THE DRUG WAR paid a visit to Stacy Litz's Powelton Village apartment on a Thursday afternoon, armed with a warrant, handcuffs and an offer.
It was September 2011, and Litz was well-aware that any deal, even a nickel bag of weed, could make her a target, but she'd chosen sides long before the law came knocking on Baring Street. Litz was a political-science major at nearby Drexel University at the time, fully engaged in libertarian and anarchist causes, denouncing government for poking around in private lives.
Litz, now 23, said that she purchased psychedelics off the Internet to use and sell to friends, that she wasn't a kingpin by any means. But one customer who bought LSD from her turned out to be an undercover officer with the State Police.
"I thought to myself, 'Oh wow, this is happening.' They didn't have their guns drawn or anything. They offered me coffee. They were being nice," Litz said, recalling her arrest during a recent interview with the Daily News.
The bust didn't make Litz an outcast among her peers in the Students for Liberty, the Drexel Student Liberty Front, the Center for a Stateless Society or the larger, worldwide libertarian community with which she interacted online.
The decision she made after her arrest did that.
"The police said, 'If you work with us, you can still get out of this,' " she recalled. Her interview with the People Paper provides a rare glimpse into the life of a former confidential informant.
Litz faced 13 felony charges and a choice, and the Lehigh Valley native agreed to become "drafted into the drug war," she said, hoping it would persuade a judge to later be lenient. She said she orchestrated one small deal for prescription drugs in March 2012, and she was sentenced to five years' probation and community service in May in Montgomery County, where she initially sold the drugs.
Litz, who grew up in Easton, graduated from Drexel while working as an informant. She briefly attended Widener University School of Law. She says her family never knew about her arrest.
Today she works as a wedding officiant, pet sitter and fitness instructor, trying to reconnect with the activist community she said shunned her. She authored a blog about being a "victim of the drug war" and wants to shed more light on the use of confidential informants, a process she said is undocumented, potentially dangerous and often just not worth it.
"It was terrible," she said. "It was like a sick game."
Police told Litz that she wouldn't be paid for her work, and she assumed that her identity would be protected. It didn't take long, however, for everyone involved in her lone deal as informant to figure out that she was the "X" in the equation, she said.
Her name spread across the Internet, on Facebook and on libertarian forums and blogs, her story included as a cautionary tale about whether a "snitch" can be rehabilitated in a booklet called Rats! Your guide to protecting yourself against snitches, informers, informants, agents, provocateurs, narcs, finks, and similar vermin.
"No one wants to know the whole story," she said of her detractors. "No one can put themselves in my shoes."
Mike Salvi, who runs a Philly meetup group called "Truth, Freedom, Prosperity," has spoken to Litz, understands her story and believes that she just needs to live with her decisions. When it comes to regaining the trust of her former circles, her actions, he said, will speak louder than her apologies.
"I have very little sympathy for her," he said. "But I'm not coldhearted."
The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office would neither confirm nor deny whether Litz was an informant, or discuss its confidential-informant guidelines or how often informants are used in criminal investigations. The Pennsylvania State Police and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office also declined to comment on their guidelines.
Lawyers who worked on Litz's case declined to comment. But Marc Neff, a Philadelphia criminal-defense lawyer, said that informant work is often murky and that any potential benefits are merely promises.
"It's very nonspecific in terms of what they're expecting from an informant, except that more is better," Neff said.
Litz said she initially was busted in 2011 because of a confidential informant, and experts say informants are embedded like invisible soldiers in all levels of narcotics investigations.
"Our criminal system is a negotiated one, and becoming a CI is just one more negotiation in the system," said Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and author of the book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.
Natapoff said few former informants ever come forward to denounce the system - as Litz is doing - because of the stigma and potential threats of being exposed.
"It is a despised class, because they are not whistle-blowers," Natapoff said. "It's very hard to be sympathetic to them, but only the government can make an informant. It's the government dangling a universal offer to every offender, saying, 'No matter what you've done, we'll cut you a deal.' There's no kind of offense, no matter how heinous or disgusting, the government is not willing to work a deal on."
The story of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old Florida woman, is the worst-case scenario, Natapoff said. Hoffman became an informant for police in Tallahassee after being arrested with marijuana and MDMA (Ecstasy) in 2008. She was murdered a short time later during a botched drug sting set up by her handlers.
The work never seemed dangerous for Litz, but she doesn't think she did all that much for her own handlers. They were difficult to get in touch with, she said - always busy with other cases, and always wanting something higher up the drug chain. The man she set up did not return requests for an interview.
As a first-time offender, Litz wondered whether she would have gotten probation on her case, regardless of whether she became an informant.
"I really don't know if it mattered," she said.
Litz said that she had not felt guilty about buying or using drugs, or felt that she was harming anyone. But that changed when she flipped sides.
"This is the only time I actually felt I really hurt somebody," Litz said. "It was a lose-lose situation."