Rat Tale

Portland cops hired a snitch. But he was already working for somebody else.

George Taylor had business in Kansas City.

The bosses in Detroit liked his work. No screwups, no cops, plenty of product: new iPhones boxed and mailed to Michigan.

Don't go home to your day job in Portland just yet, they told him. Fly to Kansas City; there's more work there.

At 50, Taylor looked like a guy on a business trip. He was a wiry bantam, with short-cropped brown hair and chiseled, unmarked arms. Under his shirt were tattoos: a dragon, a Viking warrior, the words "White Pride" scripted across his shoulders.

It was August 2013.

Once he landed in Kansas City, he hooked up with the crew from Detroit. Then to the bus station, to recruit homeless guys who needed money fast and had no address to trace.

Clean up the recruits, then head out toward the Great Mall of the Great Plains. By the end of a day, the crew would buy dozens of new phones, worth thousands of dollars, from the nation's largest telecoms—Verizon, T-Mobile and especially AT&T. Family plan. Three phones. Pay $200 down for each phone, and sign a two-year contract to pay $220 a month.

But the payments never came—and the phones were shipped to Vietnam and Thailand, for up to $3,000 each.

The phone company would soon figure out it had been swindled by somebody it couldn't find—they used fake Social Security numbers—or who was too poor to pay.

Homeland Security told Michigan newspapers in April that these scams cost phone companies $50 million a year—and much of the trafficking has been run by a syndicate out of Detroit.

Taylor claims he was taking home $7,000 a week.

"You get so high off the money that you don't need drugs," Taylor recalls. "You're living the millionaire life."

It wasn't all sweet. Life back in Portland was getting complicated.

He kept getting phone calls. Asking where he was. Wondering why his number changed so much. Wanting to know when he was getting back to Oregon.

To his other job.

Working for the Portland Police Bureau.

Snitches are as old as police work itself.

Portland police Capt. Mark Kruger, who runs the Drugs and Vice Division, says the bureau currently has 88 active informants—and dozens more who are still on the roster but haven't recently snitched.

Kruger says informants can convincingly slip into criminal worlds where police would stick out and endanger themselves.

"Some of this information that these guys get is in no way, shape or form available to you," Kruger says. "Couldn't get it any other way than sending somebody in to get that information."

Taylor entered the world of snitching the way many do—by getting busted.

The McDonald's on Southwest 6th Avenue and Main Street huddles in the shade of shiny office towers. It's a popular place to buy a quick lunch and, apparently, heroin.

In May 2011, Taylor ate a Big Mac while his 29-year-old girlfriend sold an undercover agent from the Navy Criminal Investigative Service black tar heroin in the restroom.

"We leave," Taylor says, "and they rolled up on us."

Given Taylor's prior record (more on that in a bit), he was looking at 20 years.

It was time to join the war on drugs.

On Oct. 14, 2011, Taylor pleaded no contest to dealing heroin and signed a contract that made him an informant for the Police Bureau's Central Precinct. The contract said he would report to precinct officers Jim McMurray and Branden Combs, buying drugs to "work off" his heroin arrest.

Taylor didn't mind snitching. It was a chance to hit the reset button, he figured. He did his first buy on behalf of the police Jan. 5, 2012—three baggies of weed for $60 in the South Park Blocks.

The stings were easier than buying MAX fare. Hit the Transit Mall licking your lips like you're jonesing. Pick the nearest guy standing on a corner, ask him for a rock. Either he'd fish out a baggie from his mouth, or he'd point out a runner. Case made. Back to the cops, who were watching the whole time from a block away.

The police sent Taylor out with cash, and he came back with drugs: crack in Old Town, heroin in the Park Blocks, meth out on 82nd Avenue. Then he fingered the dealers to grand juries. The cops paid him $40 for each buy.

He did it dozens of times. At least 40 cases, and those are just the ones in records WW has reviewed. He identified at least 63 suspects to police, testifying against at least 20 of them to grand juries, using his real name.

Eight of those cases were thrown out in March. The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office is reviewing 12 other cases where Taylor's testimony led to convictions. Both prosecutors and police are pledging an overhaul of their rules for controlling snitches.

And they're trying to explain how a prized informant, at the same time he was helping law enforcement, was plundering cellphone stores across the country for a Detroit syndicate.

The Police Bureau has a list of rules for its informants. Two of the big ones: No using drugs. No new crimes.

