In Business, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on September 6, 2012 at 12:00 am

It appears that supermodel Heidi Klum should have paid more attention to the 1992 film, “The Bodyguard.”

And so should have her bodyguard, Martin Kristen.

Her soon-to-be ex-husband, Seal–an English singer best known for his hit song “Kissed by a Rose”–has accused the two of having more than a professional relationship.

In “The Bodyguard,” Kevin Costner plays Frank Farmer, an ex-Secret Service agent hired to protect Rachel Marron, a famous singer played by Whitney Houston (in her acting debut).

Marron has received threatening letters and clearly needs protection.  But she’s willful, spoiled, and difficult to safeguard.  Farmer gets off to a rocky start with her, but, over time, the relationship steadily improves.

Then, one night, Farmer commits the sin that no professional bodyguard must ever commit: He tumbles into bed with Marron.

The next day, he realizes the magnitude of his mistake and tells Marron: “That can’t happen again.  I can’t be your lover and your bodyguard.”

Marron is enraged.  She can’t understand Farmer’s apparent coldness toward her.  So she becomes even more defiant, refusing to follow even basic security precautions.

That is, until she gets a threatening call from the man she is now certain intends to kill her.  From then on, she readily accepts all of Farmer’s orders.

The climax of the movie occurs in a wildly improbable attack on Marron at–of all places–the Academy Awards.  The would-be killer targets her with a gun hidden inside a video camera.

As the red-dot laser sight closes in on Marron, a wounded Farmer blasts a shot through the camera lens, taking out the hitman.

The movie ends with Marron and Farmer going their separate ways.  But not before Marron yells “Stop!” to the pilot of her private jet as it’s taking off.  She then rushes out and throws her grateful arms around Farmer.

The last sight of them together comes with a voice-over of Houston singing, “I’ll Always Love You.”

Now, fast-forward to a real-life version of the movie.

After seven years of marriage, Klum separated from Seal in January and filed for divorce in April.  And the musician had no doubts as to where the blame lay.


Speaking with TMZ, he said: “Whilst I didn’t expect anything better from [the bodyguard] I would have thought that Heidi would have shown a little more class and at least waited until we separated first before deciding to fornicate with the  help.

“But I guess you all now have the answer you  have been looking for for the last seven months.”

Klum, 39, has denied having an extramarital affair with Kristen, who has guarded her for the last four years.

Through a PR rep, Klum told the tabloid TV series, Access Hollywood: “It is sad that Seal has to resort to false accusations.”

And Seal himself has since “clarified” his accusation through his own PR rep: “He was not implying that his wife was cheating while they were together, but he was merely pointing out that their separation and divorce were not final and they are still legally married.”

Tabloid TV and magazines have zeroed in on photos of Klum and Kristen “getting close” during a family vacation in Italy.

Martin Kristen and Heidi Klum

And rumors of a romance gained more credibility when an anonymous “friend” of Klum’s told PEOPLE that her relationship with Kristen was “complicated” and “hard to define.”

Seal himself has said he doesn’t expect his ex-wife to “suddenly become a nun.”  She is an adult, as is Kristen, and the United States isn’t–fortunately–a theocratic dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia.

But both are juggling with live grenades, and it is Kristen who holds the major responsibility for putting an end to the circus.

If Klum truly needs protection, then she needs it from someone focused solely on providing it.  That means firing Kristen as her bodyguard and hiring a competent professional to provide that service.

As a professional bodyguard, Kristen should know that romance and security don’t mix.  A bodyguard assesses a situation with one set of eyes.  A lover does so with another set entirely.

Mixing romance with security means crossing a line that must never be crossed between a protector and protectee.  It is as sacred a line as that existing between a doctor and patient, lawyer and client.

A bodyguard must remain utterly focused on one goal–ensuring the protection of his client.  He must feel absolutely free to offer his best advice and react to a potentially violent situation as he feels necessary.

And he must do so without worrying that he might upset his client or that the client might fire him for it.

There’s a well-known saying among security professionals: “Dead clients don’t pay.”

And the best way to become an out-of-work bodyguard is to lose your client by paying too much attention to her figure and not enough to potential danger.


