An Iowa paralegal working for the Department of Justice admitted to illegally revealing the identities of at least two cooperating witnesses in a federal drug trafficking investigation, providing the highly-sensitive information to someone who subsequently posted the informants’ names, addresses, and phone numbers to a “stop snitching” Facebook page with nearly 10,000 members.
Danielle N. Taff, 37, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of computer fraud. She was a contractor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa between June 2017 and June 2018.
Taff is from Ankeny and, according to a Facebook page that appears to belong to her, has three children and a soft spot for Jesus, reality TV, and morel mushrooms.
In early 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Iowa Department of Narcotics Enforcement opened an investigation into a meth trafficking ring operating in Iowa and Arizona, according to court filings. Confidential reports, records, and documentation used by investigators was stored on a shared computer drive maintained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The data was kept in a sub-folder named after the lead defendant in the case, and getting to it required some effort, said investigators. That May, Taff accessed the shared drive and pulled up a chemical analysis report, a search warrant, and transcripts of interviews between law enforcement and two individuals assisting the feds. Taff then used her cell phone to take some 30 pictures of the documents on her monitor.
Taff “had no official, work-related reason” to view the non-public records, said prosecutors, “nor was she authorized to access them. In order to access them, the defendant searched through multiple layers of folders and subfolders, all of which were located under a parent folder for criminal files.”
She then met two friends for lunch, identified in court filings as “Person 1” and “Person 2.” Taff showed the pair the photos, and let Person 1 take pictures of them. Later, Person 1 contacted Taff on Facebook Messenger, saying that they “forgot” to photograph one of the documents Taff had. She went to see Person 1, who got the shot they said they needed.
Person 1 subsequently shared the pictures with nine more people, outing the two cooperating witnesses as “snitches.” A few months after that, 27 of the 30 photos Taff took showed up on the "des moines haterz & snitches" Facebook group—a private group boasting 9,900 members. “Exposing the truth n keepin it real,” the group’s description page says.
Taff at first told investigators that Person 1 photographed the images on her phone without permission while she was in the bathroom. She later admitted this wasn’t true.
The government’s case was delayed for more than a year after the witnesses’ names were exposed.
Taff, who is free on bond pending sentencing, faces up to five years behind bars. Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.