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HOW THE FEDS LEARNED TO PROTECT WITNESSES – PART TWO

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 1, 2010 at 8:45 am

The Witness Security Program also known as (WITSEC) was authorized by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Since then, the U.S. Marshals have protected, relocated and given new identities to more than 8,200 witnesses and 9,800 of their family members.

Before 1978, no Marshals Service regulations forbade deputies from accepting gratuities from witnesses. Among the gifts received by some marshals were dinners, parties and cases of liquor. Even some WITSEC Inspectors socialized with certain witnesses—taking them to dinner, visiting their homes or inviting them to the Inspectors’ own homes.

Financial violations exposed marshals and witnesses to economic risk or disadvantage. Some deputies borrowed money from witnesses; some witnesses borrowed money from deputies. Some marshals went into business with witnesses. Others gambled in high-stakes card or dice games with witnesses, losing or winning hundreds of dollars.

Some deputies helped their business friends sell or rent homes and/or businesses to witnesses. This created a blatant conflict-of-interest and jeopardized both the deputy and the witness.

However innocent his motive, the marshal became a potential target for charges of corruption. The witness, in turn, felt pressured, consciously or unconsciously, to accept the offered proposal. Even if he disliked it, he dared not risk offending his protector.

Ultimately, such fraternizing proved more dangerous to the marshals—especially the Inspectors—than the witnesses. Many witnesses lodged false charges of corruption against Inspectors they had “befriended.”

By claiming that their lives were now in danger, they guaranteed another relocation. More importantly, they guaranteed the continuation of their federal subsistence, allowing themselves to escape the need to find a job.

The credibility of a witness’s charge rose if he could prove there had been an intimate, unprofessional relationship between himself and the accused Inspector. Here, specific details counted. Such details might include an accurate description of the Inspector’s house or the physical appearance of his wife.

So the more knowledge an Inspector allowed a witness to have of his private life, the greater the danger he faced that these secrets could be turned against him.

Such was the fate of Inspector Walter Belveal, of Boise, Idaho. His mistake was befriending Joseph Cantalupo, a relocated witness from the Joseph Columbo Mafia Family. Belveal helped get Cantalupo and his family drivers’ licenses, a car and a house. He also helped Cantalupo arrange clandestine meetings with a girlfriend named Rachel. Belveal and his wife often partied with Cantalupo and Rachel, sometimes allowing Cantalupo to pick up their tabs.

But Veronica Cantalupo, the hot-tempered ex-wife of the witness, hated Belveal. Believing that he was giving her ex-husband special treatment, she complained to the highest officials of WITSEC. Her charges included detailed accounts of prohibited social contacts (as of 1978) between the Inspector and Cantalupo.

While the Marshals Service launched an internal investigation, Cantalupo moved to prevent his own termination from WITSEC. He began taping all his phone conversations with Inspectors, marshals and prosecutors.

These tapes, and the testimony of Cantalupo and Rachel–who had been admitted onto the Program—destroyed the careers of a half-dozen Inspectors in Minnesota, Connecticut and New York. (During the 1980s the ranks of the Inspectors were greatly expanded, to more than 130.) Some were transferred out of WITSEC and demoted. Others—like Walter Belveal—were dismissed altogether from the U.S. Marshals Service.

“WITSEC is very dangerous that way,” warned Donald McPherson, the Inspector for Los Angeles throughout the 1980s. He estimated that, since 1978, the careers of twenty to twenty-five Inspectors had been destroyed. They had been fatally compromised—not by the bribes or violence of the Mafia, but by their own closeness to the witnesses they protected.

Copyright@1984 Taking Cover: Inside the Witness Security Program, by Steffen White and Richard St. Germain

HOW THE FEDS LEARNED TO PROTECT WITNESSES – PART ONE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 1, 2010 at 8:31 am

The Witness Security Program–also known as WITSEC–is the most important weapon the U.S. Justice Department has against organized crime.

