Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Business on August 31, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Spencer O’Meara, executive chef at Paragon Restaurant in San Francisco, is a man passionately in love.

Yes, he has a girlfriend–a sous chef at a competitor’s restaurant. But, during business hours, his love is reserved for his single greatest passion: preparing food.

“To me, the whole restaurant business is, you work really, really hard, and you play pretty hard,” says O’Meara. “You don’t have a lot of time to play, so you play hard to try to get it in. I work 65-70 hours a week.

“So when I do play I play pretty hard. But I’m getting older though, so I don’t play as hard as I used to.”

He turned 40 in July.

“I’m extremely thankful and fortunate that I found the restaurant business as a whole,” says O’Meara. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t.

“I know I wouldn’t be earning what I’m earning, I know I would not be as successful as I am, because I was clearly unable to hack it in the other world—colleges and all of that.

“I can go to work every day and say, ‘I like my job.’ Even when it sucks, I still like it. And I wouldn’t sit there and say, ‘This sucks and I wish I did something else.’ And I’ve been in this business 20 years.”

O’Meara likens the people who make up the staff of a restaurant with those who comprise a circus “family.”

“Back in the 1980s and 1990s, before the Food Network and culinary schools got huge, you weren’t attracted to the restaurant business, you fell into it, because you had nowhere else to go, and you could be accepted into the Carney family. I got into the culinary business because I got kicked out of three different colleges, and I needed to make money.”

On a case-by-case basis, O’Meara applies compassion or discipline to keep the restaurant running smoothly.

“It’s a constant babysitting, teaching, mentoring job. If I fired everybody [who made] a decent-sized mistake, I’d be rolling over staff all the time. It’s the restaurant business. You’re dealing with different kinds of people.”

If a cook shows up drunk, O’Meara will pull his shift–once. “I’m going to do you the favor. I’m going to send your ass home, and you’re going to screw me tonight, but you’re indebted to me now. You pull it again on me and I’m done with you. But I’ll give you one, because I’ve been that guy. I’ve done it, so I can’t be a hypocrite.”

But there are offenses for which there is no appeal: “You steal from me and I’ll fire you on the spot. You punch the line cook next to you in the face and you’re done,”

O’Meara has also fired employees with a repeat history of drug- or alcohol-abuse. “We fired a server a couple of years ago who was completely wasted on her shift. She already had one or two write-ups in her jacket, so that was ‘adios.’”

Another touchy issue: Coping with the sort of humor that gives ulcers to lawsuit-conscious HR managers and CEOs.

Restaurant kitchens are staffed overwhelmingy by Latinos in their 20s and 30s, and their machismo takes the form of near-constant jokes or jibes of a sexual–and especially homophobic–nature.

The anonymous author of Waiter Rant relates that on his first day on the job, a cook asked him, “So, you take it up the ass?”

When the new waiter asked, “What kind of question is that?” he got the reply: “You’re a fag. We all know you are. It’s okay. You can tell us. C’mon. We know you’re queer.”

“As a 31-year-old baby waiter learning the ropes,” the author writes, “I’m quickly discovering that the hot topic of kitchen conversation is figuring out which waiter’s gay and discussing the merits of inserting foreign objects into other people’s rectal cavities. Ah, restaurant kitchens–they’re all about tequila, buggery and the lash.”

Says O’Meara: “In corporations—including restaurant corporations—it’s a huge HR nightmare. There’s lawsuits, you’ve got to watch out for them.” Smaller, more independent restaurants are especially at risk for such lawsuits.

You need a thick skin to work in a kitchen, warns O’meara. And if you don’t have one, “you’re the one who gets your feelings hurt” and files a lawsuit. Such people usually don’t last long in restaurants. “They usually sue you and move on.”

Those who work in restaurant kitchens need a thick skin for another reason: People will inevitably make mistakes, and they will inevitably be called to account for them—“maybe a little more harshly than in other businesses,” says O’Meara.

“Do I consider it to be right or wrong? Not necessarily. Do I consider it to be an everyday part of life in the business? Yeah. I don’t want to sit there and deliberately berate somebody, but when I sit there and say ‘What the f—?’ I don’t want to get sued for it, instead of ‘Excuse me.’ So there’s a fine line.

