Sunday, October 01, 2023

An undercover operative and an informant say they've been abandoned by Australia after helping fight organised crime

 An undercover operative and an informant say they've been abandoned by Australia after helping fight organised crime

An undercover operative and an informant say they've been abandoned by Australia after helping fight organised crime

By Mahmood Fazal, Amos Roberts and Meghna Bali
A man turns looking at the camera with a neutral expression. Behind him are cell doors. There are passport stamps on the image.
Miles Mehta is fighting extradition from a jail in Hungary.(Four Corners/Nick Wiggins)

There's an Australian sitting in a Hungarian prison.

Miles Mehta worked for years as a confidential source for Australian and American law enforcement agencies, providing intelligence on drug kingpins and international cartels.

"I was told to lie. I was told to cheat. I was told to steal," he says.

The 33-year-old's aware of the risks of speaking out as an informant, but says he has nothing to lose.

"I'm already a dead man. I'm a walking corpse. I'm not going to come out of this prison. And if I get to the United States, I'll be killed on arrival."

Miles believes the American agency he was introduced to by Australian law enforcement has turned against him.

He's been on the run for the last three years.

Now, the US wants him extradited.

"No-one likes a snitch. Whether it's the crims or the government. Nobody."

A composite image of a bearded man wearing an orange polo with his hands behind his back behind prison bars, and barbed wire.
The 33-year-old has worked for Australian and American law enforcement agencies.(Four Corners)

The work done in the shadows by confidential human sources and undercover operatives is crucial to keeping the community safe, say senior law enforcement officials. They secure critical evidence to bring down Australia's organised crime kingpins.

But the secrecy around this world means there's little public scrutiny of how these sources are managed.

When the big busts are over, some of these people say the authorities who rely on them don't keep the promises made along the way, leaving them abandoned.

"They don't want the population to know what they do behind closed doors," Miles says.

Private school to prison

It wasn't the usual path for a graduate of Sydney's elite King's School.

"I'm not supposed to be in this f***ing world," Miles says.

"I f***ed up at 18. And here we are."

Before his 19th birthday he used a stranger's credit card to drive an $80,000 Audi off a dealership lot and was charged with 34 counts of fraud.

It was revealed in court Miles had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was sentenced to seven months in prison.

Composite of two online news articles being read on a computer. One headline says 'The high life ends in jail for Miles'
Miles' early run-ins with the law made headlines.(Four Corners)

There, he says, his deep understanding of international finance and banking earned him the respect of hardened criminals.

In 2010, soon after he got out of prison, he fled the country, running from more fraud charges.

He's lived in exile overseas ever since, using fake passports, and travelling under aliases he created for himself including Marco Chicarella and Carlos Jacobo Castro.

Duration: 6 seconds
Miles fled the country, running from more fraud charges.

"I was involved in all sorts of frauds and money laundering related shit.

"I started to make friends with, and be introduced to, a lot of these significantly higher-level underworld people."

These connections placed Miles in the line of sight for Australian law enforcement.

A composite of images of a man smoking a large cigar and a view from a first class seat in a plane with a glass of wine
Miles jetted around the world for years after fleeing Australia.(Supplied)

The offer

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) is a secretive agency that gathers intelligence for law enforcement that leads to major drug busts and brings down criminal syndicates.

It can offer human sources money or a letter of assistance to help with any charges they face. For Miles, it was a promise from the ACIC to come home.

"Essentially, they went to my mother and they said, 'We're aware that your son is involved with all sorts of people and does all sorts of things … we'd like to speak to him, we think we can bring him back to Australia,'" Miles says.

In 2019 his time on the run entered a new high-stakes phase.

Miles began providing intelligence on the scale and destination of significant drug hauls but lived in constant fear of having his cover blown.

He was gathering intelligence on Australia's most wanted drug kingpins: Hakan Ayik, Angelo Pandeli, Hakan Arif, and George Dib.

A composite image of two passports, one Mexican and one Australian with different photos of the same man and different names.
Miles has lived in exile overseas ever since, under several different names.

Throughout 2019 Miles regularly debriefed with his ACIC handlers – the officers responsible for assessing the informant's intelligence and keeping them safe – in recorded phone calls.

ACIC handler: What … did he give you? What was the detail?

