Investigations: Investigating Robbery (part 3 of 3)


My last article featured the fictional robbery of the Moh-egan Sun casino in Connecticut. The robbery was performed with military planning and precision by a well-trained, well-equipped, 12-person crew. Approximately $600,000 was stolen, and in the ensuing panic in the casino four people, all elderly, were trampled to death, two additional people died from heart attacks and numerous others suffered an assortment of broken bones and contusions.

When the massive initial investigative efforts didn t bring investigators closer to solving the case, a multi-agency task force was created headed up by Frank Kelleher, special agent in charge of the North/East Bureau of the FBI. Kelleher in turn reached out for his long time friend Detective Anthony Capriati, aka the Cisco Kid, of the Hartford Police Department to assist in the investigation.

Four months later, the task force was no closer to solving the case. Capriati s estranged, mob-connected brother told Capriati what he didn t want to hear, that he had to look inside his own family cops to solve the case. This posed an ethical dilemma for Capriati that spiraled him into depression. He was out of contact for more than a week.

Capriati s partner, Paul Amaral, and forensic specialist Shirley Bascomb finally located Capriati when a patrol officer spotted his car in the parking lot of the Hartford Public Library. Amaral and Bascomb found him in the research section, poring over a pile of law books and religious texts.

What in the world are you doing? Bascomb asked.

Cisco looked up. Research. Everything you need to know about motive is in the Bible. The reason why people commit crimes always involves one of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. In this robbery, it s a combination of greed and wrath.

Wrath? What the hell is wrath? Bascomb asked.

Cisco smiled. Dante described wrath as a perverted sense of the love of justice turned to revenge and spite.

Bascomb looked at Amaral and shook her head in disbelief. I don t see what any of this has to do with the robbery, she said. We need cold, hard, scientific facts, not a lesson in religion.

You re into science, Shirley. You think investigative work is done in the lab. You re very good at it. Everything to you is black or white. I deal with the dark side of human behavior, the nuts and bolts of why people do what they do. Together we make a good team, but neither of you is going with me on this one. This is going to get very dirty.

With that, Cisco got up and walked out. They followed, trying to convince him he needed their help, but he got in his car and waved goodbye.

What the hell s going on? Amaral said.

You got me, Bascomb replied. But did you notice the law journal he had open on the desk? It was on the Patriot Act. I wonder why he s studying that?

How Cisco Solved the Case

After leaving his brother, the Cisco Kid went through several days of depression, but then he went to work. People were dead he couldn t just walk away.

It didn t take a genius to figure out the planning and execution of the casino robbery required the sort of skills associated with specialized branches of the military (Army rangers, Navy seals, etc.) or the police (SWAT teams, ERTs, etc.). Connecticut consists of 169 cities and towns, but only 100 or so have organized police departments. Of those 100 cities and towns, only a few police departments are large enough to require a standalone SWAT or ERT unit.

Capriati concentrated on those. He spent a week driving through the big-city police parking lots at various times of the day, looking for greed. Most cops even those who are single can t afford luxury cars, so the typical police parking lot features standard Ford trucks and SUVs. In the New Greenwich police parking lot, Capriati came across a brand new Jaguar XJ. Loaded, it went for approximately $80,000. A check of the plate came back to a Daniel Miller. Miller was a 10-year veteran of the department and member of the New Greenwich ERT.

Further investigation revealed Miller and four other members of the ERT were also in the National Guard and had returned the previous year from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Cisco ran a financial check on Miller and learned he had recently filed for bankruptcy, but was still making hefty alimony and child-support payments to his former wife, and living in an upscale condo with the latest in a string of recent girlfriends.

Cisco s sources told him Miller had been hurt on the job and off work for the past two months. Apparently he had responded to a fight in progress in an alley outside a local bar and was attacked by several unknown men and badly beaten. Word on the street was that Miller had been set up by his brother officers to send Miller a message.

Cisco also learned the New Greenwich ERT doubled as a forced-entry squad for the narcotics division when there was information drug dealers had fortified the premises or were more prone than usual to be armed. There were rumors of an investigation by the State Attorney s office of missing drugs and money from premises forcibly entered by the ERT team.

None of this proved Miller had anything to do with the casino robberies, but Cisco s gut told him Miller was dirty. He figured Miller was beaten because he bought the Jaguar, which was a pretty serious red flag in law enforcement circles. Cisco s sources also told him members of the ERT team who went to Afghanistan had left as solid citizens, but when they returned a year later were damaged goods.

The question: How to proceed? What Cisco wanted was a wiretap on Miller s condo and in every other ERT member s home. He also wanted a bug put in Miller s Jag. In Connecticut, municipal police officers don t have the legal authority to apply for wiretaps, but the state police and feds do. Cisco was afraid if he involved either agency he would lose control of the investigation, even though he would have to be a co-affiant on any wiretap application.