“I believe that as you come into the chef world, it’s sort of what you get molded into. Starting out as a line cook and being in the business 20 years, I don’t know a single chef that walks up to somebody and says, ‘Excuse me, you just burned that.’

“Every single chef I know is going to say, ‘What the f— did you just do?’ I don’t care if you’re in a hotel with a big toque on, to the guy working in a taco truck.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on August 24, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Security Inspectors had to ensure that their protected charges blended into their new relocation areas.

“You take a guy who comes from farmland—say, around Kansas City, Kansas, or Mobile,” said Witness Security Inspector Richard St. Germain. “He likes to hunt, fish, so you send him to Boise, where he blends into the woodwork.”

The Program tried to relocate a witness within 200 miles of his original address. That made the process easier and kept costs down. Within sixty days of his entering the Program, a witness would—hopefully—be fully relocated, redocumented and settled into a (usually menial) job.

But often this wasn’t possible. Sometimes there were delays in supplying a client with his new identity or helping him into a job. And keeping him within 200 miles of his home city wasn’t always feasible.

“Suppose the man’s from San Francisco and you want to hide him in a big town,” said St. Germain. “There are no big towns within 200 miles of Sacramento. So I had to send him to Portland, Los Angeles or San Diego.”

Sometimes witnesses objected to the areas chosen for their relocation. One witness, slated for Brownsville, Texas, told St. Germain he wanted to go to Florida. St. Germain refused. The witness hired an attorney, who called St. Germain and threatened to complain to the Attorney General.

“Go ahead,” countered St. Germain. “Do you want his phone number?”

The attorney backed down, and the witness moved to Texas.

Nor was this an isolated incident. Witnesses or their attorneys often threatened to complain to the Attorney General when they objected to funding or relocation decisions of the Program.

St. Germain and his fellow Inspectors dealt with such threats by daring the complainers to act on them. In the vast majority of cases, the complainants backed down.

But sometimes an especially valuable witness demanded—and got—special treatment. Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno proved to be such a witness. During his sixteen years’ cooperation with the Justice Department, he became known as “the Crown Jewel” of the Witness Security Program.

Behind his cooperation lay a desire for vengeance: he had been marked for death by jealous rivals within his Los Angeles Mafia cartel.

And vengeance he got. His testimony convicted Mafia bosses across the nation: Joseph Aiuppa, of Chicago; Dominick Brooklier, of Los Angeles; Russell Buffalino, of Pisston, Pennsylvania; Carmine Persico and Frank Tieri, of New York City; James Licavoli, of Cleaveland; and Frank Balistrieri, of Milwaukee.

Other victims of his testimony included Mafia allies in labor (especially the Teamsters Union) and business. With Fratianno as a guide, federal prosecutors targeted entire Mafia cartels and enterprises for destruction.

And as the value of Fratianno’s testimony rose with each successful prosecution, so, too, did his demands. He received no fewer than thirty conferences with high-ranking Justice Department officials—including Howard Safir, director of the Witness Security Program.

The reason for these meetings was nearly always the same: to lobby for his ever-expanding “requirements.” Fratianno didn’t always get what he desired, but among the victories he won were:

• Continuation of his subsistence funding for well over ten years, thus offsetting his need to find employment.
• Increased amounts of federal subsistence—amounting to more than $508,000 during his first eight years on the Program.
• Repeated changes in his new identity (often as a result of violating WITSEC guidelines by appearing on shows like 60 Minutes and in a seven-part British documentary series on Crime, Inc.).
• Repeated changes in his location (usually after falsely claiming to have seen a former Mafia associate in his current—and disliked—area of relocation).
• Elective surgery for his wife, Jean (a facelift, breast implants and capped teeth).

Among Fratianno’s demands that the Justice Department rejected were:

• Paying for new “security” drapes.
• Paying for Jean’s Cadillac.
• Paying for their gasoline bills.
• Cleaning Jean’s furs.

Some witnesses, hoping to change their relocation areas, relied on guile instead of demands or threats. They would tell their local Inspector that they had just spotted a former mob associate.

