Showing posts with label mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mafia. Show all posts

25 November 2011

Flying Without a Parachute

There was a time early in my career when we wanted to get into a house, but had no probable cause for a legal entry. Without probable cause, any evidence found inside the residence becomes fruit of the poisonous tree. In short, this means any items found inside get thrown out as inadmissible evidence in court.
So here's how it all went down.

The Setup
A street informant called the office.
"Hey, you guys got a warrant for Bopper, don'tcha?"
"Yes, why?"
"Well at ten o'clock this morning, Bopper's gonna be at James Lewis' house to make a score."
The phone got hurriedly hung up, the troops got hatted up and we all headed out to James Lewis' place where his apartment consisted of the entire third floor. We set up surveillance and waited. Time passed. A blue Cadillac pulled up out front, two men got out and went into the house. Ten o'clock went by. One of the two men, a tall thin guy, came out of the house and returned to the Cadillac, sitting on the passenger side. More time passed. Then it started.
"Bopper's walking down the street," came the radio call.
"Wait," replied the case agent.
"He's headed for the house," said the radio voice.
"Wait," said the case agent.
"He's going up on the front porch."

"Not yet," ordered the case agent.

"He has his hand on the doorknob."
"Hit it now," barked the case agent.
Four government vehicles immediately came alive, screeching up to the front of the house and bouncing over the curb. Car doors opened and agents with drawn guns came screaming out, making as much noise as possible.
"Federal Agents!"

Survival Instincts: Fight or Flight
Bopper morphed into Panic Mode. Bless his heart, he ran into the house we wanted to enter, but hadn't previously been able to acquire probable cause for a legal entry. However, there are exigent circumstances known as Hot Pursuit for situations like these. When law enforcement is in immediate pursuit of a fleeing felon, a search warrant is not needed in order for officers of the law to enter the same building which the pursued felon has just entered during the chase.
Having now found himself inside James Lewis' house, and seeing no good exit, Bopper chose to ascend the stairs to the second floor. The Thundering Herd close behind him, still hollering "Police" and "Federal Agents," shifted into Hot Pursuit Mode.
Having now arrived at the second floor landing and still not finding a good way out, Bopper continued his desperate journey upward toward James Lewis' apartment on the third floor. In full hue and cry, the mob followed at his heels.


Now, we take a short intermission to catch our breath and explain that in those days only seasoned agents had the privilige of entering the house. Snot-nose green agents, such as myself fresh out of the academy, were regularly assigned to the perimeter where nothing of consequence ever happened. Special Agent Pat got assigned to the back of the house and I got assigned to the front. We two newbies were designated to miss all the fun.
Bored, I decided to do something. Since the tall, thin Cadillac passenger had previously been inside the house, I thought maybe he'd be holding, so I knocked on the passenger window and flashed him my tin. In no time, I had him out of the car, hands on the roof, legs spread into the proper position and was patting him down. Just as I found contraband in his hip pocket, I heard a great noise behind me.
I glanced back at the house.

The Not (W)Right Brothers
Two bodies came flying out the front third-story windows and landed on top of the front porch roof. They stood up with guns in their hands. Neat.

A Sharp Drop in Business
Unknown to us, James Lewis already had company in attendance trying to conduct a little business. His company's nerves began to unravel as they noticed the Thundering Herd was ascending the stairs and coming their way. By the time Bopper burst into the room, their taut nerves snapped and they departed via the front windows.
At least now I had something to do.
Wheeling the tall, thin Cadillac passenger around in front of me, where I could keep an eye on him, I placed my gun hand on his right shoulder and pointed it at the two miscreants on the porch roof, ordering them to drop their weapons.
They looked at me, looked at their buddy the gun rest, looked at the distance to the ground and then decided, yeh, they'd drop their guns. Good thing. If there'd been a shooting match, I'm fairly certain my gun rest would have ended up hard of hearing in his right ear. Took another half hour before I had enough help to get them two off the porch roof.

