Courts & Crime

FBI counterintelligence agent cops plea in bribery scheme

They met in and near shopping malls in Danbury, Conn. -- FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Lustyik, his childhood buddy Johannes Thaler and a prominent Bangladesh citizen dubbed "Caesar" who worked with Thaler at a retail store.

During their meetings and through a series of texts and emails, they hatched a scheme that ultimately would sink Lustyik's career and bring all three men to the bar of justice.

On Tuesday, Dec. 23, 52-year-old Lustyik pleaded guilty to five felony counts charging that he schemed to accept bribes for leaking confidential bureau information to Caesar, whose real name is Rizve Ahmed, about an unnamed Bangladish political figure whom Ahmed perceived as a political rival.

Documents in the case offer a glimpse into the anatomy of a public corruption case that proud agents of the FBI disdain -- a modestly paid special agent compromising himself in hopes of a big score.

"Robert Lustyik discarded the FBI's principles of 'fidelity, bravery and integrity,' and sold his badge to the highest bidder," Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said. "Greed has no place in public service or law enforcement."

The plot began with a $1,000 payment for two confidential reports on Dec. 9, 2011, according to an FBI affidavit, and soon escalated to demands from Lustyik and Thaler for $40,000 in cash, followed by monthly payments of $30,000 for a steady stream of information.

As part of the scheme, the government alleged in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New York in August, 2013, Lustyik and Thaler plotted ways to pressure Ahmed to pay them more money, apparently while being wiretapped by investigators supervised by the Justice Department's inspector general's office.

In October, 2011, Lustyik described a "master plan" in a series of emails to Thaler, writing: "So. Here is my master plan. ... we use info from (a) source within the current Bang govt and sell it to caesar's (Ahmed's) people. No one knows ... no one gets hurt," the affidavit said.

However, prosecutors charged that Ahmed did hope to inflict harm on his political foe.

In December, 2011, Thaler proposed a deal to Ahmed: "40 up front, 30 monthly and we can give you everything we have plus set up (the unnamed figure) and get the inside from the party. That would be easier than negotiating every piece of info."

Ahmed said such an arrangment would make him "a hero to my party."

In early January, the affidavit said, Lustyik pushed to close the deal, telling Thaler: "Let's just meet them. I will talk us into getting the cash ... I will work my magic ... We r sooooooo close," Lustyik said.

Thaler allegedly replied: "I know. It's all right there in front of us. Pretty soon we'll be having lunch in our oceanfront restaurant."

In late January, however, the plan began to go awry when Thaler told Ahmed that he would get no more information without cash, and Ahmed responded by threatening to turn to a retired FBI agent for information, it said.

When he learned of the threat, Lustyik replied: "What? A retired FBI agent? Who is going to be asked about info I showed them??????? I am so screwed."

Lustyik then threatened to "put a wire on n get (Ahmed and his associates) to admit they want" the Bangladesh politician "offed," meaning killed, the affidavit said. He added that no retired FBI agent could obtain the sensitive information said by Ahmed.

Lustyik continued to provide information to Thaler, who passed it to Ahmed until March, when he ceased to do so because Ahmed hadn't produced the promised payments.

Thaler and Ahmed pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit fraud and are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 23.