25 Awful Witness Protection Program Failures You Won’t Believe

Posted by , Updated on March 25, 2024

The witness protection program is a popular trope used in television and movies. But, how safe and effective is it really? While the U.S. Marshalls boast their program has never lost a witness, there are plenty of other witness protection programs and witnesses in general that have been major failures. From dead witnesses to paying out crime bosses, it’s not exactly always a flawless program. Here are 25 Awful Witness Protection Program Failures You Won’t Believe.



Sexual Predators Hidden in the Program

witness protectionSource: http://abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-predators-hidden-federal-witness-protection-program-report/story?id=29559093

In a scathing report by the Department of Justice, the witness protection program failed to notify neighborhoods and people at risk of the sex-offenders in the program that they were relocating to the area. The crimes of some of the people protected in the program included rape and sexual assault of children.


Diana Merced

drug dealerSource: http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/national-crime-victim-bar-association/case-law/failure-to-protect-witness-homicide

In 1989, Diana Merced was cooperating with law enforcement as a witness against Joseph Navedo, a known drug dealer. She was planning to testify and especially asked HAPD and NYPD to protect her. However, on March 9th, two unknown assailants shot her in the face at her mother’s apartment.


Israel Witness Protection Flaws

israelSource: https://www.haaretz.com/court-ruling-exposes-serious-flaws-in-israel-s-witness-protection-program-1.418721

In a recent report, two witnesses hired by Israeli police were murdered in 2006 due to police witness protection negligence. This report unveiled serious witness protection program flaws in their system.


David Mooney

beggingSource: https://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0425/385663-mooney-court/

After being involved in the witness protection program, David Mooney filed a lawsuit with the State for being impoverished. He’s in constant fear for his life, cannot work, and is refused social welfare. Promised a green card, a house, and a car, he claims to not have received any of them.


Corry Thomas

barbed-wireSource: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/01/13/federal-witness-killed-hours-entering-witness-protection.html

Just before being placed into a witness protection program, Corry Thomas was killed in front of his sister’s home. Busted for transporting 600 pounds of marijuana, Thomas had cut a deal and was supposed to go into witness protection for his testimony that could have put high-level drug dealers in prison.


Michael Anthony Drew

maineSource: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1914&dat=19950520&id=C9ggAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FGsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4585,3887270&hl=en

Violent St. Louis gang leader Michael Anthony Drew ended up in the witness protection program after cooperating with the government over a racketeering probe. However, once in the program, he was sent to Maine and up to his old ways. He was arrested for using a gun to threaten and terrorize a drug informant.


Jonathan Barclay

drunk drivingSource: http://www.news.com.au/national/crime/how-the-police-witness-protection-program-led-to-debbie-ashtons-death/news-story/a381540b3d44f5200933ed0f7c15f01d

Jonathan Barclay, a man with a long criminal history, figured out how to use a loophole in the witness protection system. By using his witness protection name when he was arrested, he was considered a first-time offender and avoided being locked away for good. Later, he was drinking and driving and smashed into Debbie Ashton’s vehicle, killing her.


Javad Marshall-Fields

gunSource: http://www.denverpost.com/2007/09/28/witnesses-killed-statewide/

After agreeing to testify against a shooter that shot him twice and killed his friend, Javad Marshall-Fields was marked and told he was going to die. Sure enough, he and his fiancee were gunned down at night on the street just days before he was going to testify. Worse yet, Colorado had a fund to protect witnesses like this from harm, but no one told Marshall-Fields it existed.


Career Informants

moneySource: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/snitch/etc/tony.html

According to a man in the witness protection program that goes by the name of “Tony,” there’s no incentive to stop crime after you’ve been in the witness protection program. In fact, he claims many become “career informants” and feed off the government for money and assistance. He said some can make up to $280,000 per case.


Shawn Balch and Tammy Spooner

empty apartmentSource: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/sask-witness-protection-1.4136085

Shawn Balch and Tammy Spooner were two drug dealers who cut a deal with the Canadian government in hopes of a fresh start in Saskatchewan’s witness protection program. They claim they were promised treatment for their addictions and a new life. Instead, they were forced to move to an unknown city, lost all their possessions, and continue to live in fear. In retrospect, they said if they had to make the same choice, they would not do it all over again.


Daniel LaPolla

burning houseSource: http://mentalfloss.com/article/77695/12-secrets-witness-protection-program

Witnesses who refuse to obey the rules are warned of the consequences, but some still don’t seem to care. Daniel LaPolla, for instance, ignored the rules and returned home for a funeral. His home was rigged to blow to pieces; once he turned the doorknob, it blew up in his face.


Robert Bishun

NYPDSource: https://www.theroot.com/witness-who-was-set-to-testify-against-nypd-cop-is-brut-1790856908

After cooperating with authorities and agreeing to testify against NYPD police officer Merlin Alston, Robert Bishun was abducted from his auto body shop and strangled to death.


Jackee Taylor

motel 6Source: http://abcnews.go.com/US/children-witness-protection-struggle-reclaim-identities/story?id=41335525

Jackee Taylor was just seven-years-old when she was forced into the witness protection program with her family. They put her and her family into a motel; after all the trouble, she wished they would have just sent her to a foster home, instead, saying the experience caused her to become suicidal. Other children who become part of the program cite rarely going to school and constantly being put in motels.