One Landing for Every Launch
Back to inside the house. When Bopper made his Mad Hatter entrance into James Lewis' apartment, he was still looking for a rabbit hole. However, since all the front exits, also known as the third-story front windows, were occupied at the time, he opted for the side window. Bad choice as Bopper soon realized.
Left behind, James Lewis sat flabbergasted through it all. He'd never seen a show like this before and therefore sat quietly, readily giving up his two handguns, plus all his contraband to approaching members of the Thundering Herd.
Bopper, outside the house and now in mid-air, suddenly saw that what he had failed to consider during his hasty departure was that there was nothing to deaccelerate his downward flight, except a concrete driveway.
Turns out in all the confusion, none of us saw his exit.
At a descent rate of 32 feet per second per second, his right leg failed to stand up to the pressure of cement bringing an end to his ill advised experiment of flying without a parachute. He then crawled through a bordering hedge and "ran" away from us. Our Probable Cause had literally flown out the window. Took us an hour to catch up with him.

After that, I graduated to the level of door crasher.

So now you have the background. If you want to compare the above telling with the fictionalized published version, you'll have to acquire the Who Died in Here? anthology. All short story submissions to it required a crime in a bathroom. Author compensation was a sum of money, plus an air freshener. I still have the air freshener.

28 October 2011

Playing the Game: Part 2

When you're playing a game of any type, your opponent will sometimes make mistakes that you can take advantage of in order to better your odds of winning. Of course when you're playing the undercover game, the outcome, or score, can often be more than points or bragging rights, so you need to be quick and very adaptable.

One Bad Informant

Here's an example from my early years. A city agency from the other end of the state called up the office one morning to say they had a couple of informants lined up and they needed an undercover agent. So, I packed my bags and went. I was to be the U/C guy and the other agency would provide the surveillance teams.

In a motel out on the Interstate, the city vice detectives introduced me to CI #1. Let's call him Benny. I debriefed Benny, wrote him up as a Cooperating Individual and ran with him for two days and nights. He duked me into several alleged criminals, but somehow, a deal never went down. I became suspicious as to what his game really was, soon terminated our relationship and strongly suggested he leave town so that we would not run into each other again.

Then, I went on to CI #2. This guy was a piece of work in progress.

The Street Family

CI #2 lived in a house where he controlled his own "street family." Being the paranoid guy he was about wire taps, he allowed no phones in the house. That meant whenever I wanted him to go do a deal, I had to park in a shopping mall, walk across six lanes of traffic and knock on his front door. So, early one evening just about dusk, I'm standing there banging on his front entrance.

Knock, Knock

"Who's there?" inquires a voice from inside the house.

"Eli," says I, because that was the name I was using at the time.

The door opens up, and who's the guy doing the opening, but Benny himself. Strange, he never told me during the debriefing that he knew CI #2, but I can tell by the sudden expression on his face that he definitely remembers who I am from our two days spent together. So what am I to do? I don't want my cover blown to the "street family," and I sure don't want to jeopardize CI #2's situation.

There was nothing else for it. Violence does indeed solve some problems. I instictively reached through the doorway, grabbed Benny by the throat, hauled him out of the house and dragged him over to the parking lot where we, shall I say, came to a mutual understanding of great portends. It must have been an effective lecture on my part, because I learned much later that Benny, on that very same night, proceeded to rip off a young entrepreneur for fifty pounds of pot in order to have travelling money out of the area.

One More Time

Of course my problem now is I still have to go back to the house because CI #2 is too damn paranoid to have a telephone in the place.

I knock on the door.

"Who's there?' inquires a voice from inside.

Seems like I've been here before.

"Eli," says I, cuz I'm still using that name.

The door opens up and there's CI #2. "Come on in," he says.

I walk into the living room and everybody in the "street family" is laughing.

"What's so funny?" I ask.

"About forty minutes ago," explains one of the street family, "there was a knock at the door and Benny went to answer it. Then this long arm reaches in, grabs Benny by the throat and we ain't seen him since."

At this point, I had to laugh too. It really was funny.