Taylor broke them both.


Long before Taylor was a snitch, he was a criminal. And not just one who sold heroin at a McDonald's.

He grew up in Portland and Salem, smoking weed and angel dust. Stepdads came and went.

Taylor was well-acquainted with local police. "He has been a criminal since age 13," his parole officer wrote in 1984, "and is trying to 'make a name for himself' in the criminal world."

At 18, he committed three armed robberies—a 7-Eleven and two grocery stores. He spent 23 of the next 26 years in prison—most of his time came from getting caught with a gun while on parole.

At 23, four years into his first prison stint, George Robert Taylor helped set a man on fire at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He distracted a guard while one of the inmates poured napalm on another inmate's head and lit a match.

Taylor's role in what prison officials dubbed "a heinous firebomb effort" earned him nearly a year in solitary confinement and a trip to the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

"Burned a guy up, that's what they say," Taylor recalls. "I don't want to agree, and I don't want to disagree. It could come back to haunt you."

Taylor started using heroin in prison, to sleep through the noise. He got a "White Pride" and dragon tattoo—blue ink across his back, with "Heil Hitler" encoded in numbers—to show he was tight with the Aryan Brotherhood.

"How many kids know their European past right now?" he explains. "Just be proud of who you are. No shame."

But mostly he had fun behind bars. No distractions. He became a baker and stayed in shape playing handball.

"If I stick you in a closet and tell you you ain't getting out for 10 years, you best make the best of it," Taylor says. "You can sit there and cry for 10 years, or you can get in there and make yourself a home."

Taylor got out in 2007. Out was harder than in. He says crowds gave him panic attacks. He lived in a grimy West Burnside hotel called the Abbey, and worked at Service Steel on Swan Island for five months as a machine operator. He punched out one day and never went back. He wanted to work on a fishing boat in Alaska, but his parole officer wouldn't let him leave Oregon.

A state psychiatrist who examined him as a condition of his parole in 2011 said he had "psychopathic traits" that required close supervision. The evaluation said Taylor "did not appear appropriate for any type of traditional counseling or therapy." He had come to see violence as normal, the doctor said, and all his friends were criminals.

Taylor figured it was only a matter of time before he went back to prison. That's when the Russians found him. And then, the cops.

Taylor had missed out on the tech boom while he was in prison. But in 2011, men he'd never met before—Russians—approached him on the street in downtown Portland and told him he could be a small part of it.

It was a beautiful scam. Perfect.

Go to the Greyhound station, or hang around outside plasma banks. Find somebody who needs money. Make the pitch.

"There's a spiel that you give to people, like, 'It's not going to fuck up your credit history,'" Taylor says. "People are gullible. Especially if they're strung out on dope or they're homeless. I could see the money of it being made when they ran it down to me."

Two-year contract. $200 down. Out the door with a phone. The homeless frontman gets $100 for every three phones. Detroit gets new Apple products worth $2,000 to $3,000 each.

Suburban malls were best: Taylor could hit as many as nine stores a day. He and his accomplice walked into AT&T, Verizon, Best Buy, Walmart and Target, and walked out with new phones "until they can't get phones no more."

Taylor says he started doing the scam across Portland in the spring of 2011. He was on the syndicate's ground floor—working his way up the ladder—when he became a Portland police snitch that October.

Days after the cops made him an informant, his Russian boss rented him a Lexus to drive. Then the Russians flew him to Detroit for a meeting with the syndicate brass. "And I was running Portland," he says. At the same time, he was buying drugs undercover for the police.

Taylor had enough money to peel off $20 for a dope fiend who needed to chase the sickness. He did meth to unwind. On New Year's Eve in 2012, he claims he blew $4,000 at RingSide Fish House and the Nines hotel.

Then came the business trips to Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Girls, drinks, a night at Harrah's Casino, a day at the water park. He'd fly back to Portland, do more drug buys for the cops. Go back on the road, do more phones.

Then, Kansas City. End of the good times.

The Olathe, Kan., police nailed Taylor on Aug. 21, 2013, at a Best Buy, with a woman trying to buy her 18th phone of the day.

In a courtroom in Olathe on Oct. 16, 2013, Taylor avoided conviction and jail time by ratting out his associates and the Detroit syndicate.

He added a bombshell. He told the court he was stealing phones with the blessing of his Portland police handlers.

In testimony recorded in a court transcript from Johnson County, Kan., Taylor said he told his Portland police supervisors about the phone scam and the Russians.

