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  This module is a resource for lecturers  


Case studies

Case Study (Controlled Delivery)

On 13 June 2011, the French authorities requested the help of the Moroccan Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale - the countries' national security agency - to organize a controlled delivery. This operation sought to dismantle a criminal organization specialized in drug trafficking between Morocco and the Paris region, in France. The investigation established that the head of the criminal organization had appointed a French national to supervise the transport of an unknown amount of controlled drugs. The drug was concealed in an oil cargo, in an "Iveco" van. On 18 June 2011, the police forces of the Tanger-Med seaport eased the transit of the van. Once it reached Séte, in Southern France, the van was closely monitored until reaching the location of the cargo's unloading. As a result of this controlled delivery, 11 people were apprehended in several cities in France and a large quantity of cannabis resin was seized.

Case-related file


Significant feature

  • A successful controlled delivery operation in a drug trafficking case

Discussion questions

  • What are the opportunities and risks of the application of controlled delivery method in investigation of drug trafficking networks?
  • What factors led to a successful controlled delivery investigation?
  • What conditions must be met by the law enforcement before the implementation of a controlled delivery technique?

Case Study (Rachel Hoffman)

Photo credit

Read excerpts from the article " The Throwaways" that describes the Rachel Hoffman's case written by Sarah Stillman for the New Yorker in 2012:

On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old woman named Rachel Hoffman got into her silver Volvo sedan, put on calming jam-band music, and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. A recent graduate of Florida State, she was dressed to blend into a crowd - bluejeans, green-and-white patterned T-shirt, black Reef flip-flops. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

Before she reached the Georgia-peach stands and Tupelo-honey venders on North Meridian Road, she texted her boyfriend. "I just got wired up," she wrote at 6:34 p.m. "Wish me luck I'm on my way."

"Good luck babe!" he replied. "Call me and let me know what's up."

"It's about to go down," she texted back.

Behind the park's oaks and blooming crape myrtles, the sun was beginning to set. Young mothers were pushing strollers near the baseball diamonds; kids were running amok on the playground. As Hoffman spoke on her iPhone to the man she was on her way to meet, her voice was filtered through a wire that was hidden in her purse. "I'm pulling into the park with the tennis courts now," she said, sounding casual.

Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead. In any case, Rachel Hoffman, a tall, wide-eyed redhead, was by nature laid-back and trusting. She was not a trained narcotics operative. On her Facebook page you could see her dancing at music festivals with a big, goofy smile, and the faux profile she'd made for her cat ("Favorite music: cat stevens, straycat blues, pussycat dolls").

A few weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana and voiced suspicion that she was selling drugs. When they asked if she had any illegal substances inside, Hoffman said yes and allowed them in to search. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills, tucked beneath the cushions of her couch. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges, including "possession of cannabis with intent to sell" and "maintaining a drug house." The officer in charge, a sandy-haired vice cop named Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided "substantial assistance" to the city's narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped. (…)

Hoffman chose to cooperate. She had never fired a gun or handled a significant stash of hard drugs. Now she was on her way to conduct a major undercover deal for the Tallahassee Police Department, meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.

The operation did not go as intended. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. Late that night, they arrived at her boyfriend's town house and asked him if Hoffman was inside. They wanted to know if she might have run off with the money. Her boyfriend didn't know where she was. (…)

Two days after Hoffman disappeared, her body was found in Perry, Florida, a small town some fifty miles southeast of Tallahassee, in a ravine overgrown with tangled vines. Draped in an improvised shroud made from her Grateful Dead sweatshirt and an orange-and-purple sleeping bag, Hoffman had been shot five times in the chest and head with the gun that the police had sent her to buy.

By the evening of her death, Rachel Hoffman had been working for the police department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129, or C.I. Hoffman. In legal parlance, she was a "cooperator", one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often in exchange for a promise of leniency in the criminal-justice system.

In 2009, the so-called "Rachel's Law" was passed by the Florida State Senate, requiring law enforcement agencies to provide special training to officers who recruit confidential informants, instruct informants that reduced sentences may not be provided in exchange for their work, and permit informants to request a lawyer if they want one.

Case-related materials


Significant feature

  • In exchange for leniency, untrained informants are sent out to perform dangerous police operations with few legal protections.

Discussion questions

  • What are the risks of using untrained informants?
  • How should law enforcement protect informants from mental and physiological harm they may experience during the sting operation?
  • Should the police who recruited Rachel Hoffman be criminally liable for causing a wrongful death?
  • Do you think that the legislative changes enacted by the Florida State Senate in the aftermath of Rachel Hoffman's death can protect future vulnerable informants from the risks of their cooperation with the police?