Whenever Richard St. Germain received such claims, he checked them out through the FBI, DEA and/or U.S. Marshal’s office for the witness’s city. Often the investigation proved that the witness was lying; the mobster he had claimed to see had been back East at the time.

Sometimes a witness, told to his face that he was a liar and confronted with evidence of this, admitted his guilt: “Well, I don’t like it here, I want out of here.” One witness, sent to Idaho, complained that the weather was “too cold.”

“Well, you need to cool off for awhile,” retorted St. Germain.

The states that most witnesses preferred to live in were California, Arizona, Florida and Hawaii. As the Witness Security Program expanded, the western part of the country began filling with relocated witnesses. In California, the witness population grew so large that some witnesses teamed up to commit crimes.

So the Justice Department tried to send future witnesses to other states. The Program also tried to keep most of its clients away from Hawaii: The island’s high standard of living imposed great expenses on witnesses, which must be covered by increased subsistence payments. Another reason for shunning Hawaii lay in its being the home of several large, native organized crime syndicates.

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


In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics on August 23, 2010 at 10:29 pm

When something goes wrong in an agency or business, it’s widely assumed that its leadership simply doesn’t know what’s going on.

Usually they are assumed to be isolated from the real-world problems faced by the rank-and-file.

But a bureaucracy’s top executives can be fully aware of an ongoing problem–and still be too blinded by ideology to address it properly.

Case in point: The following front-page headline in the August 20 edition of the The Examiner newspaper of San Francisco:


Below this ran another, smaller headline:

“Outreach efforts for homeless patrons have yielded successes, but assaults and thefts increase in the last year.”

The page 7 story then outlined the costs of inviting druggies, drunks, mental cases and bums (many of them literally crawling with lice or other vermin) to mingle with average, tax-paying, job-holding citizens–and their children–at the city’s Main Library.

According to the story: “There were 38 assaults, 49 thefts and 33 drug-related incidents” reported during the fiscal year 2009-2010. During the previous year there had been “28 assaults, 43 thefts and 43 drug-related incidents.”

And these violations happened not in a jail or a mental hospital but in a library–a building intended as a sanctuary for learning.

And how do the executives running the library view all of this?

“Overall, we are extremely pleased with the success of our public safety programs,” says City Librarian Luis Herrera.

These efforts have included teaming up with the police department and the city’s “homeless” outreach team.

In January, 2008, the library even hired a social worker, says the story, “to interact with troubled patrons, connecting them to the services they might need and training library staff on how to handle them.”

The thefts usually involved stealing library materials–which could be better used by San Franciscans who are not drug-addicts, alcholics, ranting psychotics and/or freeloaders.

Assaults can range from simple shoving matches to all-out fisticuffs.

What this story does not reveal is who in the San Francisco Library system came up with the idea to invite such a troubled–and trouble-causing–population to “feel right at home” in its stacks.

At one point in the story, Kathy Lawhun, chief of the Main Library, says: “We had two particular patrons who were causing about 90% of our incidents for a couple of months.”

So did the library order its security guards to be on the lookout for this duo–and to bar them from the premises?

Not in super-liberal San Francisco it didn’t.

Instead “we got them hooked up with a social worker. They got into programs and that really decreased a lot of the incidents,” boasts Lawhun.

Such an attitude goes far to explain San Francisco’s “What, me worry?” policy on “homelessness.”

The city depends almost exclusively on tourism for its financial survival. Yet the ultra-liberal mindset of its civic leaders ensures that its tourists are constantly assailed by hordes of aggressive, filthy, ranting, lice/bedbug-infested panhandlers.

These officials believe that to actively protect their law-abiding and productive citizens from their law-ignoring or -defying ones is a violation of Political Correctness, if not the law.

And such officials get elected–and stay in office–because the vast majority of voters favor this mindset–or refuse to take action to reverse it.

It’s such voters who guarantee that no one who believes in enforcing the death penalty against murderers will ever be elected District Attorney of the city.

“Every country gets the kind of government it deserves,” said Robert F. Kennedy, “and the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

A city’s–or country’s–citizens must collectively demand that their elected leaders protect them from predators–and not the other way around. And those officials who fail to do so must be effectively and regularly purged at the polls.