He says the police told him, "If you go out of state, if something happens, I can't cover you."

Taylor said Portland police not only knew about his extracurricular activities but encouraged him to break the law. He repeated the claim to WW.

Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson confirms to WW that Taylor "told his police handlers that he had information on an international cellphone scam," yet they continued using him.

Simpson says Portland police officers passed along Taylor's tip to federal law enforcement. He says Taylor's police handlers thought Taylor was just looking to double his money by getting "further financial compensation" from the cops in exchange for informing on the cellphone ring.

By continuing to work with Taylor, officers appear to have violated the bureau's own biggest rule about snitches: No new crimes.

"These people aren't as clean as the driven snow," says Kruger, who runs the Drugs and Vice Division. "A defense attorney is going to have a heyday with them, because their background is a mess. The best we can do is show we followed the rules. If you catch 'em in a lie, fire 'em. If you catch 'em committing crimes, fire 'em."

Records show police knew troubling information about Taylor.

Police Bureau records show Taylor was the subject of six police reports while snitching—including one incident in March 2013, when police found him in downtown bar Thirsty Lion trying to unlock a stolen laptop, and another in April 2013, when he punched a man in the face in Old Town in a dispute over a cellphone. (He served 10 days in jail for the laptop theft.)

WW asked to speak to Cmdr. Sara Westbrook, who runs the Police Bureau's Central Precinct and signed the contract making Taylor an informant. She declined to discuss why police kept using Taylor after he committed more crimes.

In response to questions from WW, Simpson issued a statement.

"In hindsight, it is arguable that Taylor should never have been used based on his history," Simpson wrote. "Many of the things being brought up now by defense attorneys, or Taylor himself, if true, could be perceived as policy violations and, as such, the bureau cannot and will not publicly respond."

After testifying in Kansas, Taylor was released on a plea bargain. He flew back to Portland in February 2014. The cops sent him back downtown to buy more drugs.

Multnomah County prosecutors say they didn't learn about Taylor's double life from police. Instead, they were told by a defense attorney for a suspect that Taylor had snitched on for allegedly dealing drugs.

Prosecutors are legally obligated to disclose what's called exculpatory information that could help the accused. But in at least four cases, they didn't do so—and instead gave at least one defense lawyer the rap sheet of an entirely different person (see "Sniffing Out the Rat" below).

The defense lawyer, Graham Fisher, made the Portland police turn over Taylor's criminal record and any police reports involving him. He showed his findings to the DA's office March 8.

"That's when I first became aware of the white-pride tattoo," says senior deputy district attorney John Copic, who started running the drug unit in January. "And on that day, I said to dismiss every case that we had pending that involved him. There's no way we would use somebody like that."

The tattoo was so alarming because it made Taylor a liability on the witness stand. Even if he were otherwise trustworthy, defense lawyers could argue that every time he snitched on a black person, he was doing it out of racial hate.

In March, the DA's office dropped eight open cases where Taylor bought drugs. Copic says prosecutors will review all cases in which Taylor testified. But they're not sure how many cases that is.

Taylor is back in jail. Not for the phone scam. Not for violating the terms of his informant contract. But because he pleaded no contest to beating his girlfriend in March at her apartment on Northeast 79th Avenue after she learned he had stolen her electronic tablet and sold it.

Multnomah County records say Taylor offered to give his girlfriend his tablet, but instead he smashed it against the wall, put her in a chokehold and said, "I'm going to kill you."

He was sentenced to 16 months, and is scheduled to be transferred from Multnomah County Inverness Jail to state prison this week.

Taylor has other worries. He knows his name is all over court records as a police snitch.

"I already know the consequences of what I've done," he says. "I'm in an open unit. Any day someone's going to walk in. I wait for it."

(Prosecutors say the Oregon Department of Corrections will offer Taylor a protective custody unit in prison.) 

He wishes he'd gone where the phones went: Vietnam, Thailand. He could have saved some money and flown to Argentina, traveled for the rest of his life.

He sits and ponders. What went wrong? What was the point of snitching? What difference did he make fighting drugs?

"Yeah, they're doing the $20 buys, and making everybody leery of selling to anybody," Taylor says. "They might remove a guy for a couple weeks, but another one fills right in. They need a better system, put it that way."