And, that's my "Long Arm of the Law" story. That night, CI #2 duked me into some righteous criminals, and those deals went down the right way. Sometimes, if you make your own luck, things work out. Sometimes they don't, in which case you'd best know a different tap dance. But then when you think about it, life's a gamble anyway.

Catch ya later.

14 October 2011

Playing the Game: Part 1

Welcome back to Friday on the Firing Line. Last time you and I got together, we took a walk on the darker side of the street and had a short look at the shadow life of being undercover, acting in an alternate identity and keeping your story straight. Guess now you're about ready to move on into the realm of Playing the Game.

Active vs. Proactive

Most law enforcement officers are in the position of reacting to a crime which has been committed at a previous time. They get a call, respond to the scene of the crime, interview witnesses (if any) and collect whatever evidence is available. After that, they try to put the pieces together in a logical manner, determine the most likely suspect, build their case for prosecution and go after the criminal.

Undercover is a different animal. Here, the law enforcement officer is proactive instead of reactive. As an undercover operative, he is usually already on scene when prosecutable elements of the crime occur. If all goes as planned, he is the one who acts as witness, he is usually already holding the necessary evidence in hand and he already knows who the criminal offender is.

Getting on Scene

Here's the prologue to getting on scene for the crime to happen. The Undercover (U/C) guy normally has two ways in: the Cold Pitch, or the Informant Introduction.

With the Cold Pitch, an undercover operative introduces himself into the organization or criminal being targeted. How's he do that? Every situation is different. Here's a quick example. At the Sturgis Bike Rally one year, I slid up next to a couple of patch holders in a biker bar and started buying pitchers of beer. Naturally, I had taken the precaution of looking a lot like them before I made my approach. In the ensuing conversation, we swapped names and backgrounds. Of course mine was fictitious, plus I'd set up deep cover for this particular escapade. I soon became a Hang Around. Several months later, I patched in. But Cold Pitches don't always work.

Usually the way these things happen, the U/C guy gets "intro-ed in" by an informant, or Cooperating Individual (C.I.). Most U/C guys prefer the term "C.I.," especially if we're talking in front of that person. Seems the word "snitch" has acquired a negative connotation on the street, and we, being the sensitive people that we are, would rather that our CI's not feel bad about what they are about to do for the good of society. Plus, we don't want them to get a bad attitude and turn on us. However, snitch is the term used by the criminal side in order to convey contempt for those who betray them. Naturally, where you stand on this terminology situation depends upon which side of the line you're on.

Anyway, the U'C and the CI go to a house, bar, parking lot, or wherever the meet is set. The Cooperating Individual introduces and vouches for the U/C. If the criminal side trusts the CI (as much as they trust anybody), then the undercover guy is usually in, but from this point on, he has to carry his own weight, and he'd best do a good job. Fortunately for us, money talks. Like any market place, one party, in this case the criminal, has something to sell, be it drugs, weapons, documents, explosives, stolen goods or counterfeit currency. And, conveniently, the U/C has cash to purchase these items. The stage is set and the crime is about to be committed. The Game is in play.


One small problem with this little event is that the criminal has no rules. Oh sure, he has that one Maxim: Thou shalt not get caught. And, sometimes this makes him cunning, with a bag of tricks.

The U/C on the other hand, has a multitude of rules as mandated by his organization, plus the rule of law. Being a fed, my Special Agent Manual was over two inches thick, and that was just one book of rules we had to follow. In short, the bad guys had their game and we had ours. They did whatever they could to sell their product, make a profit and not get caught. We relied on blue smoke and mirrors, a con man's game, in order to be on scene when the crime was committed, bust the criminal at some point, and yet walk away without violating any laws or agency rules. Sometimes it was like tight rope balancing on a high voltage wire. No missteps allowed.

Often, for one reason or another, the deal didn't go down, the criminal skated and we didn't get him that day. Maybe he got spooked, or maybe he just got lucky. No long term problem on our part, we had our own Maxim: The bad guys had to be right every time, we only had to be right once. And that one time was when we took him off the playing board for several years, maybe even permanently. It was a game with potential consequences for both sides.

See you in a fortnight for Playing the Game: Part 2.