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, 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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on July 12, 2010 at 9:51 pm

In 1978, the loss of the safehouses was partially offset by the long-overdue arrival of sophisticated anti-intrusion devices for witness-security details. No longer would marshals string beer cans together as improvised alarms, or cover windows with mattresses or heavy army blankets.

That had been precisely the case for the marshals guarding Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno in 1978. Fratianno was an outcast from his Los Angeles Mafia “family”. He had come to New York to testify against members of the nation’s most powerful Mafia cartels. New York’s “five families,” commanding 2,500 “soldiers,” were the final arbiters of all Mafia disputes nationwide. Their bosses were the richest and most powerful crime figures in the country.

And going up against a virtual army of hitmen was a handful of deputy U.S. marshals commanded by Donald “Bud” McPherson. The security site was an abandoned WAC barracks at Ford Hamilton, a Brooklyn army base at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, overlooking New York Harbor.

Every time a gust of wind shot through the barracks, the tin-can “intrusion alarms” rattled. Marshals grabbed their rifles or shotguns and scrambled to find a hitman. Fratianno himself seized a pump-action shotgun, braced himself against a wall, and waited for an attack that never came.

The detail’s supervisor, Donald “Bud” McPherson, had been a deputy U.S. marshal since 1971. He had been the district contact man, or number-two, to John Tatum, the security Inspector for Los Angeles. On a daily basis, McPherson had overseen witness-security details throughout Southern California, from Los Angeles to Mexico. One of his charges had been John W. Dean, the former White House counsel who had turned State’s evidence against President Richard Nixon.

By 1974, McPherson had been appointed as a security Inspector in his own right and transferred to Kansas City, Kansas.

McPherson thus had a proven track-record as a security specialist. He also had a thorough knowledge of the innermost workings of the Mafia. He knew that Mafiosi had traditionally avoided direct confrontations with lawmen—especially at the federal level.

Mobsters sometimes bribed police, but never slew them. Organized crime wanted no part of the frenzied investigation that followed a police killing. And no Mafia hitman would dare infiltrate a military base, swarming with soldiers and marshals–not even for such a prize witness as Jimmy Fratianno.

McPherson, knowing this, counted it to his—and Fratianno’s—advantage. But Howard Safir didn’t know this. Safir was a thirteen-year agent and supervisor of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 1977, he had been loaned to the U.S. Marshals Service as an outside consultant to overhaul a Program struggling to survive. Among its deficiencies: too many witnesses (almost 3,000), too few security specialists (seven, at one point) and not enough protective equipment.

Safir thus became the fourteenth chief of the Program in seven years—but the first to effectively cope with its unique challenges. One of his first acts was to visit the marshals’ detail for Jimmy Fratianno. He wanted to learn, firsthand, the realities of witness-security assignments.

When Safir visited McPherson at the security site at Fort Hamilton, he was appalled. Why had the marshals strung cans together as makeshift alarms? Why were they using Army blankets and mattresses to cover the windows? Why weren’t they using state-of-the-art electronic surveillance devices to spot intruders?

“Because we don’t have any electronic devices,” answered McPherson. “We’ve been promised them for years, but no one ever gets them.”

“You’ll have them,” promised Safir.

And, within two months, McPherson’s detail had the equipment, as did other security details throughout the nation. At last, the marshals could establish genuine perimeter security for both themselves and their charges.

The closing of the safehouses once again taught the Justice Department an important lesson about its witness-clients: they would always prove the weakest link in the chain of security precautions. And this would hold true no matter how efficient, incorruptible and well-equipped its protection agents might be.

Those who severed all ties to the past and kept a low profile could expect to live in reasonable safety and comfort. Those who failed to do so wound up dropped from the Program—and most likely murdered. The Justice Department, however, could not require these endangered people to follow its security guidelines. This was a decision that could be made only by the witnesses themselves.

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Out of the dangers and frustrations of guarding witnesses in motels grew the concept of the safehouse. Promoted by the 1967 President’s Crime Commission, the idea seemed a perfect solution, both efficient and economical.

Large numbers of endangered trial witnesses could be housed in well-guarded facilities for months or even years. Once they had finished testifying, they could remain at the safehouse until they no longer needed protection.

