Informant Framed Innocent People to Aid FBI’s Seizure of the Kenmore Hotel

July 3, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

In 1994, the Kenmore Hotel on 23rd street was seized by the federal police and FBI agents. Twenty years later, Michael Powell of the New York Times profiles one of the informants that enabled what was the biggest seizure of its kind in U.S. history. Informer Earl Robert Merritt says his work at the Kenmore and other locations largely consisted of taking orders from law enforcement on who to frame. “He got $50 per arrest, and $100 every time he testified to a judge,” Powell reports.

Merritt’s story is astonishing and revealing of a time when Rudi Guilianni decided that the end justified the means in his goal to restore New York to lawfulness. A few of the most damning segments of the piece are excerpted below:

“I planted drugs, I planted guns, I made false reports,” Mr. Merritt said. “I was given a list — little stars by the list of tenants who I was supposed to set up.”

“I helped send hundreds of people out in handcuffs,” he added, “and I’d say 80 percent were innocent.”

He named dozens of people he said he had set up. Some served prison terms, records show. After the takeover of the Kenmore, he said, he undermined its tenants’ association, again at the direction of federal agents.

Mr. Merritt described being driven to the Manhattan district attorney’s office on a rainy evening. A prosecutor was typing statements for him, which he was going to swear to before a judge.

“Read this carefully and don’t stray from the statement,” the prosecutor told him, he said. “You’re going to have to swear to this. Do you have a problem, Tony?”

He said he looked at the prosecutor and asked: “So you want me to commit perjury?”

Last year, Merritt went to the Manhattan District Attorney with these claims, who had him interviewed by a public-corruption prosecutor. “The district attorney’s investigation appears to have been confined to pulling court files,” Powell writes. “In eight months of interviewing dozens of people connected with the Kenmore, including former tenants, those arrested and police officers, I did not find one who had been questioned anew.” (Image: @theenmoy)