Bullet ended federal witness’s plan to ‘go legit’
But Ayele’s outlook changed when she realized that investigators hadn’t forgotten about her after all.
On Nov. 4, 2000, Ayele, then 28, was arrested once again. This time, the charges were far more serious than driving on a suspended license. Aside from a huge stash of cocaine, authorities found two guns and more than $20,000 in the van. Raids of Ayele’s home and relatives’ houses turned up another $200,000 in cash and other assets that investigators traced to Ayele’s drug dealing, including expensive jewelry, two cars and a pair of personal watercraft.
Facing decades in federal prison, Ayele soon decided to cooperate in hopes of getting prosecutors to persuade a judge to give her a break at sentencing.
A federal magistrate judge kept her court case off the public docket, saying Ayele’s “cooperation, due to the nature of the case, places the safety of the defendant and the officers and agents working with her at substantial risk.”
After her arrest, Ayele began a new life as a cooperating witness. She worked under cover for the FBI to set up a cocaine deal between an undercover agent and a drug dealer in Florida, court records show. She assisted in an investigation into a double homicide in Connecticut, and she testified in 2004 against a group of D.C. drug dealers facing murder and other charges in a massive federal conspiracy case.
When Ayele took the stand in the D.C. case in 2004, defense attorneys raised objections because they said they didn’t know enough about Ayele’s undercover work to cross-examine her effectively. It turned out that the prosecution didn’t know about all of her work for the FBI, either.
“At the time that Ms. Ayele hit the stand, I knew there were other investigations she had assisted in,” prosecutor Arvind K. Lal told the judge overseeing the case in which Ayele testified, according to transcripts.
“I asked her when I met with her, ‘Can you tell me about it?’ And she said, no. And I spoke to her agent, her controlling agent, who said yeah, it is national security terrorism-related stuff. … Since then I have found out … she cooperated with a group that investigates terrorism at the Washington Field Office.
“It was cooperation with the United States government, and when her controlling agent decided that she needed to cooperate in a national-security investigation, she cooperated.”
Officials declined to discuss Ayele’s work with the antiterrorism division. The defendants against whom she testified in the 2004 drug case were all convicted. However, while other cooperating witnesses in the same case entered the witness protection program, Ayele hardly went into hiding after the trial ended.
In June 2004, she was sentenced to time served. Within two years, Ayele had reinvented herself. She earned a real estate license and worked for a broker in Alexandria. She also had taken over the Ohio Restaurant. She was profiled in 2006 in the Washington City Paper, which reported, “Ayele takes pride in her soul cooking.” The article called the Ohio Restaurant under Ayele “a business striving to push the traditions of the past to new levels.”
But just two years earlier, while on the witness stand testifying for prosecutors about guns and drugs in Washington, Ayele’s dreams of running her own business seemed far off.
“I hoped that by the time I turned 30 that I would stop and have a family,” she said. “I don’t have any children. I’m 32 now and whatever I hoped for is just gone down the drain now.”
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