22 June 2012

Step Right Up, Everybody's a Winner


by R.T. Lawton

You've no doubt heard the siren call of carny barkers at their stands on the midway, "Step right up, folks, everybody's a winner." And maybe you did step up, and maybe you didn't. Them guys have an enticing come-on to scam the unwary. Many of us suspect as much, yet somehow people keep trying their luck to beat the carny's game.

As scams went, we had a good one working for us too, everybody was a winner. Come on in and play. By combining federal, state and local resources, our task force picked out a one-room, one-story, old wooden building on the west side of the city and set up a t-shirt shop. This particular shop offered custom printing on any shirts or ball caps a customer wished to purchase. Inside and out, the setup was a totally legit business. Natuarally, there were a few extras not everyone knew about.

Behind the small counter at the back of the shop, sat the 300 pound proprietor. This part was pretty obvious to anyone entering the establishment. What patrons didn't know was that this previous motorcycle club member (he and I once wore the same club patch) was now a signed up Cooperating Individual for both the state and the feds. As part of our sting, he put word on the street that while he was in the business of selling t-shirts and ball caps, he also had an under the counter trade in purchasing illicit controlled substances. Business soon got busy. (At the left, we had our own shirts printed.)

In the side wall, just above the countertop was a microphone hidden behind the wall paneling. Behind the 300 pound C.I. and hanging on the wall above his head was a video camera installed inside a boxed mirror that advertised the shop in glass etching. Outside the store and across the four-lane street and half a block down was the safe house. Here, surveillance could watch a vehicle pull into the parking lot and see who went inside. A quick walk around the block by a member of the surveillance team provided a license plate number to help identify those entering the store. Plus, this is where the monitors were located for the video camera hidden behind the C.I.

A typical deal went like this:

The future defendant enters the store, looks around and waits until it's just him and the C.I. inside the building. Then, he approaches the front of the counter and negotiations commence for whatever product he has for sale. Let's say he's offering two ounces of coke or a pound of marijuana or both. The price soon gets set.

"Let me see the stuff," says the C.I.

The dealer hands over the contraband.

Our C.I. now holds up both bags of illegal drugs, one in each hand out to opposite sides, looks from one to the other and muses aloud, "Which one should I buy?"

Suddenly, the store telephone rings, He answers.

"Buy the coke," whispers a voice.

"Yes sir," our C.I. replies to one of the surveillance agents in the safe house, "your shirts will be ready on time." He hangs up and turns to the drug dealer. "Guess I'll take the coke."

Thus, we end up with drugs in evidence, and the conversation and action on tape. The seller is free to go, for now. But wait, this is too easy. We've got to have a little fun on the job, something to laugh about later over beers.

After the purchase is concluded, the C.I. points to slips of paper and a miniature plastic trash can setting on the counter. "My store has a once a week drawing for a free t-shirt and a free ball cap for our good customers," says the C.I. "So, write your name, address and phone number on an entry slip and stick it in that small trash can there. If you win, I'll call you."

Guess who won the drawing every week. Yep, anyone who sold us drugs. And when they came to the store to collect their prize, it got even better. The C.I. had them pose with their newly won prize proudly displayed in hand just below their smiling face so he could put their photo on his Winner's Wall, which was right above the hidden microphone.

When it was time to close up shop, we had names, addresses, telephone numbers and facial photos to hand out to all the arrest teams. Not surprisinly, all of our under the counter clients pled guilty as soon as possible. Guess they didn't want to have the entirety of their stupidity exposed in open court.

For us, it was all blue smoke, mirrors and fun. Unfortunately, the other side often failed to see the humor in all this. (On the right is our personal t-shirt logo.)

4 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

R.T., first, thanks for the ALFRED HITCHCOCK MAGAZINE. I enjoyed getting to know Twin Brothers Bail Bond Firm as well as Janice Law's medium. My grandson spends days at my house while his dad works during summer. He wants me to ask you do you make your grandchildren peanut butter toast? His preference is peanut butter on multi-grain bread right out of the toaster. Instead of jelly or jam, he likes a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top.
I enjoyed your article today. It reminds of the scene in SEA OF LOVE when the NY police sends out invitations to court no-shows that they've won ballgame tickets and can pick them up by attending a luncheon. They actually did feed them lunch, then arrested the "winners" as all the servers who policemen out of uniform. By the way, it's old but one of my favorite movies.

Dixon Hill said...

(Laughing) RT I really enjoyed this one. Particularly the part where the CI posed with the perps for the "winning photos". You'd think a half-way intelligent bad guy would take one look at that wall, recognize a few guys who had something in common, and get the heck out of Dodge. Too funny that they didn't. And, having them drop their name, address, phone etc. into the pot -- classic!

Thanks, also, for the AHMM. Your story was terrific, buddy! You're one great writer.

Eve Fisher said...

Ah, the joy of winning and fame! I loved this one. Way to go!

R.T. Lawton said...

Fran, tell your grandson I will try out that cinnamon sugar sprinkle topping and see how Dylan & Cole like it. Usually, when the boys eat peanut butter they have Grandma Kiti spread it on apple slices for a snack.

There's been all kinds of stings set up by various agencies over the years. Mostly, it's whatever the agents/cops can come up with and then have fun with it for laughs and bragging rights.