Southern California officers talk with a suspect.
Photo Dale Stockton
Corporal Kennedy Hawes of the Little Compton (R.I.) Police Department interviews a suspect. PHOTO LAUREN R. BAMBERGER
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
This column first appeared on PoliceOne.com.
In the November/December 2005 issue (p. 32), Part 1 of this series discussed three creative and amazingly effective ploys developed by Pat McCarthy, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago streets and a national expert at developing informants, that can help you turn gangbangers into informants. In Part 2 you'll find four more.
The RICO Scam
"Many bad guys, including gangbangers, operate with a sky-is-falling outlook," McCarthy observes. "They think we're following them and listening to their phones all the time. They're afraid the full force and fury of law enforcement is about to come crashing down and bury them at any moment."
If you know a 'banger who's paranoid like that and a little gullible, as many are, you can plant a time bomb that ticks away in his head and compels him to feed you savory morsels of intelligence as his only hope of escaping disaster.
The idea is to prey on the criminal fear of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, which was designed to fight organized crime and which the government also uses against street gangs and drug organizations.
"Acting very secretive and concerned, approach your prospective informant in private and ask him, 'Jose, have you been followed lately or questioned at all by the feds? The reason I ask is that an FBI agent I know tells me they're putting together a RICO charge on somebody I know, but he won't tell me who. I kinda think it might be you. Do you know about RICO?'"
Build RICO up as a huge bogeyman. "What I've seen happen in the past," you can say, "is that the feds zero in on someone and set up all sorts of surveillance on that person to document even petty crimes, like smoking dope or shoplifting. Once they get him on the small stuff, then they go for a conspiracy conviction under RICO."
With him getting a little twitchy, move on to the favor you're willing to do. Tell him, "We've had our differences, but I like you and I don't think you deserve that treatment. Let me see if I can find out more about who they're investigating. If it's you, I'll be up front and tell you.
"In the meantime, I think I know how you can help yourself get free of all this. What I'd like to be able to do is distract the feds with some solid information on somebody else, somebody bigger they'd want to investigate. If you can give me something solid, I'll take it to them without telling them anything about where I got it, and I'll do my best to use that to get the spotlight off of you."
Tell him to take some time to think it over and give him your card. Chances are he'll be calling.
Editor's Note: Some departments have directives that may prohibit street officers from working with informants. The tactics in this article can prove very effective, but check departmental regs to make sure you stay out of trouble. If your agency has such a prohibition, consider talking with an administrator about a modification to permit the use of these techniques.
State vs. Federal Charges
"Most gangbangers when they're arrested are worried, thinking about jail time, their girlfriends, their family members. You can really rock 'em then," McCarthy says.
The fact that most street gangs these days are primarily drug trafficking organizations gives you the opportunity to use the specter of federal charges as leverage to flip an arrestee.
Explain to him that "a federal strike force" is targeting your jurisdiction, trying to develop cases on local gang members. You can reference "a conference our chief had the other day in which we were asked to keep an eye out for any cases that might be good for federal prosecution." Then remark, "I'm thinking this case might be what they're looking for."
Spread a little more BS or even pretend to make a call to the station, McCarthy suggests, then "appear to offer the suspect a choice: 'I could go with either federal or state charges on your case. I could call the feds right now and they'd definitely pick up this case. But these federal cases draw a lot more prison time.'"
Tell him you're willing to go just with the pertinent state charges provided he returns the favor with information.
Editor's Note: Procedures and relationships with prosecutors and judges vary dramatically across the country. Some areas and courts prohibit any type of deal discussion when court proceedings are underway. Discuss this option with your local prosecutors and experienced investigators to avoid potential problems.
An illusion McCarthy has performed many times in his career of recruiting informants is a scenario he calls Courtroom Magic. "This has scored me some very productive street sources who don't know to this day that they were tricked into the job," he says.
Suppose you're in a courtroom or in the corridor outside waiting for your case to be called, and you spot a subject you make to be a 'banger waiting for his case to come up. You get him alone, introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and, if you're able to establish some friendly rapport, you offer him what appears to be a straightforward business proposition: You'll help him by "talking to some people" and trying to get him off if he will confidentially relay useful street information to you.