Starting in 1971, about a dozen safehouses were created around the nation. The permanent ones were located in Sacramento, Providence, Staten Island and Fort Holabird, Maryland. Temporary facilities were set up in Boston, Miami, San Diego, Manhattan and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

In theory–and, at first, in practice—the safehouses offered witnesses increased security at reduced expense to the Justice Department. Each safehouse had about fifty witnesses, called “principals,” who lived under constant guard for usually six to eight months.

They cooked their own meals, received a small daily allowance, and wore ordinary clothes instead of prison garb—which most of them, as convicted felons, would have worn had they been housed in jails. They were encouraged to use aliases and to mind their own business. And they were warned to not talk with other witnesses about their past crimes—a favorite topic among underworld figures.

These conditions provided several advantages over quartering witnesses in motels. Life became easier for both witnesses and their guards, who no longer had to live on the run. Witnesses had time to relax and prepare for upcoming trials. Case agents and prosecutors had ready access to witnesses for the exhaustive preparation vital to successful courtroom appearances.

At first, the safehouses weren’t meant to last more than two years. During the first one, Justice Department officials believed, the facilities would be entirely secret and secure. During the second year, they would be less secret but could presumably be made more secure by additional guards and electronic surveillance devices.

But two flaws quickly appeared in this theory. First, the safehouses were not phased out after the second year. They provided so many comforts and conveniences to witnesses, guards, case agents and prosecutors that no one wanted to terminate the arrangement. Second, many prisoner-witnesses, upon returning to prison or their underworld careers, passed along the locations of the safehouses where they had been lodged.

So the safehouses eventually became known to the Mafia. According to St. Germain: “Every Mafiosi in New England knew where the Providence safehouse was. It was well-defended, but I think that if somebody had wanted to get in there, I think they could have.”

Shortly after the opening of the Staten Island safehouse, federal agents got a tip that it was about to be blown up by the Mafia. That facility was closed and its witnesses lodged at the safehouse in Providence.

In 1975, the Mafia smuggled a hitman, posing as a witness, into a New York safehouse. He didn’t execute anyone there. He simply rifled the luggage of many witnesses, looking for the claim-tags noting their past or future relocation areas. He also mingled with many witnesses, learning where they expected to be sent after they left the safehouse.

Some witnesses grew suspicious of the curiosity of their new acquaintance. One of them called Witness Security Inspector Richard St. Germain at his office in San Francisco. He alerted his superiors at the Justice Department.

Panic-stricken, they ordered the immediate closing of that safehouse. Every witness there had to be relocated to a new area. The WITSEC imposter was rushed to the headquarters of the Program in Falls Church, Virginia, and thoroughly interrogated. St. Germain never learned what happened to him.

Because the locations of the safehouses were no longer secret, some witnesses refused to stay in them.

One man, flown from California to an Eastern state, refused to spend a single night at a particular facility. “Screw you,” he told the marshals who met him at the airport to escort him to that safehouse. He boarded the next flight to California and was gone within the hour.

By 1974, the Justice Department began closing the safehouses, with one exception. This was a “floating” safehouse in New York. Every ten days to two weeks, all the marshals and their charges staying at a particular motel would move to a new motel.

Only during the late 1980s did the concept of the safehouse—now dubbed “safesite”—re-emerge. By 1991, at least seven safesites—one in each of the seven busiest metropolitan areas of the country—had been established.

There was an important difference between the new safesites and the old safehouses: the safesites were ringed with sophisticated electronic security devices—infrared seekers, motion detectors and video surveillance cameras.

By contrast, the safehouses had depended completely on perimeter checks by deputy U.S. marshals. Donald “Bud” McPherson, the Inspector for Los Angeles in the 1980s, helped design the safesite in his city. He believed that it would not have been difficult for the Mafia to infiltrate any of the now-defunct safehouses.

So there was an interim between the closing of the safehouses and the creating of the safesites. During that period, the U.S. Marshals Service went back to quartering witnesses in motels or jails or on military bases.

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Protection began from the moment that a client entered the Witness Security Program (WITSEC).

