On Andrew Sadek’s 20th birthday, North Dakota police made him an offer: moonlight as a confidential informant and avoid rotting in prison.
It was November 2013, and Sadek had never been in trouble before. Months earlier, he’d sold a small amount of pot—$20 and $60 worth—to a narc at his school, the North Dakota State College of Science.
Sadek was in the crosshairs of a local task force, which searched his dorm room and found a plastic grinder with marijuana residue. A day later, he was in an interrogation room with Richland County sheriff’s deputy Jason Weber.
Weber warned the baby-faced student he was facing 40 years in prison and a $40,000 fine for peddling weed on campus.
“Obviously, you’re probably not going to get 40 years, but is it a good possibility you’re going to get prison time if you don’t help yourself out? Yeah, there is,” Weber said during the recorded interview. “That’s probably not a way to start off your young adult life and career, right?
“What I’m going to ask for you to do is do some buys for me… then depending upon how you do… a lot of this could go away,” Weber added.
A frightened Sadek swore not to tell a soul about the undercover ops. He never spoke to his parents or a lawyer. He was encouraged to ferret out dealers and heavier drugs on his own, footage of the interview shows. The video was released to local media last year under open-records requests.
Six months later, Sadek turned up dead. Authorities pulled his body, bound to a backpack full of rocks, from the Red River. There was a bullet hole in his head. Police tried to tell his parents, John and Tammy Sadek, he committed suicide, Tammy Sadek told The Daily Beast.
Two years later, and the Sadeks still have no answers about how their son died—but they believe he was murdered as a result of the informant gig.
Last week, the family filed a wrongful death suit against Richland County and Deputy Weber, who helmed the dangerous operation as part of the South East Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force, or SEMCA.
When reached by phone, Weber declined to comment. His attorney, who also represents Richland County, also refused to speak.
Tammy Sadek says she’s waited for details on her son’s undercover buys, and still hopes the same deputies who recruited him will nab his killer.
“That’s why we’re forced into this lawsuit. A lawsuit is not the North Dakota way. But this is our last grasp at hoping to get some answers,” Tammy Sadek told The Daily Beast.
“We’re not a sue-happy state. A man’s word means something here in North Dakota,” she added. “We trust that people are going to honor their word. We trust the police. It just didn’t happen in this case.”
The Sadeks have asked the FBI to take over the case, which is being probed by Minnesota and North Dakota authorities. Tammy Sadek is also working with a Republican state lawmaker on legislation to protect informants and reduce marijuana penalties in North Dakota.
Before Andrew Sadek died, he was attending the Wahpeton college on an electrician’s scholarship, weeks shy of graduating from a two-year program. He planned to return for a third year so he could become a master electrician.
Sadek was known for winning a state vocational skills competition. His mother said he was shy and giving, a hard worker who tended to his family’s cattle ranch and, with his father and late brother, helped build their home.
“He just loved working with his hands,” Tammy Sadek said. “He preferred to do that instead of being book smart. He wasn’t at the top of his class in high school, but he was the top of his class in the vocational tech center.”
Sadek was Tammy and John’s only living child. His brother, Nicholas, died at age 18 when a train struck his truck in 2005. With her family destroyed, Tammy Sadek is warning other parents that law enforcement is deploying collegiate informants.
“I think [Andrew] was trying to get his quota, and he went to the wrong person,” Tammy told The Daily Beast. “I firmly believe he didn’t do this to himself. There was no depression. No note. I’ve gone through everything.
“He had plans for that weekend [he went missing],” she added. “He had plans for his life.”
As a student with no criminal record, Sadek likely never would have served prison time over such a small amount of marijuana, said family attorney Tim O’Keeffe.
“We’re talking about college students and marijuana, which is probably an age-old topic of controversy and debate,” O’Keeffe told The Daily Beast. “I have a hard time believing that these are the hardened criminals [police] should be spending their time and money investigating.”
Sadek isn’t the first or last college student targeted by law enforcement. Coeds across the country are being pressured into snitch jobs—but some have fought back or accepted criminal charges over ratting for the fuzz.
Some never made it out alive.
Cops warned Rachel Hoffman she’d land 10 years in jail. The 23-year-old Florida State University grad was caught with five ounces of marijuana and a handful of ecstasy and valium pills in 2008—her second drug arrest in two years.