Otherwise, those who obey the law will find themselves facing the same fate as the citizens of San Francisco.


In Bureaucracy, Business on August 23, 2010 at 11:13 am

Restaurants do more than serve food. In fact, serving food is simply the final product of a complex management process. And students of bureaucracy can learn a great many lessons from a successful executive chef.

Such a chef is Spencer O’Meara, who has run San Francisco’s Paragon Restaurant snce July, 2000.

Among his duties is constantly juggling the demands of a series of bureaucracies: Regulatory agencies, restaurant staff, his corporate bosses, and his customers.

If a customer complains that his steak is dry or too well-done, “I’ll pull a dish off the table myself,” says O’Meara. “It’ll be ‘Let me take care of that,’ and people will be, ‘Oh, no, no, no, it’s fine.’ I’m like, ‘Fine’ is not what I’m looking for. Let me fire up a new one, I’ll get it out to you in the next five minutes. I’d like you to experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.’”

Besides running the Paragon restaurant in San Francisco, O’Meara oversees three others–in Berkeley, Portland and Kauai, Hawaii. Each one has an executive chef that reports to O’Meara. And each one must submit a monthly Profit-Loss-Net (PLN) statement that quickly lays out the financial condition of that restaurant.

“The PNLs break it down into different groups,” says O’Meara. “I take a scan through the first page—here’s your liquor, wine, beer costs, your front of the house servers, bus boys, bartenders, kitchen help. I either call you up and say, ‘Hey, great job, keep it up,’ or I say, ‘Hey, you’re shittin’ a bed of labor—what’s going on out there?’”

The most trouble-plagued Paragon restaurant has been the one in Kauai, Hawaii. Says O’Meara: “I probably spend the most time on Hawaii, which is the furthest away, but I have rolled through a few chefs out there. I’ve been out to Hawaii four times this year already and I’m getting ready to go back in [August].

“The guy I have out there right now is probably the greenest guy I have out there in the group. So I’m spending more of my attention on him to help him get to be to the level he needs to be.

“He’s green because I got sick and tired of hiring a mainlander and moving him over there and paying for the expense of moving him over there to have a mainlander implode to get hooked on crystal meth or booze.”

Kauai—the smallest of the islands of Hawaii—has a population of 64,-65,000. So it’s hard to find somebody among the locals who’s qualified. “We had a local there about ten years ago and she got hooked on crystal,” says O”Meara. “The problem is you don’t know anybody else on the other islands.”

O’Meara readily admits that drug- and alcohol-abuse are “huge” problems within the restaurant industry. He attributes much of this to the tremendous stress that comes from expertly preparing and serving good food in a timely manner to a seemingly endless series of customers.

“It’s constant—every day, every night. You’re racing to get it set up. Every customer, every dish is a judgment on you. And you’re producing 300-400 dishes in a day. That’s 300 or 400 judgments. Every ticket that comes in is a timeline—a ticket just came in, you’ve got ten minutes to get that out. And you’ve got 200 tickets a day coming in on you. You’re running on adrenaline all day.

“When it gets over, you’re still looking for that adrenaline high. And you’re also sitting here saying, ‘It’s been a long day, I need to go unwind.’ Your friends are all in the business—you don’t know anybody else because you get out at midnight. So your friends are other restaurant people. So you’re gonna visit your friend at his place, and he says, ‘You want a beer and a shot?’ and you say, ‘Sure, what the hell?’

When it comes to firing people, “it’s difficult to draw that line” between what’s acceptable as an accident and what’s a firing offense.

“Mike, who’s my nighttime guy right now,” says O’Meara, once accidentally overcooked 17 steaks to be served to a party of about 20-30 people. “I almost thought I was going to kill him. I screamed at him for a minute, but then I realized, ‘The customer doesn’t give a shit about what’s going on back here.’

“I had enough steaks and we re-fired all the steaks on the fly. We tossed all 17 overcooked steaks and fired 17 new ones. We managed to get the whole party on.

