01/13/2006

Pa. police informant killed during botched undercover drug buy

By TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER

WILKES-BARRE  A botched undercover drug buy lead to the stabbing death of a confidential informant who was attacked Tuesday while under surveillance by officers with the Luzerne County Drug Task Force, police confirmed Thursday.

Kevin DSouza, 25, of Lehigh Street, Wilkes-Barre, was stabbed more than 20 times after officers, who had set up the buy, lost sight of him and his killer behind tractor-trailer beds that were parked along Stevens Road, police said.

Police on Thursday issued a John Doe arrest warrant for the suspect, a black male between 17 and 20 and known only by the street names of Smoke and Jay. Police believe he fled to the Philadelphia area. He remained at large as of Wednesday night.

DSouzas mother, Sheila, traveled from Florida to Wilkes-Barre to meet with authorities Thursday regarding the circumstances of his death.

She declined to comment when reached outside Lisman Funeral Home, where DSouzas body was being held. But a friend of DSouzas, who also came to the funeral home, denounced police for failing to protect him.

The friend, who declined to give his name, described DSouza as a proud parent of two children. He said police should have monitored DSouza more closely and given him a protective vest.

Its so sad. The cops were not doing their jobs, he said

DSouzas death marked the first time a confidential informant has been killed while working with any drug task force operated by the state Office of Attorney General, said Frank Noonan, regional director of the offices Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, which had arranged Tuesdays controlled buy.

At a press conference Thursday, Noonan and Luzerne County District Attorney David Lupas said task force officers intended to maintain sight of DSouza, but Smoke unexpectedly changed the pre-set meeting place from the Quik Mart at Spring Street and state Route 309 to Stevens Road.

The plan was for him to stay in sight, Noonan said. Unfortunately the perpetrator changed the plans and Mr. DSouza, for whatever reason, went along with him.

A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Times Leader on Thursday that officers on the scene initially wanted to stop the buy once they lost sight of DSouza, but the officer in command, who was from the attorney generals office, told them not to do so.

Asked to confirm that information, Noonan said: The whole thing took place within a minute. As far as wanting to go in, I dont know. There might have been some discussion. Officers were concerned.

Noonan said Kingston police officer Ed Palka, one of 10 task force members on the scene, was so concerned that he called DSouza on a cell phone to ascertain if there was any problem.

There were certain code words they used to determine he was fine, that he had no problem whatsoever, Noonan said. Thats why the officers werent alerted.

Unaware DSouza had been attacked, the task force members watched Smoke calmly walk out from behind the trailers and enter building 320 at the Sherman Hills apartment complex approximately 200 yards away, Noonan said. Officers were preparing to move in to arrest him when Palka attempted to phone DSouza again. When he got no answer, task force members went to the area behind the trailers and found him mortally wounded.

DSouza was discovered at about 5:05 p.m. He was transported to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m.

Lupas said authorities are investigating several possible motives for the slaying, including robbery because the $300 DSouza had been given to make the drug buy was missing. Investigators also are looking into the possibility DSouzas position as an informant had been exposed.

Noonan said DSouza had been working as a confidential informant for some time and had previously made controlled buy from Smoke in the same area of town, just five days before the stabbing.

My personal belief is Smoke intended to kill this fellow, Noonan said. We had a plan, but the murderer had a plan to get him to a secluded area. He (DSouza) felt confident with him even though thats not what he wanted to do.

Dozens of officers converged on the Sherman Hills complex shortly after the stabbing. According to the arrest affidavit in the case, police conducted numerous interviews Tuesday and Wednesday and learned Smoke had been inside the apartment of Diana Cheecchia, which was one of 30 apartments searched by police Tuesday night.

Lupas said Thursday that officers did not recognize him as the suspect because, at the time, they had no description of his facial features. Task force members were unable to provide information because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt that covered his face.

The affidavit says police also learned Smoke had left his jacket and other items inside Cheecchias apartment. Cheecchia consented to a search and police recovered the coat, which was covered with blood. Also recovered was a disposable camera with photographs of Smoke. The knife has not been recovered.

The affidavit says police also obtained information in the case from another Sherman Hills resident, Jamika Moore. Moore told police Smoke left her apartment Tuesday afternoon and told her if he wasnt back in an hour, he was either dead or in jail.

Heckelman told police Smoke sent him a text message on a cellular phone that said he was going to Philadelphia. The message also read Did you watch the news? I did it,  the affidavit says.

Noonan said task force members feel very, very badly about DSouzas death, but hes confident they followed procedures and did everything they were supposed to do.

Lupas said he and investigators met with DSouzas family to explain what happened. He described the meeting as cordial.

There were looking for what facts there were, Lupas said. I explained to them, and they understood it was Kevins choice to become a confidential informant.

*Times Leader staff writer Kevin Amerman contributed to this story.*

*To see *the arrest warrant issued for the man accused in the fatal stabbing, log on to  www.timesleader.com (http://www.timesleader.com) .

EXCLUSIVE

*Victim* had been ordered to keep close contact with Kingston Police. *14A*

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