Hoffman agreed to become a confidential informant for Tallahassee police in exchange for possible leniency in her case. Her attorney, Johnny Devine, later said he never knew of the C.I. deal until it was too late.
In May 2008, Hoffman put on a wire and stashed $13,000 in her purse. She planned to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, crack cocaine, and a gun from two dealers. But at last minute, the men changed the meeting location from public park to a location out of sight of police. Cops claimed Hoffman ignored a supervising investigator’s order not to follow the men, and officers lost contact with her.
Hoffman’s bullet-riddled body was found in a ditch two day later. Her last words on the wire were, “I have no idea where I am.” Her killers, Deneilo Bradshaw and Andrea Green, were sentenced to life in prison in 2010.
At Green’s sentencing, Hoffman’s father railed not just against the traffickers, but against the lawmen who sent her into harm’s way.
“Their reckless, careless, bungled incompetence. Their total disregard for my daughter’s safety was evident from the beginning. I hold them all responsible,” Irv Hoffman told the judge, according to WCTV.
Indeed, a New Yorker profile on Hoffman’s death revealed the dealers never planned to sell her ecstasy; they planned to rob her. Green’s wife told investigators that her husband found the wire in Hoffman’s purse and shot her.
“Rachel’s case underscores the danger of serving as a confidential informant. They had 20 police officers and a DEA plane out there monitoring and running that undercover operation and yet they still couldn’t protect her,” attorney Lance Block, who represented the Hoffman family, told The Daily Beast.
The state of Florida later passed “Rachel’s Law,” which requires protections for informants. The measures include requiring police officers to tell C.I.s they can’t promise dropped or reduced charges, and allowing the would-be informers to speak to legal counsel before participating.
In 2012, Hoffman’s parents won a $2.6-million settlement over her death. They claimed police were negligent in setting her up as an undercover agent.
“This is a very shadowy underworld that needs to come out in the light,” Block said. “We need reforms that at the very least require law enforcement to advise these kids that they have the right to talk to a lawyer. They have a right to remain silent.
“Instead, they’re out there doing the most dangerous type of police work,” he added.
Last year, BuzzFeed exposed a narcotics unit’s use of University of Mississippi students as narcs—in what one former prosecutor called “a mill that functions exclusively through the recruitment of college student C.I.s to rat out other students.”
University of Alabama students faced similar pressures. Tuscaloosa cops with the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force have targeted undergrads mostly over low-level marijuana offenses in recent years, AL.com reported.
One student stool pigeon told AL.com he was 19 and “never even had a speeding ticket,” when officers handcuffed him to a dining room table and bullied him into C.I. work. “They were yelling at me and saying if I didn’t help them, they were going to screw me and my friends over. I had to get, like, four or five people for them,” he said.
The task force, which includes university police, discovered a quarter-ounce of pot and a few marijuana pipes after executing a search warrant at his residence. A friend and fellow pupil-turned-snitch sold him out, AL.com reported.
Andrew Sadek was likely targeted by a student tipster, too.
The lawsuit filed by his parents reveals a timeline of his collaboration with police. According to court papers, confidential informants bought one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana from Sadek in April 2013, then purchased a gram days later.
In November 2013, police made their move. Sadek consented to a search of his dorm room, where cops discovered a plastic grinder with marijuana residue. Sadek allegedly admitted to owning it, court documents say.
The next day, Sadek met Deputy Jason Weber at the police station. Weber told Sadek he was facing up to 40 years in prison and $40,000 in fines over two felony charges for the sale of marijuana and one misdemeanor charge over possession of paraphernalia, the lawsuit states.
Deputy Weber told Sadek he would likely serve prison time if he didn’t help police as a confidential informant.
In his video interview, Sadek indicates he only knows two potential pot dealers. “You can’t buy from anybody else?” Weber responds. “Because you’re going to have to do more than just two people to get the felony level down.”
Then Weber asks if Sadek could set up a buy that very day. “I could try,” the student softly replies.
Weber later presses, “You don’t know any football players on campus or anything [sic] that sells that you can buy from or anything?
The deputy tells Sadek he has “two felonies hanging over [his] head” and that he’d need to complete two controlled drug buys on three or four people.
“That fair enough?” Weber asks. “It sounds like you already got two for sure you can do. It’s just a matter of doing two more.”