Case Study ("Catfishing" of Sex Workers)

There have been allegations that police officers misuse their powers to set up and punish sex workers through entrapment. In some countries, undercover police officers are permitted to receive certain sexual services from sex workers in the course of their work to secure evidence. Several sex workers have reported that police charged them with solicitation even though the officer initiated the exchange and offered to purchase sex.

Furthermore, allegedly police officers in some countries threatened to report sex workers to their spouses, parents or children if they did not confess. Sex workers and their advocates have also reported that police mislead sex workers about the consequences of their confessions, coercing them to sign statements while withholding the fact that an admission of guilt would likely lead to imprisonment. In some cases, police seized condoms as evidence.

Significant feature

  • Police entrapment of sex workers

Discussion questions

  • Are the police allowed to use deception and force during investigation? Can the police use of deception as a tool for gathering evidence be viewed as a necessary evil in a context in which police face legal and logistical limitations when investigating crimes of a consensual nature that do not involve a direct victim as with vice or bribery?
  • To identify victims of sex trafficking in jurisdictions where prostitution is legalized, agents may sometimes need to conduct undercover operations. In such cases, should they be allowed to engage in "sexual sampling" (i.e. sexual contact between sex workers and law enforcement agents)?
  • Should condoms used by sex workers be treated as evidence of a crime or admissible as evidence in court? What are the arguments for and against?

Case Study (Global Surveillance)

Photo credit

Read the short text " Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero?" written by Andrew Carlson from the University of Texas at Austin:

In 2013, computer expert and former CIA systems administrator, Edward Snowden released confidential government documents to the press about the existence of government surveillance programs. According to many legal experts, and the U.S. government, his actions violated the Espionage Act of 1917, which identified the leak of State secrets as an act of treason. Yet despite the fact that he broke the law, Snowden argued that he had a moral obligation to act. He gave a justification for his "whistleblowing" by stating that he had a duty "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." According to Snowden, the government's violation of privacy had to be exposed regardless of legality.

Many agreed with Snowden. Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project defended his actions as ethical, arguing that he acted from a sense of public good. Radack said, "Snowden may have violated a secrecy agreement, which is not a loyalty oath but a contract, and a less important one than the social contract a democracy has with its citizenry." Others argued that even if he was legally culpable, he was not ethically culpable because the law itself was unjust and unconstitutional.

The Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, did not find Snowden's rationale convincing. Holder stated, "He broke the law. He caused harm to our national security and I think that he has to be held accountable for his actions."

Journalists were conflicted about the ethical implications of Snowden's actions. The editorial board of The New York Times stated, "He may have committed a crime…but he has done his country a great service." In an Op-ed in the same newspaper, Ed Morrissey argued that Snowden was not a hero, but a criminal: "by leaking information about the behavior rather than reporting it through legal channels, Snowden chose to break the law." According to Morrissey, Snowden should be prosecuted for his actions, arguing that his actions broke a law "intended to keep legitimate national-security data and assets safe from our enemies; it is intended to keep Americans safe."

Case-related files

 On Edward Snowden also refer to Module 11, Thinking critically through fiction.

Special features

  • Human rights and global surveillance
  • Whistle-blowing or treason

Discussion questions

  • What is the current situation on the US case against Edward Snowden?
  • What values are in conflict in this case? What harm did Snowden cause? What benefits did his actions bring?
  • Do you agree with the argument that Snowden's actions were ethically justified even if legally prohibited? Why or why not? Make an argument by weighing the competing values in this case.
  • Would you change your position if you knew that Snowden's leak would lead to a loss of life among CIA operatives? What if the leak would save lives?
  • What is Edward Snowden's current status?

Case Study (Sting Operation)

Around June 2000, the FBI set up Invita, a sting operation posing as a computer security company in Seattle, Washington. Defendant Vasiliy Gorshkov and Mr. Alexey Ivanov flew from Russia to Seattle, where they met with undercover FBI agents at the Invita office. During the meeting, Gorshkov used an FBI laptop computer to demonstrate his computer hacking and computer security skills. He also accessed his computer system in Russia. After the meeting, both men were arrested.

Following the arrest and without Gorshkov's knowledge or consent, the FBI searched and seized the laptop and all the keystrokes made by Gorshkov. The FBI then obtained Gorshkov's username and password that he had used to access the Russian computer. Using the login information, the FBI logged onto the defendant's computer system in Russia and downloaded the file contents of the computer(s) without previously obtaining a warrant.

According to the indictment, Ivanov and Gorshkov had defrauded PayPal through a scheme in which stolen credit cards were used to generate cash and to pay for computer parts purchased from vendors in the United States. The FBI's undercover operation was established to entice Ivanov and his accomplices responsible for these crimes to travel to U.S. territory.