Among the first questions he would be asked was: “Who do you know who might try to kill you?” The marshals assumed that a witness was usually the best judge of the people who posed the greatest danger to him.

Another question he would be asked was: “Do you know of any local or federal cops on the take?” If he said yes, his charges would be investigated.

No matter how powerful a criminal might have been in the underworld, his introduction to WITSEC always proved highly unnerving. Above all else, he felt terrified for his own immediate safety and that of his family.

In addition, he felt confused and ashamed about his newly-divided loyalties and uncertain about his future under a new, alien identity.

But within two weeks, his fears were replaced by a false sense of security (“I don’t need to worry; I’ve got federal marshals looking out for me”). So the marshals had to protect their new charge from his own over-confidence, and possible audacity.

Security specialists such as Richard St. Germain warned countless witnesses: “You’ve got to realize that your life’s in danger. Keep your eyes open. Use your head. Don’t lie to us. Stay close to us. Keep us apprised of everything that’s going on. Suppose you’re sitting out on your balcony and you see something flash. What could it be? A pair of binoculars? A rifle-scope? Be aware of your position, and help us protect you.”

People outside the security profession generally assumed that the safety of a witness depended on round-the-clock protection by a score of guards. But the average witness-security detail consisted of only five marshals.

“That’s enough,” recalled St. Germain. “You don’t want to put too many guards on these people. If you do, then you’re going to cause people to wonder, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”

Usually three guards, working a twelve-hour shift, were assigned to a witness during the day. In the evening, when there was less activity by both the witness and his pursuers, only two marshals were needed. Whichever deputy was assigned as detail supervisor always drew the day-shift.

A new shift of guards replaced those on duty every two weeks—unless a marshal asked to stay longer. This rarely happened, however, because most deputies had wives and children to go home to. “More families were broken up in the Marshals Service because of the man’s being gone all the time than for any other reason,” said St. Germain.

These deputies armed themselves with a wide array of firearms. Pistols were required to be greater than a . 38 caliber. St. Germain preferred a revolver—a six-shot .357 Magnum or a nine-shot .22 Magnum. Other marshals carried automatics.

And more powerful weaponry was always kept within easy reach. Submachine guns were the firearms of choice for many—especially the highly reliable Uzi and Thompson models. Others relied on automatic shotguns—so powerful, their double O buckshot could turn over a car.

Upon entering the Program, a witness usually got round-the-clock protection until he could be transferred to another city or state. The security Inspectors always tried to move the witness out of the danger area as quickly as possible. This served the needs of both the witness and his protectors.

“As soon as the witness had talked to the Strike Force or United States Attorney,” said St. Germain, “I tried to get him out of the area immediately. I used to get a lot of arguments from the case agent or attorney: ‘We need this man here, we’ve got to talk to him.’

“I would tell these people, ‘We don’t have the men to put on him. You’re risking this man’s life to keep him around here. Now, what I’ll do is fly him out or drive him somewhere. When you need him, I’ll bring him back in. But as far as leaving this guy here, that’s not right.’”

Oftentimes the Inspector found his judgment ignored and his decision overruled through the influence of an aggressive federal prosecutor. “The Strike Force usually gets its way about guarding these people where [the Strike Force attorneys] want them,” admitted St. Germain. “They want [witnesses to be present] every day or every other day. [Prosecutors] need them in constant contact for information.”

So long as a temporarily-relocated witness appeared safe on his own, no guards were assigned to him. But when a “hot” witness traveled to meet with federal prosecutors, a security detail always escorted him. His wife, however, would not be allowed to accompany him unless she was also a material witness.

For the length of the trial, he would be guarded round-the-clock. When the trial ended, he might return to his former address. But if anyone had meanwhile discovered this, he would be shipped to a completely new location.

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

On some occasions, deputy U.S. marshals feared Mafia hitmen less than “young punks” who might try to gain a reputation by killing a notorious witness.

Such was the case when Deputy U.S. Marshal James Gardiner was assigned to protect Vincent Teresa. Once the number-three man in the Raymond Patriarca Mafia Family, Teresa became the target of a $500,000 contract when he turned federal witness.