“Most chefs would have fired him right then and there. I thought I saw that there was a little more of something to this guy than the fact that he had just burned 17 steaks. That, no matter how pissed I was at that moment, that, in the future, he could be, with proper attention, somebody who would be better for me.

“And here it is, a year and a half later, he’s no longer just the grill guy, he’s my all-around guy who works every single station. And he’s my go-to guy when I need something done,” says O’Meara.


In Bureaucracy, Business on August 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Restaurants do more than serve food. In fact, serving food is simply the final product of a complex management process. And students of bureaucracy can learn a great many lessons from a successful executive chef.

Such a chef is Spencer O’Meara, who has run San Francisco’s Paragon Restaurant since July, 2000. It’s located just across the street from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

Among the bureaucracies an executive chef must deal with is the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC).

A restaurant buys a liquor license, and then pays a yearly tax to the ABC to retain it. “They’re expensive—they can be up to $200- to $300,000,” says O’Meara. “I think the one for Paragon is $150,000. But you own that license, and when you sell the business you sell it, too.

“The thing you have to worry about with the ABC is they’ll do spot-checks on you. They send undercover people in to an establishment to order drinks, and then try to nab you for not checking ID. They send in people who deliberately look underage. But they’ll also send in people who are underage but look old enough.”

It is the responsibility of the restaurant to check the IDs of anybody who looks underage or is close to that age. In San Francisco, drinkers must be 21. It’s the legal responsibility of the restaurant to ensure that underage would-be drinkers are weeded out.

“If that person looks 30 but is 19 and I serve him a beer, it’s my ass,” says O’Meara. “And, with that, it puts your liquor license in jeopardy. And if you’re repeatedly—two times in a row—caught by the ABC, they can pull your liquor license.”

O’Meara estimates there are 5,000 restaurants in San Francisco, and about 20,000 in the Bay Area. So how does the ABC police so many restaurants?

“The ABC works on complaints,” says O’Meara. “So when somebody says, ‘This place is serving underage people,’ that’s when they send ‘em in. Then when they nab you they watch you, and they keep sending them in. And if they get you repeatedly, you’re done.”

There is also the danger of “deep pockets” lawsuits. These can be brought by customers who drink too much–and then slam their cars into other unfortunate drivers or pedestrians. Or they can be brought by the victims who survive–or by the estates of those who didn’t.

Says O’Meara: “We talk a lot to our bartenders about over-serving. And when somebody’s hammered, shut ‘em down. Don’t serve ‘em any more.”

Different customers have different limits on how much they can drink and remain unimpaired. “That’s why communication between management staff and bartending staff needs to be wide-open, so that the bartenders are empowered and knowledgeable, and not sit there and go, ‘I thought he was fine.’ “Well, you just fed him six double-Crowns, come on.’”

Yet another layer of bureaucracy an executive chef must deal with is that of the restaurant’s own employees.

“Most executive chefs do not have the interaction that I do in this restaurant,” says O’Meara. “Most executive chefs do not cross the line from the kitchen to the front of the house. That would be a job for your general manager (GM).”

By “front of the house” O’Meara means servers, bartenders, customers and sequence of service. The “back of the house” would be line cooks, dishwashers and all food-production.

The general manager (GM) usually manages everybody, including the executive chef. In some restaurants, the GM and the executive chef are on the same level. At Paragon, “I’m the executive chef but I’m also generally managing everybody,” says O’Meara.

Bevin Bunch is the GM. Her jobs include overseeing the servers and the costs for labor, liquor, beer and wine.” Her Assistant GM is Matt Dondenville.

O’Meara does not hesitate to assume tasks that most people would believe fall well below the level of an executive chef. When a line cook hasn’t shown up, O’Meara has taken over the job.

“I’m a hands-on executive chef,” says O’Meara. “I know every station inside and out, lunch and dinner. Any issues that arise, at the end of the day this restaurant is my responsibility. I’m not going to look at an owner and say, ‘That guy didn’t show up, that’s why the restaurant failed that evening.’ At all costs, the restaurant must succeed every day.”

Paragon’s customers form yet another layer of bureaucracy for O’Meara to address. “Some chefs like to hide in the kitchen, and aren’t that good with people,” says O’Meara. “We have a whole stigma of being egotistical bastards, and there’s a reason for it.