Jimmy Roberts

body chalkSource: http://www.denverpost.com/2007/09/28/witnesses-killed-statewide/

After agreeing to testify against drug dealer Abe Hagos, Jimmy Roberts faced several death threats but was never put into witness protection. Even after he survived his first murder attempt, they didn’t put him into the program. Eventually, Roberts was killed as he went to work.


Nancy Burdell

on the streetSource: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14034143

Nancy Burdell joined the witness protection program after witnessing a murder but was surprised to find out all the program did was move her to a “safer” location. Even more surprising, the program ends three months after the convicted criminal had been sentenced, putting her life right back in danger.


John Patrick Tully

hot dog cartSource: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/02/07/witness-protection-5-not-so-wiseguys/

As part of the Campisi crime family, John Patrick Tully was a convicted murderer who turned into a rat and entered the witness protection program. Given a totally new life, he didn’t exactly play by the rules. He robbed a bank and used the money to buy a hot dog cart to start his own business. After that, he continued to have multiple run-ins with the police for intoxication and drunk driving.


Marion Pruett

policeSource: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/witness-federal-protection-turn-mad-dog-killer-article-1.2814083

After seeing his cellmate murdered, Mario Pruett testified and entered the witness protection program. There, he was given a new identity and protected. He left the program as Charles Sonny Pearson. With his new identity, he robbed banks and grisly murdered his wife, a bank officer, and three convenience store clerks.


Henry Hill

henry hillSource: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/02/07/witness-protection-5-not-so-wiseguys/

While some might consider witness protection for Henry Hill a wild success as it brought down some of New York’s biggest mobsters, it also failed to keep Henry Hill out of trouble. While in the program, he got arrested for drunk driving, burglary, and selling two pounds of cocaine. Eventually, he got thrown out.


Natisha Gallegos

stabbedSource: http://www.denverpost.com/2007/09/28/witnesses-killed-statewide/

Despite obtaining a restraining order against her husband, Natisha Gallegos was never put into witness protection or told about the program. Also, despite being the only eyewitness in the case and receiving several death threats, police never pursued the option. Later, she was found on the floor of her bedroom, stabbed 67 times.


James Cardinali

empty pocketsSource: http://newsok.com/article/2302886

Though offered a new identity in the witness protection program, James Cardinali, mob errand boy, claims to have never gotten it and lives in fear for his life. Instead of totally new papers for his new identity, all he got was a driver’s license with a new name.


Lawndale "Lonnie" Nutall

gun at crimeSource: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-murder-prosecution-witness-met-20141214-story.html

After witnessing a gang murder, Lawndale “Lonnie” Nutall decided he was sick of it and agreed to be a witness and testify. Just before the suspect’s trial, Nutall was gunned down.


John Dowery

jailSource: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/04/the-story-of-a-snitch/305703/

After John Dowery was facing a sentence of 10 years behind bars, he decided to cut a deal with the police and become a witness in a murder trial. At first, things were looking up and he was turning his life around until he found two men in his front yard. They fired at him and shot him 6 times. He survived only by the hands of a skilled surgeon.


Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi

gambinoSource: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/02/07/witness-protection-5-not-so-wiseguys/

Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi was part of the Gambino family. When he entered the witness protection program, he wrote a book called “The Mafia Cookbook” and tried to promote it. The only problem is people in the program aren’t allowed to contact the media. When he was invited to come on “The Late Show,” he couldn’t resist. However, at the last minute, his segment was canceled and he was kicked out of the program for contacting the media.


Robert “Rob” Alexander Jr.

washington dcSource: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dozens-in-dc-maryland-paid-the-ultimate-price-for-cooperating-with-police/2015/01/10/978b1a18-b5f6-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html?utm_term=.995d3bb137a5

Robert “Rob” Alexander Jr. was gunned down in Washington D.C. His body was sprawled out on the street after being shot nine times. His death came as police authorities failed to protect him for being a witness to a murder 20 days earlier.


Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno

cash moneySource: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/02/07/witness-protection-5-not-so-wiseguys/

From 1977 to 1987, Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno was the highest paid witness protection informant in the program’s history. He was able to get the Feds to pay for his auto insurance, real estate taxes, and his wife’s breast implants and facelift. He even had them send a monthly check to his mother-in-law. However, afraid it would start looking like a pension for a mobster, they cut him out of the program. By that time, it’s estimated they paid him around $951,326.

Photo: 25. Warren In the Weeds via flickr. CC BY 2.0, 24. shutterstock, 23. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 22. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 21. pixabay (Public Domain), 20. Dickelbers, Police car Rockland – Maine – U.S.A., CC BY-SA 3.0, 19. Pexels.com (Public Domain), 18. MaxPixels.com (Public Domain), 17. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 16. Downtowngal, Empty apartment living room, CC BY-SA 3.0, 15. Kiwi NZ via flickr. CC BY 2.0, 14. Wikipedia Commons.com (Public Domain), 13. Thatotherperson, Motel 6 Wendover, CC BY-SA 3.0, 12. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 11. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 10. rollingrck, NYC Hotdog cart, CC BY 2.0, 9. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 8. Wikipedia Commons.com (Public Domain), 7 – 5. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 4. MaxPixel.com (Public Domain), 3. User:BenBurrnnett, Descendants of Gambino Crime Family 2014-07-15 20-23, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 1. Pixabay.com (Public Domain)