- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

An Alexandria woman fatally shot last month in what police are calling a targeted hit worked undercover and cooperated with the FBI in violent-crime and drug cases up and down the East Coast, previously sealed records show.

Restaurant owner Bethlehem Ayele, 34, assisted in a homicide investigation in Connecticut, arranged an FBI sting in Florida and testified against drug dealers in the District.

Miss Ayele, 34, was fatally shot Oct. 25 in Alexandria while waiting at a stoplight at Mount Vernon and Commonwealth avenues in the city’s Del Ray section.

The shooting prompted immediate speculation about whether Miss Ayele’s death was tied to her testimony against members of the so-called Murder Inc. drug gang in the District.

But previously sealed court records show Miss Ayele also provided valuable help in several other felony cases over the years. Police say they are looking into whether her cooperation in other cases played a role in the shooting.

“Detectives still believe she was targeted, but they have not determined exactly why,” Amy Bertsch, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department, said yesterday.

“The detectives are aware of all of those aspects,” Miss Bertsch said. “They just don’t know if they’re connected to her murder. It’s certainly something they’re investigating.”

According to unsealed records in federal court in the District, Miss Ayele debriefed detectives in a double homicide in Connecticut.

In Florida, she worked with the FBI to set up a cocaine buy between a drug dealer and an undercover FBI agent.

She cooperated in the investigation of a drug ring in the District. She testified publicly in the 2003 and 2004 Murder Inc. trial, linking two men to the conspiracy. Various members of the gang were convicted in 31 separate murders.

Miss Ayele’s cooperation began after her arrest by U.S. Park Police in April 2000, when she was stopped for a traffic violation and officers found $20,000 in cash, drugs and a handgun in her van, according to court records.

She pleaded guilty to conspiracy in December 2000, agreeing to cooperate and forfeit more than $200,000 in seized cash, two cars and jewelry.

According to court records, there was concern about Miss Ayele’s safety as a cooperating witness during her case.

In 2001, a federal magistrate judge ruled that her case should be kept off the public docket, writing that “her cooperation, due to the nature of the case, places the personal safety of the defendant and the officers and agents working with her at substantial risk.”

A provision in her plea deal stated that the U.S. attorney’s office in the District would back her entrance into the federal witness protection program.

It is not clear whether Miss Ayele ever opted to go into the program. Federal authorities and Miss Ayele’s attorney declined to comment for this story.

When she was killed, Miss Ayele was working as a real estate agent in Alexandria. She also ran the Ohio Restaurant on H Street in Northeast. The restaurant remains closed, and family members could not be reached for comment.

According to court records, Miss Ayele was held without bond after her arrest. She was released into the custody of an FBI special agent to help in undercover investigations, including cases in Florida and Georgia.

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