“Some chefs don’t work well with going out into a dining room and asking somebody how it is. They’re like, ‘Screw off, I think I made a great dish. I don’t care if you like it or not.’

“I like to get the customer feedback and the interaction, because everybody loves knowing the chef. The more people who know the chef, the more come back. In a way, chefs that don’t do that are missing a very easy marketing tool.”


In Bureaucracy, Business on August 7, 2010 at 9:11 am

Restaurants do more than serve food. In fact, serving food is simply the final product of a complex management process. And students of bureaucracy can learn a great many lessons from a successful executive chef.

Such a chef is Spencer O’Meara, who has run San Francisco’s Paragon Restaurant since July, 2000. It’s located just across the street from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

According to its website, Paragon serves “American brasserie-style cuisine combining a sophisticated dining experience with a fun and lively bar atmosphere.”

Besides running Paragon, O’Meara administers three other Paragon restaurants–in Berkeley, California, Portland, Oregon, and Kauai, Hawai. All of these are owned by the Moana Hotel and Restaurant Group, which is headquartered in Mill Valley, California.

O’Meara’s responsibilities include overseeing menu and recipe development, food purchasing, hiring and training kitchen staff and chefs, and keeping “food and labor costs in line. I’m also responsible for profitability across the board.”

O’Meara got his chef’s degree at Arizona’s Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1993. He worked at Le Bec Fin, the Striped Bass and Michel’s, all in Philadelphia. In 1996, he moved to San Francisco.

He couldn’t find a sous chef job so he worked as a line cook at Scala’s Bistro. In time, he rose to sous chef, executive sous chef and chef de cuisine. After running Scala’s for a year, “I came down to the lovely old Paragon, affectionately known as ‘The Big P.’”

He started working for Paragon as the executive chef in July, 2000–once the previous chef had been fired. “They were too pricey, they had inconsistent food. I hear he was a head case—a lot of chefs are,” says O’Meara.

“I worked it for 30 days. I’d never worked across the street from a ball stadium, and I was like ‘Holy crap!’ So after 30 days we gutted the entire menu, closed the restaurant on a Saturday night at normal business hours, and opened Monday with a completely different menu. That was a rough one.”

July 2, 2010 marked O’Meara’s ten-year anniversary as executive chef of Paragon.

Many people dream of owning a restaurant. And many of them take the plunge–with disastrous results. “Ninety percent of restaurants fail in the first year and a half, and if you can make it to three years you’re considered to know what you’re doing,” says O’Meara.

“It doesn’t mean you’re making money, it just means you’re able to keep it afloat. The general rule of thumb is if a restaurant turns 10% profit, it’s a very successful restaurant. If you can hit 10%, everybody’s really stoked.

“Everybody has a misconception that, ‘It’s a restaurant, of course it makes money.’ It’s truly not the case—with rents, costs of goods, labor—especially in San Francisco. They’ve got the highest minimum wage in the state—$10 an hour. Plus the Healthy SF tax. With all the legislation that’s gone down in this city over the last two years, it’s actually making it harder and harder to make a buck in the restaurant business.”

A restaurant is not an island unto itself. More than most businesses, it falls under the regulatory authority of at least three major agencies: The local health department, the fire department and the Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Of the first agency, O’Meara says: “I personally welcome the Health Department. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know so I’m not hurting anybody. And if I go out to dinner, I want to make sure that nobody’s hurting me. I think we’ve all had food poisoning at some point in our lives.

“We try very hard to be sure we’re on top of our game. The last time a health Inspector came through we were awarded an an award for being an ‘A’ for a year straight and never dropping below that. I think our general rating is a 94 out of 100,” says O’Meara.

“When they do their write-ups for any infractions they see, it’s my responsibility to see that those infractions are cleared up. If it’s a major infraction, they’ll say they’ll be back in x-amount of days to make sure that infraction is cleared up. If it’s a minor infraction, they say, ‘Next time we come through on our visit, we’ll want to make sure it’s cleared up.’ A major infraction would be improper holding temperatures.”

