or if it involves “terrorism,” apparently.

Why prosecute Medicare/Medicaid fraud or bank fraud or wire fraud when you can, let’s say, prosecute an 18-year-old on a terrorism charge?

Watching a 15-Year-Old   

F.B.I. headquarters in Washington. (Aude, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

That’s what we’re seeing right now.  The F.B.I. announced on April 9 that on April 6 it had arrested Alexander Scott Mercurio, 18, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and had charged him with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State (IS) and for plotting to attack churches in the city “using guns, explosives, and fire,” an attack that he allegedly intended to carry out on April 7.

Mercurio was found to have an IS flag in his bedroom, he had accumulated canisters of butane and he planned to beat his father unconscious, handcuff him and steal his guns in order to carry out the attack.  That’s absolutely awful.  But that’s not the basis of my complaint about the F.B.I.

My complaint is that in the F.B.I. probable cause complaint, the F.B.I. agent admits that Mercurio came to the bureau’s attention in 2021 when he reached out to an F.B.I. informant to ask how to transfer Bitcoin to unnamed Palestinians in Gaza.

In 2021, Mercurio would have been 15 years old.  A 15-year-old’s brain isn’t even fully developed.  Why did the F.B.I. not pull Mercurio and his parents in for questioning?  Why did agents not intervene?  Why was he not given a medical or psychiatric exam?

By all accounts, Mercurio’s parents had no idea what he was up to.  Like most teenagers, he spent most of his time barricaded in his room chatting with friends online.  His parents had no idea that those chats were in encrypted IS chat rooms on the dark web.

Mercurio’s parents also objected to his apparent conversion to Islam around the age of 15.  He taunted them by growing a beard and wearing pants that didn’t quite make it to his ankles, signs of piety.

He wrote in a chat room to a friend whom he didn’t know was an F.B.I. informant,

“Brother please I don’t like asking this but please tell all brothers to (pray) for me, my parents want me to stop being muslim and praying and drop everything 100 percent tomorrow or they take away my computer and everything and send me to a (different) school to make sure I don’t pray or if that doesn’t work send me to youth camp or juvenile hall or something IDK please I just don’t know what to do, this will probably be my last message in a long while.”

He later asked the informant to find a Quranic verse for him so that he could show his parents that it was permissible to not trim his beard and to wear pant legs above the ankle.

The Big Bust  

Actors playing FBI agents in Vancouver during 2009 shooting of TV series “Fringe.” (Shinsuke Ikegame, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Again, this was a child.  The F.B.I. could have informed the parents that there was a problem years ago.  But they didn’t.  They simply waited until he turned 18 and made their big bust.

Mercurio now faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.  If he doesn’t get the maximum, he’s likely to get something close to it.  And there’s no parole in the federal system. 

He’ll end up being further radicalized in some maximum-security federal penitentiary.  By the time he gets out, he probably won’t even remember what he did to get there in the first place.

The Justice Department, for its part, is congratulating itself for its successful operation, lauding the work of F.B.I. Special Agent John H. Taylor II, Special Agent in Charge Shohini Sinha, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather S. Patricco and David G. Robbins and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin D. Whatcott, as well as Justice Department Counterterrorism Attorneys Charles Kovats and Andrea Broach. 

How much do you want to bet that they all get promoted?  After all, isn’t that why they waited for this kid to turn 18?

In the meantime, the Medicare/Medicaid whistleblower is in the unemployment line and preparing to spend her life savings on attorneys while the fraudsters are not even investigated and remain free.

After all, if you’re an F.B.I. agent, why waste months or years going through boring spreadsheets and medical billing documents when you can just follow a 15-year-old until he incriminates himself?  Exceptional performance bonuses for everybody!

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

15 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Child’s Play at the FBI

  1. Eric Kocay
    April 13, 2024 at 14:28

    John, Good reporting! An old saying with investigators/feds, “Big cases, Big Problems, small cases small problems, NO Cases, No Problems”

  2. April 12, 2024 at 08:23

    I’m amazed how the FBI operates. In other words, the organisation’s interested not in all crime but only that concerning Muslims and their activities which can be characterized as terrorism for a part on the back and promotions? Isn’t FBI in this way,promoting and abating crime? But,seriously,are some of those agents parents? Otherwise how could they do such thing to a mere child? Yes,18 years is old but is it old enough like the ones who wanted him to get 18 before they they arrest him? America still has a long way to go to be an equal country/people before the law.Thank you John Kiriakou for this.