Weber tells Sadek the faster he can complete the buys, the better.
“Try not to tell your roommate or anybody, because the more people that know… people are going to think you’re a narc,” Weber says.
Before they left the room, Weber said, “The biggest thing too is, when you start, if you don’t know these people… Try to find out who these people are… We just can’t buy from people you don’t know.”
A Tragic End
Tammy Sadek had no idea Andrew was an informant until after he vanished.
“He went missing early on a Thursday morning,” Sadek recalls. “The campus police called us at noon on Friday, asking for his cellphone number.” They called again that afternoon and informed her he was missing.
“What do you mean he’s missing? How could he be missing?” Sadek remembers telling the college police department, whose sergeant serves on the SEMCA board that permits the police to operate on campus. (A representative for the North Dakota State College of Science could not be reached.)
Sadek was last seen on surveillance footage leaving his dorm early May 1, 2014. A week after Sadek vanished, police charged him with two felony counts of delivery of a controlled substance and signed a warrant for his arrest. They also charged him with one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the lawsuit.
“When I found out it was such a minimal amount, really… he probably thought he was just helping out a buddy,” Tammy Sadek told The Daily Beast of the drug charges. “That’s what he does. He helps out a friend any way he can.”
Sadek’s parents pleaded for him to come home at a press conference days after his disappearance. “Andrew, if you are watching or listening, please let us know somehow that you are safe and OK,” Tammy Sadek said. “We love you and we want you. We need you to come home. Everything will be OK.” They hired a private eye after local cops’ trail went cold.
But on June 27, 2014, their worst fears came true. Sadek’s body was found in the Red River near Breckenridge, Minnesota. He was wearing a backpack full of rocks and had a gunshot wound to the head. His clothes were different from those he was last seen wearing May 1.
An autopsy concluded Sadek’s death was the result of a gunshot wound to the head, however, the manner of death remained undetermined.
“It took almost two months for [police] to find Andrew,” Tammy Sadek said. “We were told as soon as the river stopped flooding, they would search for him every day. It had stopped well over a month. It just happened to be a fluke that they did find him.”
Tammy Sadek says officers conducting a diving training exercise made the gruesome discovery. “Time has just really flown by since then, because we are just in limbo,” she said. “We have so many unanswered questions. It seems like one unanswered question leads to 10 more.”
In their wrongful death suit, Sadek’s parents claim Richland County and Deputy Weber failed to determine whether Sadek was even qualified to serve as an undercover agent and failed to train and supervise him.
They also accuse Deputy Weber of fraud and deceit for telling Sadek—who had no criminal record—that he would serve prison time if he didn’t snitch. Sadek, they claim, was misled into believing the only way he could avoid getting convicted was to become a narc.
A January 2015 report by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation found no “concerns” over Sadek’s informant work or the recorded interview with Weber. The document stated, “The charges Sadek was possibly facing were explained to him. The recorded interview was calm in nature and Sadek understood the situation.”
Sadek worked as an informant from November 2013 to January 2014 and completed three controlled drug buys in Richland County, the lawsuit states.
After Sadek’s third purchase, Weber allegedly informed him he’d need two more buys to fulfill his obligations. They stayed in touch until mid-April, but “there was no other supervision of Andrew,” the complaint claims.
On April 17, Weber tried contacting Sadek but he didn’t respond. The cop, however, didn’t follow up to see if Sadek was safe, the complaint states.
Still, Weber did speak to CBS reporter Lesley Stahl for a 60 Minutes segment on student snitches that aired last December.
“Andrew Sadek was caught selling $80 worth of marijuana. People have said to us, ‘It’s just not worth it. It’s not worth putting the kid in any kind of risky situation for that little,’” Stahl told Weber.
The officer responded, “You know, a drug dealer is a drug dealer whether you sell a big amount or a small amount, whether you do it once or if you do it 100 times. While it’s still against the law, part of our duty as law enforcement is to get the drugs off the streets and to get the drug dealers off the streets.”
Tammy Sadek rejects the suggestion that her son was a “drug dealer.” Parents should warn their children never to sign a confidential informant deal without speaking to an attorney or their folks first, she says.
“They’re bullying these kids into thinking it’s so bad and it’s not,” Sadek told The Daily Beast. “The police just need to do their own job. They don’t need to use our children to do their job.”