As for the fire department: “They make sure that your safety routes are clear in case of a fire, make sure that all your tags on your fire extinguishers are up-to-date.

“We have hood-suppression systems, which fire off a powder in case there’s a fire in the kitchen, says O’Meara “Those have to be maintained every six months—it costs me $1,000 to have them maintained” each time. They also make sure your exit lights are working, that your gasses for your beers and sodas are chained properly to the wall so they don’t fall over and shoot across the room and kill somebody.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on August 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

As soon as a witness entered the Witness Security Program, the first question a security Inspector asked himself was: “Where am I going to send him?”

The vast majority of witnesses found themselves shipped to other cities or states as quickly as the arrangements could be made.

Usually a witness faced at least two moves. The first would be to a location where he (and his family, if he had one) could live while he was testifying. The second would be to a permanent home after he finished his career as a witness.

Guards often accompanied witnesses on such trips. Sometimes, however, this wasn’t necessary, such as during a short flight by commercial airliner. Even if guards didn’t travel with him, they would meet the witness at the airport.

Occasionally there were slip-ups and a witness arrived at his destination without a waiting escort. Security Inspector Richard St. Germain once sent a witness to New York City, only to receive a frantic call from the man at the airport: “There’s nobody here to pick me up.”

St. Germain immediately telephoned a New York safehouse and a team of marshals raced to the airport.

In another case, St. Germain waited at an airport for the arrival of a witness and his family. But when the passengers filed by, St. Germain discovered that only the family members had arrived; the witness had not accompanied them.

St. Germain had not yet received any information on the backgrounds of these new arrivals. So he put the family up at a motel and interviewed each member about why they had come to San Francisco—and why the witness himself had not.

A witness scheduled for such a flight was instructed to be the last passenger to leave the plane. That way, the marshals (who might not have been furnished with his physical description) would be certain to recognize him.

The witness, too, had a telltale sign by which to recognize his protectors: a lapel pin, with a gold eagle on a background of black enamel.

Some witnesses stayed constantly on the move while testifying. Former Mafia hitman Joseph Barboza, for example, was quartered at Thatcher’s Island, then an estate at Gloucester, then at various federal courthouses, and finally at Fort Knox. Once he finished testifying, he got a new identity and moved to Santa Rosa, California, to take up permanent residence.

On many occasions, these moves resulted from a series of cover-blows by the witness himself. At other times, the reason lay in the needs of case agents and prosecutors for the presence of a witness during a series of time-consuming trials. But no matter the reason, such relocations were always traumatic for the witness, his family and the marshals charged with their protection.

Deciding where to relocate a witness, even temporarily, demanded meticulous planning.

“You’ve got to decide what the guy’s lifestyle is like,” recalled Security Inspector Richard St. Germain of this experience. “It isn’t a matter of where this guy would like to go. Everybody would like to go to go to Southern California or Florida. You, as the Inspector, have to pick where he goes. You’re the one who’s going to make his whole new life.”

If a dispute arose between an Inspector and a prosecutor over where the witness would be relocated, “the Inspector has the final authority.” So the relocation area ultimately rested on the answer to the question: Where will this witness be most likely to “fold into the woodwork”? as St. Germain liked to put it.
The Inspector learned a great deal about the new witness from the federal prosecutor handling the case(s) in which the informant would testify. Additional background came from the federal (in some cases, local) law enforcement agency working the case.

In a narcotics case, the information would be supplied by the DEA. In a counterfeiting case, the Secret Service handled the debriefing. The length and depth of these reports depended on how long the investigating agency had known about the suspect/witness.

The Inspector always tried to talk with the witness himself before deciding where to relocate him.

“You get as much as you can from him,” recalled St. Germain. “How much money does he have? How many family members? Where are his medical and dental records? What are his favorite sports? You get into that man’s life completely. You know everything about him except his sexlife, and sometimes you know even that.

“Then you decide where to put this guy. Should you send him to California? Chicago? To the mountains? You take a Brooklyn hood, for example. You couldn’t send him to Redding, California, because he’d stand out. You have to put him in an environment that’s pretty close to what he had. So you put him in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or Miami.”

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

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