Kruger, the cop whose Drugs and Vice Division maintains a copy of informant files for the Portland police, says he would not have approved Taylor as an informant. But he says he never read Taylor's file—because Taylor was managed by Central Precinct.

He has recommended the bureau implement changes so a similar situation doesn't happen again.

"I can't tell you strongly enough," Kruger says, "how important we feel it is that there's more consistency in how we vet our informants, and how we interact with the district attorney's office when deciding whether to use an informant."

Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea says he has launched an internal investigation into the bureau's use of Taylor. "To answer all of the questions regarding this situation, and due to the importance of retaining the public's trust in the use of informants," O'Dea says, "the bureau is initiating an internal investigation."

A spokesman for Mayor Charlie Hales says, "The mayor is monitoring the situation."

The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office looks at Taylor and also vows: Never again.

Last week, when WW submitted written questions about Taylor, prosecutors announced they would review all cases in which Taylor testified. And they pointed to new policies, created this summer after defense lawyers raised a stink about Taylor, to review snitches before police start using them.

“This office intends on taking steps,” says chief deputy district attorney Don Rees, “so we can be better informed about some of these informants that the Police Bureau has chosen to use.” 

Sniffing Out a Rat

In June 2014, George Taylor bought crack from Christopher Graham outside the Biltmore Hotel in Old Town.

It was a few minutes after noon. According to Portland police reports, Graham walked up to Taylor on Northwest Everett Street and asked him what he needed.

“White,” Taylor said.

Graham reached into his mouth and fished out a rock of crack cocaine, wrapped in plastic. Taylor paid him $40 in cash, and walked away.

Portland police arrested Taylor two months later. In October, Graham pleaded guilty to the felony crime of delivering cocaine. Because of his long criminal record—47 arrests, many of them involving drugs—he was sentenced to 19 months in prison. 

Image Courtesy of Multnomah County 

He’s still locked up at Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem.

But Graham’s defense attorney, Amanda Garty, now says Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill’s office did not provide her with any information about Taylor.

“I got nothing,” she says. 

It’s unclear how often people accused of crimes by Taylor were kept in the dark about his background. But WW has found four cases where Taylor testified against alleged drug dealers—without the Multnomah County district attorney telling those defendants about his full criminal history.

That’s a violation of state and federal law, and the DA’s own policy.

A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, says defendants have a right to see any evidence that might help their defense. That includes any information about a witness that might suggest the witness is biased or untrustworthy.

Oregon law also says prosecutors have to turn over that information, called discovery. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office policy says the same thing.

“Prosecutors have to be aware: You’re dealing with a criminal [as a witness],” says chief deputy district attorney Don Rees. “You have to be mindful of the obligations of making the court and the defense aware of who they are.”

The DA’s office did not always do that. And a defense lawyer figured that out.

Last November, emails show, Graham Fisher, who was defending a man whom Taylor accused of selling cocaine, asked the Multnomah County DA for Taylor’s criminal history and any other information about him that could affect the case.

Instead, deputy district attorney Christopher Shull sent Fisher the criminal history not of Taylor, but of an unnamed person whose criminal record consisted mainly of convictions for cocaine possession.

Fisher thought it looked wrong. “It didn’t match any George Taylors that I could find,” he says.

Fisher subpoenaed the Portland city attorney, who represents the Police Bureau, to get Taylor’s criminal history, documents listing his work as an informant, and any police reports mentioning him. When Fisher got the files in March, he was shocked.

“I can’t believe they’re using this guy,” he recalls thinking. “His criminal record indicated that he’s dangerous and untrustworthy—and he appeared to be engaging in ongoing criminal activity while working for the government.”

In March, Fisher confronted the DA with Taylor’s criminal history and white-supremacist tattoos. Prosecutors then dismissed eight cases.

Deputy district attorney John Copic, who now runs the DA’s drug crime unit, says prosecutors didn’t know “the full scope” of Taylor’s crimes—and learned about his cellphone thefts from WW last week. Copic says the DA will review all cases involving Taylor—including Christopher Graham’s conviction. “This office is aware of its statutory obligation to provide [records of] criminal convictions for witnesses to be called at trial,” Copic says.

Public defender Josh McCarthy joined Fisher in confronting prosecutors with cases involving Taylor. He says using Taylor as a witness calls into question the criminal justice system.

“When I look at George Taylor,” McCarthy says, “I honestly look at every person in prison and wonder if they should be there. Because who knows if Taylor’s telling the truth?” 

WWeek 2015

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