Gardiner believed that a professional hitman wouldn’t dare try such a hit: the resulting investigation would put him out of business. But would-be gunsels, unaffiliated with the Mafia and eager to earn its gratitude, might be willing to do so.

“And with someone as big as Teresa—325 pounds—you had to protect your own men assigned to guard him,” recalled Gardiner. Security on Teresa proved airtight, and no Mafia or freelance assassins made an attempt on his life.

Gardiner (and other marshals) often relied on disguises to foil mob killers. Once, he and a witness, dressed in painters’ overalls and carrying a ladder, casually walked into a courthouse. (Gardiner was also carrying an empty paint can, which contained his pistol.) Outside, the Mafia’s hitmen were waiting for the scheduled arrival of the marshals’ detail. No one paid any attention to the two “workmen.” In fact, one of the mob’s assassins stepped forward to open the courthouse door for them.

Sometimes a witness and his guards faced as much danger from corrupt policemen as from Mafia hitmen. One NYPD officer accepted a Mafia enforcer’s invitation to work for him as a firearms expert. The policeman agreed to supply the mobster with dumdum bullets–which would be used to silence federal informants. Part of this conversation—captured by a hidden microphone—went:

MIKE: You like the way we set up the federal stool pigeons?
POLICEMAN: What do you mean, “stool pigeons”?
MIKE: Stool pigeons.
POLICEMAN: Oh, that’s what you’re after, stool pigeons?
MIKE: Only stool pigeons.
POLICEMAN: Oh, yeah.
MIKE: Nobody else. Only stool pigeons. I mean like, the cops like stool pigeons when they go, especially if they’re federal stool pigeons, right?
POLICEMAN: Nah. You’re kidding. How many times have I seen and have I heard—
MIKE: I said the cops—
MIKE: New York policemen—
MIKE: —Like it when a federal stool pigeon is hit.
POLICEMAN: Nah. What difference does it make? To me, it makes no difference.
MIKE: There’s a big difference. I’ll tell you why. A New York cop–detective or police department–doesn’t like a federal stool pigeon, because he’ll stool on anyone. I never do it. I walk.

“In New Jersey, federal agents had arrested so many politicians and mobsters, we knew the cops were infiltrated,” said former deputy U.S. marshal Gary Bricker of his assignment as a bodyguard for securities thief Gerald Zelmanowitz.

“And we knew it was just as likely we’d be hit by a guy in a policeman’s uniform as by a guy in a double-breasted suit. So we [himself and Zelmanowitz] were really on our own. We protected each other.”

In fact, Bricker and his security detail came within a hair’s-breath of a shootout with officers of the New Jersey Police Department. The police suspected that Zelmanowitz was using his house as a base for the fencing of stolen antiques. They didn’t know that Zelmanowitz had just agreed to become a federal witness.

Nor did they know he was now under constant protection by deputy U.S. marshals. Accordingly, they made plans for a late-night raid on the house.

Only hours before the raid, police stopped a car carrying what they believed were two criminal associates of Zelmanowitz. At a nearby police station, the arrested men identified themselves as deputy U.S. marshals. The police were surprised to learn that Zelmanowitz was under federal protection.

Surprise gave way to shock when they learned that the marshals were armed with bulletproof vests and Thompson submachine guns. Had the raid occurred, the marshals would have mowed down the police as they charged across the front lawn.

So the agents of the Witness Security Program usually distrusted local and even state police departments. The names and locations of federal witnesses were rarely divulged to such agencies. And when this occurred, the circumstances were truly extraordinary, as in the case of Gerald Zelmanowitz.

Sometimes this distrust of local police surfaced publicly and dramatically, such as during the security detail for Robert Leuci. A former member of the elite Special Investigating Unit of the NYPD, Leuci had done the unthinkable: he had become a federal undercover agent to expose massive narcotics corruption among judges, defense attorneys, bail bondsmen—and his fellow officers.

Scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury, Leuci was placed under guard by eight specially-screened NYPD cops. And deputy U.S. marshals were assigned to closely watch the eight officers—to ensure that none of them tried to murder Leuci.

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Even the most experienced deputy U.S. marshals faced pulse-pounding tensions while transporting hunted witnesses–especially to and from courthouses.