Created by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, it is run by the U.S. Marshals Service. Since 1971, this agency has protected, relocated and given new identities to more than 8,200 witnesses and 9,800 of their family members.

Its clients provide testimony against drug traffickers, terrorists, organized crime members and other major criminals. They have come to this knowledge, in most cases, because they were themselves a party to criminality. “You’ve got to take a small bum to catch a bigger bum,” was how one deputy U.S. marshal summed up the approach.

Deputy U.S. marshals provide 24-hour protection to all witnesses while they are in a high-threat environment, including pretrial conferences, trial testimonials and other court appearances.

According to the website of the U.S. Marshals Service: “No Witness Security Program participant who followed security guidelines has been harmed while under the active protection of the U.S. Marshals.”

But that does not mean that witness-security came easily to the marshals assigned to it. On the contrary, creating an effective Witness Security Program was literally an on-the-job learning experience.

At the start of the program, the Secret Service was called in to train the marshals in security techniques. The Secret Service had been guarding Presidents since 1901. During the next sixty-two years, of the ten Presidents guarded by that agency, only one—John F. Kennedy—had died at the hands of an assassin. Such an agency, believed the top officials of the U.S. Marshals Service, must know its business.

But the Secret Service did not know the type of people the marshals would be assigned to protect. The Secret Service had been used to guarding important government officials and their families. These were decent, hard-working, law-abiding people.

But the marshals were now living intimately with charges who were mostly hardened criminals. Clashes between the law-enforcing marshals and the law-breaking witnesses were inevitable.

Many of the marshals were appalled to learn that most witnesses expected the government to provide them with a lifetime of luxury. As the witnesses saw it: they were risking their lives on the government’s behalf. That they were doing so to escape a prison sentence or a gangland contract didn’t matter.

What mattered to them was that they had become pariahs, hated and despised by their former friends and even, in some cases, their own families. They had become informers—“finks,” “rats,” “stool pigeons,” “songbirds,” “squealers.” To add to their anguish, they knew that “straight” society—including many of their new protectors—regarded them with equal contempt.

Most witnesses came from major cities within Northeastern states. Marshals who also came from urban centers usually got along better with their charges than deputies from rural communities. The city-bred marshals rejected the immorality of the witnesses. But they understood, from their own experiences, the pressures and temptations of big-city living.

Marshals from rural areas had grown up with a simpler, more fundamentalist view of the world which lay beyond their small towns. They believed absolutely in such old-fashioned values as hard work, thrift, and faith in God and country. To the city-bred witnesses, these deputies were naïve rednecks. To the rural marshals, the witnesses were animals. These deputies resented even more having to risk their lives on behalf of such hoodlums.

The outcome of these resentments and conflicts was that, after a week or two, the marshals were usually kicked out of the witness’s home. Then they spent the rest of their protective assignment waiting in unmarked cars parked nearby.

In many cases, relationships between marshals and witnesses grew too close. This compromised the professional ethics of the deputies and sometimes the safety of the witnesses. These violations of both the law and common sense usually fell into two categories: (1) social contacts; and (2) financial dealings.

Social violations exposed witnesses to danger by making needless trips from the security site. In New Jersey, a marshal repeatedly escorted a witness to another town so the latter could visit his girlfriend. During one of these visits, the marshal got drunk at an engagement party. Wearing only a pair of swimtrunks, he set out to drive home with a young woman. On the way there, he lost control of his car and plowed into a house.

When police arrested him, he could not produce his credentials as a deputy U.S. marshal. To prove his identity, he called the witness: “Can you bring my ID over here to police headquarters?” The witness made the trip, without an escort. When the U.S. Marshals Service learned about the incident, its reaction was a cover-up.

In other cases, marshals took witnesses to posh restaurants and nightclubs without first screening these places. Such a precaution would have revealed that many of these establishments were owned or frequented by mobsters. Some deputies went bar-hopping with witnesses or joined them for trips to whorehouses.

Copyright@1984 Taking Cover: Inside the Witness Security Program, by Steffen White and Richard St. Germain

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