The Court found that the defendant could not have had an actual expectation of privacy in a private computer network belonging to a U.S. company, Invita, and a computer that was not his. In addition, the defendant knew that the systems administrator could and likely would monitor his activities over Invita's network.

Additionally, the court held that FBI's actions were reasonable under the exigent circumstances. A previous judgment concluded that an unlawful temporary seizure is allowed if supported by probable cause and designed to prevent the loss of evidence while police obtain a warrant in a reasonable period of time. In this case, the agents had a good reason to fear that co-conspirators would and could destroy evidence, or make it unavailable since electronic data and evidence can be moved to a different computer with ease, and access to it could be prevented with a mere change of password or pull of the power plug.

Gorshkov and Ivanov were sentenced to serve 36 months in prison on 20 counts of conspiracy, various computer crimes, and fraud. Gorshkov was also ordered to pay restitution of nearly $700,000 for the losses he caused to Speakeasy and PayPal.

Case-related files


Significant features

  • Legality of a sting operation
  • Legality of transnational evidence gathering

Discussion questions

  • Evidence gathering presents specific challenges in case of cybercrime. What are these challenges?
  • The Russian authorities (i.e., the Federal Security Service) filed criminal charges against an FBI agent, accusing the FBI of hacking. Please, discuss whether you believe that this accusation is justified and, if so, why.

Case Study (Entrapment)

Oleg Morari, a Moldovan national, was convicted of participating in the production of a false Romanian identity card in December 2008. His conviction was based on evidence obtained during an undercover operation. In January 2008, the Balti police had placed an advertisement in a newspaper concerning help in obtaining passports to which Morari had replied. Following the telephone call, he met with an undercover agent who told him that he was looking to obtain a Romanian passport. The two men agreed to keep one another informed if they found an easy way to obtain a passport.

A few weeks later the agent contacted Morari to enquire whether he had made any progress in his search. Morari informed the agent that he had found a person who could help and agreed to act as an intermediary after the agent refused to contact this person directly and proposed a deal involving one of his acquaintances (another undercover agent). Upon concluding the deal in April 2008, he was arrested by the police.

The first-instance court did not consider Morari's entrapment plea. The two higher courts which examined his appeal and appeal on points of law (in March 2009 and July 2009, respectively) examined his allegation of entrapment but dismissed it on the ground that it was Morari who had been the first to call the telephone number in the advertisement. All the courts refused to hear the undercover agents, finding that according to the law, they could be heard only if they consented to having their identities disclosed.

Relying on article 6§1 ("right to a fair trial") of the European Convention on Human Rights, Morari alleged that he had been a victim of police entrapment and that the courts had failed to examine this complaint in the proceedings against him. The European Court of Human Rights declared the application admissible and held that there was a violation of article 6§1 of the Convention. The Court held that the respondent State was to pay the applicant the following amounts: (i) EUR 3,500, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage; (ii) EUR 1,820, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of costs and expenses.

Case-related files


Significant feature

  • Effects of law enforcement entrapment operations on human rights

Discussion questions

  • Can evidence obtained as a result of entrapment be used in a criminal trial in your country/jurisdiction?
  • Why is entrapment and provocation problematic from the perspective of human rights?

Case Study (Global Action against Online Fraudsters in the Airline Sector)

In November 2014, a coordinated international operation led to the arrest of 118 individuals in connection with an online fraudulent scheme against airline companies. The operation was carried out at more than 80 airports and involved over 60 airlines and 45 countries. The investigation was coordinated by Europol, INTERPOL and AMERIPOL.

The suspects allegedly purchased plane tickets using stolen or fake credit cards generating losses of USD 1 billion. The investigation revealed that the fraudulent scheme was in several cases connected to other crimes, such as drug and human trafficking.

The airline and credit card companies involved participated actively in meetings with law enforcement at Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). The companies provided investigators with information contained in their databases. This partnership allowed law enforcement to identify 281 suspicious transactions.

An extensive international network allowed investigators to trace the suspects. The International Air Transport Association provided information on individuals using fraudulently obtained tickets. INTERPOL played a crucial role in identifying wanted persons and stolen documents. Europol officers were active at several European airports as well as in Singapore and Bogota.

Case-related file


Special feature

  • The main lesson learned from this operation is that partnerships between law enforcement and private sector are key for countering cybercrime threats. The cooperation between private companies, the International Air Transport Association, Europol, INTERPOL, AMERIPOL and national law enforcement authorities was fruitful. This strategic collaboration allowed investigators to gather the necessary information to identify illicit transactions and the suspects.

Discussion questions

  • What are the advantages of inter-agency cooperation? What are the benefits of public-private partnerships in the investigation of organized crime?

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