The Secret Service had taught the marshals to surround a witness with guards and rush him in and out of courthouses. But this tactic was soon abandoned by at least one deputy marshal. This was James A. Gardiner, who, in 1968, was assigned to the detail that protected Joseph Barboza, once the most-feared hitman in the New England mafia.

“You know,” Barboza bragged one day to Gardiner, “if I was still in the Mafia, I could kill any witness you have, if I really wanted to.”

“How could you do that?” asked Gardiner.

Barboza pointed out that the marshals timed their courthouse arrivals by the court calendar. This record was available to anyone—including mobsters. The hitmen could simply station themselves nearby and wait for the appointed hour for the marshals’ detail to arrive.

Gardiner had served with the Army’s White House Security Division from 1958 to 1961. He had known many Secret Service agents and had learned much from them about personal security. Still, Barboza’s observation stunned him. From then on, Gardiner varied the movements of his security details and no longer relied on sheer numbers of armed guards to fend off an attack.

Many years later, Gardiner would candidly admit that during its early days, the Witness Security Program wasn’t as sophisticated as it was later to become: “We were damn lucky we didn’t lose a witness in those days.”

As for the technique of surrounding a witness with an army of guards and rushing him in and out of buildings: “That doesn’t always work, either. You rely on your Intelligence”—that is, the highly sensitive data produced by agencies such as the FBI and DEA, which maintain close watch on suspected threats to organized crime witnesses.

Even when a law enforcement agency got a warning that a hit was to be made at a specific time and place, uncertainty remained. The information might be genuine. Or it might be the attempt of an informant to ingratiate himself with authorities by telling them something they would certainly take seriously. Or the report could simply be the product of underworld gossip.

And even if the tip were genuine, no one could predict the actual behavior of the hitman assigned to the job. A friend once asked Witness Security Inspector Richard St. Germain: “Suppose you get a tip that the mob’s going to hit a witness at a courthouse. You put up a security blanket and nothing happens. How do you know whether the tip was false, or that the hitman was scared off by your security precautions?”

“You don’t know,” answered St. Germain. “You just take your precautions and hope that nothing happens.”

Some witnesse-security agents disdained the threat posed by a potential Mafia sniper: “Mob hitmen aren’t great marksmen,” scoffed John Brophy, a veteran of witness-security assignments dating back to Joseph Barboza. “Mob hits are made with a pistol from seven feet away. There is just too much of a danger—to the Mob—of accidentally killing a federal agent who’s guarding a witness.”

Such a killing would trigger an awesome crackdown from an enraged Justice Department—exactly the reaction that American organized crime groups had learned to avoid at all costs.

Such a crackdown erupted in April, 1963, after four New York mobsters knocked FBI agent John Foley to the ground, and then severely beat and kicked him. Foley had been conducting surveillance at the Brooklyn funeral of Carmine “The Doctor” Lombardozzi, a capo in the Gambino Mafia Family.

The FBI retaliated by launching an all-out war against the Gambinos. Agents leaned heavily on the cartel’s boss, underboss, counselor and lieutenants. The Bureau also intensified its use of illegal electronic surveillance against the mobsters. Even law-abiding relatives of the Gambinos—one of these a nun, the other a priest—found themselves interrogated.

Angelo Bruno, the boss of the Philadelphia crime syndicate, unwittingly informed a hidden microphone on how the FBI brutally drove home the message to “boss of all bosses” Carlo Gambino:

BRUNO: They [the FBI] went to Carlo and named all his capos to him….The FBI asked him: “Did you change the laws in your family, that you could hit FBI men, punch and kick them? Well, this is the test—that if you change the laws, and now you are going to hit FBI men, every time we pick up one of your people we are going to break their heads for them.”

And, really, they picked up our guy, they almost killed him, the FBI. They don’t do that, you know. But they picked up one of his fellows and crippled him. They said, “This is an example. Now, the next time anyone lays a hand on an FBI man, that’s just a warning. There’s nothing else we have got to tell you.” And they went away.

Word traveled quickly through the nationwide organized crime network—and its leaders decreed there should be no further assaults on FBI agents.

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


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


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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