Miles: All he told me was … 'There's a contract to pack a hundred kilos of rack. Could you move the cash?' was the question.

At different points through the work Miles did, he'd be worried his cover was blown.

ACIC handler: Your cover's solid. Because Dib backs you. Like that's a massive backing. He's f***ing staunch, he backs you totally.

Miles: Alright. You sure there's no leaks in your agency?

According to Miles, at one point his ACIC handlers told his parents he'd be home by Christmas. But he says the more they learned about the circles he was moving in, they moved the goalposts.

One disclosure made Miles even more valuable to authorities.

He told his handlers he'd done time in a London prison with a man allegedly linked to one of the world's most notorious narco-terrorists — Dawood Ibrahim.

A collage of images of an old prison in London, with an arched gate and windows, CCTV cameras, barbed wire and a watch tower.
A man Miles met while serving time in a London prison made him valuable to authorities.(Four Corners)

"They came back to me very, very quickly, very quickly. 'We want a couple of our friends of ours from United States to have a word with you. This is of significant interest to the United States.'"

Miles was soon juggling a second high stakes assignment. Public US court documents show in April 2019 he began working for America's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

"He did work on operations with the DEA overseas travelling hundreds of thousands of miles," the documents said.

Escape from New York

For six months Miles collected evidence on transnational drug trafficking. He says the DEA promised to help him get permanent residency in the US. It never happened.

He arrived in New York in late 2019 exhausted and experiencing manic episodes. Within a month he committed another fraud to secure a credit card.

Lawyer Ilene Jaroslaw, who defended Miles, says he wrote and cashed a cheque for $500,000 from an account with only a few thousand dollars in it.

"He wrote [the cheque] no less in purple highlighter. It's bizarre," she says.

Ilene believes he was experiencing a manic episode.

A composite of a mugshot of a man with dark hair, a short beard and a cut on his eyebrow and a photo of the New York skyline.
Miles was charged with bank fraud in New York.(Supplied/Four Corners)

Miles ended up stealing more than $116,000 of the available funds.

He pleaded guilty to a charge of bank fraud. The DEA dropped him as a source.

Ilene was a federal prosecutor for 20 years, and worked with many human sources, as well as law enforcement agencies including the DEA.

She was shocked that Miles's service didn't seem to count for anything when he was sentenced over the fraud charge.

"He felt very betrayed, that he had taken great personal risk in assisting in building important narcotics cases.

"They just cut him loose.

"I think he genuinely thought his life was in danger."

Fearing his work for the DEA would get him killed in prison, Miles fled the country.

Even though he was on the run from the Americans, the Australian officers who introduced him to the DEA continued using him as a source.

ACIC handler: Let me know when you are safe

Miles: Leaving for airport in about 20

Two people are silhouetted by car headlights at night as they walk down a footpath in a large tunnel.
As Miles travelled the world, on the run, ACIC kept using him as a source.(Four Corners)

We have no evidence that his handlers helped him escape the US, but they cheered the fugitive on as he crossed international borders.

Miles: Immigration clear


ACIC handler: 👌😎

Miles: Insane


ACIC handler: 😉

I got you

Miles: 👑 👑 👑 👑


I'm back #loungelife

Messages reveal the pressure of the job would often be too much for Miles. In one instance, when he tried to step away, the ACIC lured him back with a big promise.

A handler suggested that the Australian attorney-general could potentially protect him from extradition to the US.

"I have been in high level meetings this week and we have executive support at the highest level what that looks like ie think an AG – written guarantee is possible," a handler wrote in a message.

We have no evidence the attorney-general was told about or responded to these promises.

A handler also told him an Interpol "red notice" — which declared him a fugitive — could be taken care of.

X says he doesn't want a medal, or a handshake from the prime minister, he just wants to live a normal life.

"You would think they would be there to help you on the next part of your journey.

"Basically, once things are completely done, you're forgotten about, you're abandoned, you're abandoned by the government, you're abandoned by the people you trusted."

Watch the full Four Corners investigation 'Undercover' on ABC TV and ABC iview from 8:30pm.

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Story by: Mahmood Fazal, Amos Roberts and Meghna Bali

Photography: Amos Roberts

Digital production and design: Nick Wiggins