An informant asked a cop for a ride to apply for a job. The cop said yes—and ended up serving as an unwitting accomplice to a shoplifting escapade.
The story emerged Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Haven, where Judge Janet Bond Arterton is overseeing the trial of two men accused of setting a March 9, 2011 fire that destroyed a Fair Haven home and killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy.
The story concerns a city cop, Officer Michael Mastropetre, and a key informant who goes by the name G-Money.
G-Money, a 21-year-old self-described drug dealer, wore a wire and helped take down Hector Natal and his father, Hector Morales, on 11 charges related to the fire. The father-son pair have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
As G-Money and Mastropetre both took the stand in court Wednesday, defense attorneys raised tough questions that highlight a difficulty for law enforcement prosecuting criminal cases: People don’t usually cooperate with cops unless they find themselves in a jam on other criminal charges; cops then end up dealing with complicated witnesses who may make mistakes and get into more trouble along the way.
G-Money, who is currently locked up on charges unrelated to the fire, began to tell his story Wednesday afternoon. He raised his right arm, wearing a baggy gray sweatshirt and braids in his hair, and vowed to tell the truth. He said he met Natal in the kitchen of a Farnam Court apartment, where a group was “playing cards, smoking,” and “popping pills.” After that meeting, G-Money started “selling crack and marijuana” for Natal.
G-Money got caught up with the arson probe on March 23, 2011, when police say he led cops on a high-speed chase in a stolen car.
Mastropetre met G-Money that day and raised the possibility of him serving as a cooperating witness against Natal, who had just surfaced a week before as a suspect in setting the fire.
G-Money signed up as an informant the next day. He started helping Mastropetre build a case against Natal.
In November of that year, G-Money asked Mastropetre for a ride to the mall, according to Mastropetre’s testimony.
Mastropetre said it was a favor he would do for any informant. G-Money told him he wanted to apply for jobs there. Mastropetre drove him to the mall, then waited in the parking lot while G-Money popped into a store.
Mastropetre said G-Money got back into the car, and Mastropetre drove him to another store, ostensibly to apply for another job.
Mastropetre then got a call from a Milford cop, he testified: G-Money was under arrest. Instead of applying to jobs, he had just stolen a cell phone.
The phone came from an AT&T store, confessed G-Money on the stand Wednesday. He was charged with 6th-degree larceny.
Defense attorney Paul Thomas elicited the anecdote to try to paint the informant as an unreliable lawbreaker who duped the cops.
“That was kind of an embarrassing time,” Thomas said of the mall episode.
“He betrayed you,” Thomas said.
“He made a mistake,” Mastropetre countered.
G-Money was never fired as a cooperating witness, according to Mastropetre. Mastropetre proceeded to work with him—and help keep him on the outside despite continuing legal troubles. When G-Money was sentenced on burglary and narcotics charges, he was able to avoid jail time, walking away with a five-year suspended sentence. He is currently locked up, awaiting disposition of several charges.
Attorney Thomas questioned why Mastropetre kept working with him even when the informant “betrayed” his trust at the mall, and by continuing to get picked up on other crimes. He asked if Mastropetre vetted the witness’s background before signing up to work with him.
Informants “don’t work with us because they want to,” Mastropetre explained. They usually do so because they face other legal troubles that have gotten them ensnared with the law.
Mastropetre said when police come across a potential informant, they don’t go back through a suspect’s rap sheet to analyze their credibility. Rather, they look at the charges that person is facing at the given time, and outline the rules for cooperation.
“We run with what we have,” he said.
Following is an earlier story on Mastropetre’s testimony in the trial:
Facebook, Secret Recordings Flipped Girlfriend
First, “Master P” showed her Facebook photos. Next, he played recorded conversations of her boyfriend talking with another woman. Then the witness, shaking in tears, agreed to testify against the man accused of burning down a Fair Haven home and killing three people.
Michael “Master P” Mastropetre (pictured), a New Haven cop, told that story Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court, where a jury is determining the fate of a father-son pair accused of setting a fatal blaze on Wolcott Street on March 9, 2011.
Officer Mastropetre, who is assigned to a federal crime task force, is one of two case agents who took charge of the investigation into that fire, which claimed the lives of Wanda Roberson, her niece, and her 8-year-old son. Hector Natal and his father, Hector Morales, have pleaded not guilty to 11 charges stemming from the fire, including arson, witness tampering and drug charges.
Mastropetre took the stand Wednesday morning in Judge Janet Bond Arterton’s red-carpeted courtroom.
He described how he encouraged a witness to come forward by providing her evidence of her boyfriend’s infidelity. The woman is one of three key witnesses whom Deputy U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly mentioned in her opening statement. She is expected to testify that Natal confessed to her that he set the arson.
The woman lived on Haven Street at the time of the fire. Natal would spend some nights at that house with her. The couple had one young child together.
Over the course of the investigation, Mastropetre discovered Natal was two-timing with a second woman—a key piece of information that would help his quest to build evidence against him.
Mastropetre said he sat down with Natal’s girlfriend for an interview at her Haven Street home. He showed her pictures he had obtained from Facebook. The photos showed Natal with another woman, as well as Natal holding a baby boy. The photos upset the girlfriend, Mastropetre said. She agreed to come forward against the father of her child.
On a second occasion, in mid-August, Mastropetre met with the girlfriend again. This time he played conversations secretly recorded by the government of Natal and his other girlfriend talking about the first girlfriend.
“She was upset,” Mastropetre recalled. She “began to cry and shake.” Then she testified a second time before a grand jury.
Mastropetre said he didn’t make any promises to the girlfriend before she testified against Natal. But after she did so, the federal government helped her move out of Fair Haven for her safety. The woman has three young children, Mastropetre said. Natal is the father of the youngest daughter.
The witness was living in Section 8 housing on Haven Street; she and her kids spent time crashing with Natal’s sister and Natal’s father. After she testified to the grand jury, she feared for her safety because the testimony would be disclosed to the defense.
The federal government helped her escape safely by paying a security deposit to a new landlord and helping her outfit her new house with furniture for herself and her three kids.
“She had nothing,” Mastropetre said.
Mastropetre also testified he outfitted a key witness with a wire to record conversations with Natal and Morales. He used two devices—a “hawk,” which records video and audio, and an “eagle,” which records just audio. The witness made a brief appearance in court Wednesday morning; he is expected to take the stand later Wednesday or Thursday.
Past Independent stories on the trial: