ATLANTA -- Snitching is nothing new in the criminal justice system. An inmate who provides prosecutors with information that helps convict other criminals can get time off his or his sentence in return. USA Today conducted an extensive investigation into federal court records that unveiled a seemly side of snitching deals. Some of that seemly activity happened in Atlanta.

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USA Today reporter Brad Heath said it's more common in federal court because inmates receive stricter sentences. "Almost everybody who gets charged with a federal crime ends up being convicted and almost everybody that is convicted is looking at a long sentence and one of the very few ways out is to give information to the government," he said.

Over the past five years USA Today found almost 50,000 defendants got reduced sentences in exchange for cooperating with the government. That is one of every eight people convicted of a federal crime.

Heath said the pressure to turn evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence can go to extremes. His report cites four cases at the Atlanta City Detention Center as examples of how far inmates will go to get that information.

"What was going on there was inmates in the jail were offering to sell information to their fellow inmates so that they could turn around and give it to the FBI or to other agencies in the hopes of getting a sentence reduction," Heath said.

In November 2011 Sandeo Dyson was convicted of selling information to defendants who paid him between $5,000 and $10,000. According to the article another inmate, Marcus Watkins, conducted the same type scheme. "Here in Atlanta you see prisoners basically setting up a marketplace to buy and sell it," Heath said.

"Two of the guys (Watkins and Dyson) running these kinds of enterprises have said in court records that agents knew about what they were doing and approved of what they were doing," Heath said. However the US Attorney's Office told a judge in October that an investigation found those allegations were false.

There is no way to know how often informants acquire information from brokers like Dyson and Watkins because judges typically seal that information.

One federal official, who didn't want to be identified by name, told 11Alive News the fact the government is prosecuting such cases is an indication it is not condoned. He said there is no evidence federal agents turned a blind eye to that type of activity.

You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kgrowson

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