  3. Sam F
    April 11, 2024 at 17:46

    The sole concern of the FBI, NSA, and HSI as well as the US Judicial Branch and DOJ is to gain promotions, largely through tribalist attacks for their political party. They have zero concern for the public interest or Constitutional Rights.
    This is well proven by my case in the DC District and DC Circuit appeal, in which I proved that Florida Republican politicians had stolen about $120 million in conservation funds, and all local, state, HQ and OIG offices of the FBI, DOJ, and Homeland Security refused to investigate when given full evidence and legal argument thirty times over three years, even while they were investigating a Democratic politician there for one-thousandth of that amount. Theirs was a Republican party hit job, continuing under Biden.
    All judges accepted the grotesquely unconstitutional DOJ claim that any government agency can at their discretion engage in organized crime for a political party with full immunity, which has never been true. Judges are a very primitive tribe, accustomed to dances of contortions around a midnight bonfire of the laws, and have no concern for law beyond maintaining appearances even while taunting “citizens” that they have no rights. I took that to the Supreme Court and of course they refused to consider the case.
    Those who think the US government is anything related to democracy are lost in a child’s wonderland.

  4. Mark Maguire
    April 11, 2024 at 14:44

    Good work, John. Keep it up.

  5. Edward Q
    April 11, 2024 at 13:49

    After 9/11, the Bush administration transferred the law enforcement investigating white collar crime into anti-terrorism work. New people were not hired to investigate white collar crime. Since then white collar crime has become an even worse problem in the U.S., with the criminals having little to fear of a prosecution.

    Maybe ten years ago Democracy Now interviewed a whistle blower who tried to expose some very outrageous financial corruption in Sweden. Not only were the police not interested in his allegations, but he was prosecuted on trumped up charges. Justice is upside-down in this world.

  6. Brian an individual
    April 11, 2024 at 13:28

    Looking forward to the doj appealing to scotus that no civil liberties violations occurred by creepy agent friend marking a child’s anguish over his parent’s lack of religious tolerance. Touching that informant did not? scam the bitcoin transfer to himself or to foggy bottom intifada-da?

  7. April 11, 2024 at 12:53

    Thanks, John, for this article. It’s especially sad to learn that the once-esteemed FBI has so little interest in hearing from whistleblowers or otherwise addressing fraud at the scale that it is being perpetrated. It does seem that the FBI has become more and more politicized over time- both the leadership and the institution on the whole. How sad. I imagine that it is quite disillusioning for those staffers who joined because of higher principles and public service aspirations.

  8. April 11, 2024 at 12:24

    The government restructuring required to fix our corrupt and inept institutions seems unattainable regardless of anyone’s best intentions and efforts. The only solution I see is a constitutional convention to dissolve the federal government, fire all of its employees, leaving governance temporarily in state hands, and then, start anew with a new constitution, and new employees, new judges and prosecutors, new institutions, officers, etc. The military, of course, would be retained but reformed as well, with politicians disguised as flag officers retired, and the federal armed forces temporarily placed under the control of a committee selected by state governors. A crazy suggestion, I agree, but not as crazy as the reality we have after two and half decades of an insane century.

  9. martin
    April 11, 2024 at 11:57

    well, they’re not good people at the fbi.

  10. Carolyn L Zaremba
    April 11, 2024 at 11:42

    Thanks, John. The FBI has become pointless if this is their practice. Low-hanging fruit, indeed. The U.S. has abandoned all reason in the face of corporate domination.

  11. Selina Sweet
    April 11, 2024 at 11:10

    So please give some suggestion as to what the reader is to do or could do with these travesties?

  12. forceOfHabit
    April 11, 2024 at 10:59

    Shocking (the lack of interest in whistle blowers). Pathetic (laying traps for teenagers).

  13. Sandy
    April 11, 2024 at 10:49

    We know the NSA has a motto of “collect everything.” We know we have never seen NSA evidence used to prosecute medicare fraud, medicaid fraud, or AFAIK, any case of Fraud involving government officials from Trump, Biden etc on downwards. They collect everything, but see no fraud and definitely hear no fraud.

    This author appears to completely misunderstand the reasons for the creation of agencies like the FBI or the NSA. Cracking down on ‘fraud’ has never been their mandate, but the FBI was created back during the “Red Scare” days after the Democrat’s Great War to End All Wars, and has always been a political police force. Even if they’ve lost their “J Edgar’s File Cabinet” function to the NSA.

    If you want to know the true function of the FBI, stand in public with an anti-war sign.

    • Lois Gagnon
      April 11, 2024 at 14:53

      Exactly! People forget how the FBI went after MLK to discredit him and tried to convince him to commit suicide. They also murdered Fred Hampton and another member of the Black Panthers for attempting to unite the white and black working class. That’s just for starters. They are the police force of the 1%.

      • Tony
        April 12, 2024 at 07:44

        The FBI was also very much involved in MLK’s actual assassination:

        Further reading:

        “Who Really Killed Martin Luther King Jr? The Case against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover” by Philip F. Nelson.

        The book builds on earlier works such as those of MLK’s friend and ally William Pepper.

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