Eventually, Cisco contacted Kelleher, the FBI SAC in charge of the casino robbery investigation and a close friend for more than 20 years. Cisco insisted Kelleher meet with him alone in one of the parking garages at the Bradley International Airport.

The Feds

Kelleher brought a federal prosecutor with him.

Who s she? Cisco asked, motioning toward a female waiting in Kelleher s car.

Cynthia Barnes. She s the new prosecutor assigned to the casino case. It s been weeks since you ve been heard from, so I figured you must have something, and she might come in handy. Kelleher said.

Cisco told Kelleher everything he needed to know, but not how he knew it. He also wouldn t tell Kelleher what department he was referring to or who the suspects were. Kelleher wanted the names of Cisco s confidential reliable informants, but Cisco replied he would go to jail before releasing their names, and Kelleher believed him.

As Cisco had predicted, things got very dirty after his meeting with Kelleher. It was claw and fang time. Kelleher and Barnes were under a great deal of pressure to show some results in the case, and wanted to use provisions of the Patriot Act to have bureau agents place wiretaps on phones and bugs in vehicles. Cisco was completely opposed to this idea and wanted to go with a traditional wiretap and eavesdropping warrant, reasoning that this was not a case of terrorism, it was a robbery, and he didn t want to lose evidence in court simply because they were in a rush. And when pressed for details, Cisco held back until he was certain the right team of street-wise agents, troopers, and city cops would lead the investigation.

Because Cisco would not identify his sources, he was cautioned by judges, threatened by U.S. Attorneys, demoted from detective to officer one day and promoted back to detective the next. He was called to a secret federal grand jury, and placed briefly in a cell for refusing even en camera to name his sources. In the end, however, the wiretaps, roving wiretaps and bugs were all approved. The case was too big not to.

The Bug

Cisco had known from the beginning the crew who had done the robbery was too big 11 men, plus the female driver for them all to keep their mouths shut. Plus, the $600,000 split evenly was only $50,000 each. Cisco did not reveal until the last minute he knew where the getaway car was it had been owned by Miller s girlfriend, a stripper at one of Hartford s night spots. Rather than bring it to a chop shop, Miller had sold it to a cop from another town across the state. (Greed!)

Cops don t talk regular business, let alone the details of a robbery, on their home or cell phones. In the end, it was Miller s Jag that did them in. You can t keep a federal investigation completely secret, and when members of the ERT got a little nervous about some vague rumors of impending doom, they blamed it on Miller. Three of them took a ride with Miller in his Jag and threatened to kill him while providing details about the cash taken in the robbery that only those involved would know.

What happened next was a stunning blow to law enforcement across the nation. Twelve people, 11 of whom were cops, were arrested. The feds played one against the other, and eventually Miller rolled and coughed up the rest, agreeing to testify in exchange for a lighter jail sentence and the promise of his pick of where to do his time.

The New Greenwich Police Department is in shambles. Its chief resigned, and the usual national search for a new chief is underway. The civil law suits from victims next of kin are flying fast and furious. The feds held one news conference after another, but never mentioned it was the local police who cracked the case.

The cops who had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the National Guard all claimed they suffered from combat-induced, post-traumatic stress syndrome. On appeal, their sentences were reduced from life without parole to 25 years. The rest, except Miller, of course, got life in prison.

The Cisco Kid was pretty much ostracized by everyone except Amaral and Bascomb. It wasn t that the other cops disapproved of what he had done, it just was that Cisco was, well, different. He didn t even receive so much as a good job from the feds, or a letter of commendation for his personnel file.

He was OK with it, however. Good had triumphed over evil. He took a trip to Florida, but decided driving a bus for Disney World and being a member of the cast wouldn t work for him. He went back to work, and likes to sit alone in a crowded police cafeteria sipping his soup, trying to figure which horses to bet on in the afternoon and whether to box his badge in the daily lottery.


Even in this current age of terrorism, it s not as easy as the public thinks to get a federal judge to issue a warrant(s) to wiretap phones, use roving wiretaps, shotgun microphones and place listening devices in cars. The threat to a citizen s privacy is much greater in government wiretapping which may go on for months than a regular search warrant that remains much more limited in scope and duration. Therefore, judicial scrutiny is much more rigorous. And, you also must convince the judge all other investigative means have been tried or will likely fail.

Feet on the Ground

In today s world of investigative technology, it s easy to lose sight of the traditional aspects of policing. While forensic science continues to revolutionize the art of detective work, it s still feet on the ground, a keen knowledge of human behavior and street-level contacts that solve most cases. This fictional case illustrated a blend of technology and basic police work. But don t lose sight of the fact that there is no substitute for experience!


Reminder: This case is fiction, including all references to actual departments, units, etc. Any reference to actual persons is purely coincidental.


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