An Irvine man who says he worked as an undercover informant for the FBI, most notably as a Muslim convert in an anti-terrorism case, filed a lawsuit Friday accusing his law enforcement handlers of violating his civil rights and endangering his life.
Craig Monteilh, 47, says he worked as an informant for the FBI from 2004 through 2008, providing information and assistance in narcotics, bank robbery and murder for hire investigations before being asked to go undercover as part of an anti-terrorist effort in Orange County, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Monteilh alleges that the FBI essentially cut him loose after a supervisor bungled an operation that would have led to the discovery of “bomb making materials” in a Tustin mosque. Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, his FBI handlers reneged on a promise to implement an “exit strategy” that was to include back pay and severance pay and help with beginning a life with a new identity.
Monteilh also accused the FBI of breaking a promise to clear up a grand theft conviction he says was the result of his work as an informant in a 2006 steroids distribution case. His suit also names the Irvine Police Department and the detective who investigated the case.
“The government will have the opportunity to defend the lawsuit in court,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a prepared statement. “However, the accusations appear to be desperate attempts by Mr. Monteilh to personally benefit at the expense of law enforcement officers and the Muslim American community.”
Monteilh says in his lawsuit that his work for the bureau at times placed his life in jeopardy. At one point after his cover was blown, he said, Muslim extremists “ordered a ‘fatwa’ ” against him and the Romania Mafia, Mexican Mafia and a white supremacist group all wanted him dead.
Monteilh said he warned the FBI of the threats against him and asked to be placed in protective custody while serving a 16-month state prison sentence for the grand theft conviction, but that his request was ignored and he was left in the general population of Wasco State Prison.
He said he was attacked several times in prison, including an April 2008 incident in which he was allegedly stabbed multiple times in the legs by members of a white supremacist group called Public Enemy Number One. The assault, he said, left him with permanent scars and reduced mobility.
Monteilh said the FBI recruited him to infiltrate drug trafficking groups shortly after his 2004 release from prison, where he was serving a sentence for forgery. That led to stints with the bank robbery and murder for hire squads, according to his lawsuit.
His most sensitive assignment began in 2006, when he said he was approached to work under a program called “Operation Flex,” in which he assumed the identify of a Muslim convert and went undercover to identify extremists and gather intelligence.
Under the direction of his FBI handlers, Monteilh assumed the identify of Farouk Al-Aziz and claimed to be a new Muslim convert of French and Syrian descent, his suit alleges. Monteilh said he was given the code name “Oracle” and instructed to spy on the Islamic community.
To support his cover, Monteilh said he learned to read, write and speak Arabic, became well versed in the pillars of the Islamic faith and began dating Muslim women.
After his successful immersion in the Muslim community, particularly at the Islamic Center of Irvine, Monteilh said he was approached by extremists who attempted to “radicalize” him. He says the information he provided led to the indictment of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi last February.
According to an FBI agent who testified at Niazi’s bail hearing last year, Niazi was secretly recorded by an informant while initiating jihadist rhetoric and threatening to blow up abandoned buildings. Monteilh says he was the informant who made the recording -- a claim the FBI will neither confirm nor deny.
Niazi, who was born in Afghanistan, has not been charged with terrorism. Rather, he was charged with lying on his citizenship and passport applications for failing to disclose that his brother-in-law is a close associate of Osama bin Laden. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Monteilh first went public with his charges in February, upsetting members of the Muslim community and some civil libertarians who were critical of the practice of informants being placed undercover in mosques.
Monteilh’s claims of working for the bureau in some capacity were confirmed in December when he persuaded a judge in West Covina to unseal court records showing that his probation in a theft case was terminated early at the behest of the FBI in 2007.
A transcript of a hearing in the case revealed that a prosecutor told the judge that Monteilh had provided “very, very valuable information” that had proven “essential” to a federal prosecution.