Viper Snitch Hits a Glitch

He was the mystery informant in the Viper militia case. Now he's resurfaced after a year on the run. And he wants what's coming to him.

If the investigation itself went smoothly, however, its aftermath proved a nightmare, according to Nolan.

"I don't know how it all unraveled," he says.
Nolan says that officials at the ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office promised that his identity would never be revealed. To be safe, Nolan would be arrested with the rest of the defendants, paraded in chains in front of the others and then released under the cover story that he had worked out a deal with prosecutors. The other members might consider him a coward, but his identity as an infiltrator would remain hidden.

So, on the morning of July 1, Nolan reported to the ATF-leased apartment where Viper Team had been secretly videotaped, and he waited to be arrested.

Hours later, he was still waiting.
Later he got a call from an ATF agent. "Things are just crazy down here. If I were you, I'd pack my shit and get out of there," Nolan says the agent told him. Less than 10 minutes later, he left.

"Within a week, the media was crawling up my ass," Nolan says. He attempted to continue on as a manager of Shooter's World, but by July 9, a television crew showed up at the front door wanting to interview him. He slipped out the back door into a friend's car and sped off.

Nolan figured he had to get out of town. "I lived in a bulletproof vest in those days," he says, patting his chest to show that he no longer wears one at all times.

Days later, he began a 15-month odyssey which would take him to every region of the country. He believed the traveling was necessary to keep him from people who meant him harm. But more frustrating, he says, was his treatment by government officials.

The ATF offered to put him in a witness-protection program, but Nolan rejected its constraints. He would have to cut off ties to family and give up any old possessions which might identify him. He would be relocated in a new city and supported for a short while before being left to fend for himself.

"If I had murdered 12 people and had ratted out on the Mob, I could understand that kind of treatment. But I was asked to get into this," he says.

Believing that he still was owed back pay as well as reimbursements for expenses that he had incurred in the Viper investigation, Nolan says he complained bitterly to government officials.

ATF agent Steve Ott acknowledged that Nolan has complained, but said that the U.S. Attorney's Office is dealing with the former informant. Viper prosecutor Joseph Welty wouldn't discuss Nolan's predicament before the end of the Floyd trial.

For a time, Nolan lived in Texas and was in close contact with the ATF, which paid his rent.

During other periods, he claims to have been completely cut off from government agents.

About a year ago, he says, he returned to Phoenix with 92 cents in his pocket and stayed just long enough to get a legal name change and a new driver's license. He won't reveal what name he currently uses. Since July of last year, he says, he's lived in places from California to Maine, Washington to the deep South, Texas to near the Canadian border. No place has he stayed in for more than four months.

And, before returning this time to Phoenix, he claims to have spent a few months living near a lake, fishing for his meals.

"I am so sick of fish," he says.
The constant moving has left him $14,000 in debt. But he says that despite receiving a $7,500 government reward for the conviction of the first 10 Viper defendants, who pleaded guilty and received sentences from 18 months to nine years, the government still owes him $25,000 for the expenses he's incurred bringing the Vipers to justice. (Defendant Chuck Knight was convicted in a trial in June and is serving a four-year, nine-month sentence. Chris Floyd's trial is expected to go to the jury Friday.)

"They'll want receipts. But screw them. I'm not giving them receipts," he complains. "All I want is for them to straighten out the mess they created."

Nolan tells of numerous jobs he's lost when employers find out who he really is. And although he has a new legal name, he can't turn over his social security card without revealing his old identity. So he tells employers he can't supply one. No card, no job.

"I'm never going to find gainful employment. I don't have a life anymore. I don't have a chance for a life anymore. All I want to do is pay my debts. I didn't have to come forward and help. But I did," he says.

"I go nowhere without a gun. It doesn't mean there's going to be a shootout at the OK Corral or that I'll ever get a chance to use it. I don't want any problems."

From prison Chuck Knight denies that Nolan is in danger: "Nobody in my entire circle of friends has ever talked about hurting Drew Nolan. I bear him no ill will." As for Nolan's current predicament, Knight says: "You reap what you sow. His naivete cost him, exactly as mine has cost me, except in my case it's much worse."

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