The government was engaged in a clandestine spying operation in San Francisco, placing microphones near bus stops to monitor conversations.
Jeff Harp, former special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke about an operation in which agents — without obtaining any sort of warrant — hid microphones under rocks and in trees between March 2010 and January 2011 to bring down real estate investors engaged in fraud, KPIX 5 News reports.
One specific place targeted by FBI agents was the Oakland courthouse. They embedded microphones in a bus stop outside the courthouse, hoping to hear incriminating evidence of real estate fraud. Agents also placed mics in the light fixtures just outside the building near the steps. Inside the courthouse, agents put a bugged backpack near one of the statues.
These real estate investors have been under investigation for bid rigging, which reportedly occurred at property foreclosure auctions. Michael Marr, one of the individuals recorded, was indicted in 2014. Marr has pleaded innocent in an ongoing court case.
This operation, said Harp, must have occurred with authorization from higher-ups in the law enforcement agency.
“An agent can’t just go out and grab a recording device and plant it somewhere without authorization from a supervisor or special agent in charge,” said Harp.
Given that there was no warrant involved in the surveillance operation, a lawyer for one of the real estate investors is hoping to have the recorded conversation thrown out as inadmissible.
“Speaking in a public place does not mean that the individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy…private communication in a public place qualifies as a protected ‘oral communication’… and therefore may not be intercepted without judicial authorization,” the lawyer told KPIX 5 News.
Marr’s lawyer is arguing the surveillance is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the Wiretap Act.
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