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Authors: Bob Hamer

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BOOK: The Last Undercover
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It was another area where I had to be careful. As an FBI agent I knew a great deal about my targets, but I had to compartmentalize what I knew as an agent and what I only “found out” while working undercover. To say something that came from an intelligence briefing and not from the lips of the bad guy could spell instant trouble, if not death.

However, Dave’s buddy insisted on knowing my name. Finally I said, “Bourne—you know, like the book.” Then I turned to Dave. “See, the book
The Bourne Identity
is really about me. I’m with the CIA.”

Both of them let out a hearty laugh. Dave said, “Just as long as you’re not with the FBI, what do we care?”

Although several agents in the San Diego office had undercover experience, most of it was the controversial targeting of radicals in the sixties and seventies. No one had worked the type of crime we were investigating so I didn’t really seek the guidance of the older agents. Our efforts at targeting Dave were rather simplistic, almost naïve. I never had a good game plan and we seemed to be playing it by ear, allowing Dave to drive the investigation based upon whatever crimes he willingly discussed.

I did, however, get an enlightening look into the bureaucratic world of the FBI. At that time, all first-office agents not assigned to what the FBI called the “Dirty Dozen”—twelve large offices the Bureau had trouble filling with voluntary transfers—were subject to transfer after six months in their first office. San Diego was not on the Dirty Dozen list, and sure enough, orders came through for my transfer to Los Angeles, one of the offices on the list. Even though I was directly involved in an undercover assignment and had successfully targeted a proven, righteous thief, Washington was unwilling to allow me to stay in San Diego until the case played out. The Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego office worked out an arrangement with Los Angeles to keep me beyond the six months, but L.A. was unwilling to commit to an indefinite period of time. In fact, Los Angeles “needed” me as soon as possible for some undisclosed investigations being conducted by the “Hollywood” FBI. Despite efforts by San Diego, L.A. demanded that I report.

What made the transfer even more distressing was the fact my wife was seven months pregnant with our second child. Still, the Bureau was unrelenting. L.A. just had to have me and I had to report. We prepared for the move and I prepared Dave for my transfer.

I learned early in my undercover work to lie as little as possible. Cases are blown and agents get killed over the little lies, not the big ones. In my undercover role, I was married and my wife was pregnant. I stayed with those facts as part of my scenario.

One afternoon, while sitting in my undercover car equipped with recording devices, I explained to Dave the story I concocted. He knew my wife was pregnant. With tears welling up in my eyes, I explained that my wife had developed “inverted placenti.” The medical condition caused previous miscarriages and the doctors ordered complete bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy. In addition, I told him the most accomplished doctor familiar with this malady was in Indianapolis. It was going to be necessary to take her back to Indiana for hospitalization to save the baby. As a result, our near-daily meetings would have to be curtailed. Then I began to cry. Dave looked over at me, believing the tears, and patted me on the knee. With all sincerity, he asked me if I “believed in prayer.” I was stunned by the question. At no time in our relationship did we ever discuss religion.

I said nothing, but Dave went on. “I’ve been studying this religion called Christian Science. You can call them up and they can pray for you over the phone and heal you.”

I kept quiet, but turned my head away from Dave and bit my thumb, trying to keep from laughing.

“I’m seriously thinking of taking up the religion,” Dave said, “once I give up stealing.”

I bit harder, hoping my shoulders weren’t shaking—or if they were, that Dave would think I was overcome with grief.

But as I later reflected on the conversation, I was touched. Dave was genuinely concerned with the health of my wife. Few agents ever expressed such feelings to me. When I later shared the story with an older agent, he went running to the supervisor, expressing concern that I was getting too close to my intended target and might cross the thin, blue line. The agent was wrong. I wasn’t even close to switching sides, but it also taught me a valuable lesson about being cautious in sharing my true feelings with other agents. It was just the first instance of the double bind I would find myself in more than once during my career. A comment misinterpreted by an FBI supervisor could end your undercover career just as quickly—though, admittedly, not as violently—as a slipup in front of a bad guy. As a result, I often couldn’t talk to anybody about what I was going through. Naturally, I couldn’t tell the bad guys about the stress of pretending to be someone I wasn’t; similarly, I couldn’t give my supervisors—or even the FBI shrinks I had to see every six months for mandatory psych profiling—the whole story about what a particular case was doing to me emotionally. In other words, whether I was sitting in a room full of bad guys or sitting at a table with my Bureau managers, I was playing a role for somebody. Only with my family could I occasionally and selectively allow my true feelings to show.

As my wife and I prepared for the move, Dave dropped another bombshell. He had recently “acquired” fifty antique clocks worth more than $500,000, as well as gold, silverware, furs, and place settings valued at more than $300,000. The acquisition was the result of a successful Tucson burglary. I expressed an interest and we began negotiations. One afternoon he brought several clocks to the undercover office, allowing me to examine them so I could determine if I might know of an interested buyer. Again, the meeting was caught on tape as I examined antique clocks valued at more than my entire net worth.

Dave floated back and forth between California and Arizona. Following this most recent burglary he invited me to join him in Scotts-dale to view the stolen silverware and place settings. I flew over on a Friday afternoon and that evening we met for dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant. Dave invited several of his mob friends to join us. It was a great meal with interesting conversation; each of the guys around the table tried to top the last with brags about criminal exploits. There was lots of laughing and good-natured ribbing, and as the dinner concluded I said I’d cover the tip. I threw a one-hundred-dollar bill on the table—which, by the way, earned me a butt chewing from a Bureau accountant when I got back to San Diego and vouchered my expenses.

One of the mobsters invited us to join him at his office down the street, where we continued our conversation. Our host was already pretty drunk, but once we settled in his office he pulled out a silver tray and started cutting lines of cocaine. I remember thinking it was like a scene from a movie, only this was real. He grabbed a razor blade and began to chop at the coke, breaking it down into several fine, powdery lines, each a few inches in length. I was about to face my first true test as an undercover agent.

Drug use by undercover agents is only justified in a life-or-death situation and I had never been educated on how to handle this problem. Remember, I was the guy who just raised his hand for this assignment. I never attended the soon-to-be-required undercover certification school, and I certainly wasn’t interested in putting any powder up my nose. My head was spinning as I tried to think of a response that wouldn’t “blow” my cover.

As our host continued to make lines of coke, he presented me with another problem: he opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled a revolver from beneath several well-read porno magazines. As he laid the weapon on the desk next to the tray, my heart began to pound. I thought for sure those around the table could hear the deafening thumps now roaring in my ears. I did my best imitation of a nonchalant onlooker, but inside I knew I was walking through a minefield.

Of course, there was a method to our host’s madness, even if he was three sheets to the wind. If everybody did a line of coke, he knew no cops were present. One by one the guests used a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill to snort the white powder. When it came my turn, I passed, trying to make my body language say it was no big deal.

But he didn’t want to take no for an answer. He demanded I join him and his friends, suggesting only a cop would refuse. He then picked up the gun and pointed it toward my head.

With all the bravado I could muster, I looked him in the eye and with profanity-laced eloquence told him I was allergic to all “caine” products. I couldn’t even take novacaine at the dentist. “I’ll do your lousy line if you want,” I said, “but you might as well call an ambulance, because when that crap hits my system my heart’s gonna freaking stop. Good luck explaining it to the medical examiner.” Or words to that effect.

Dave, who was on my left and was next in line, came to my rescue. He wasn’t about to put anything up his nose either. Our host relented and put the gun back in the drawer. I drew a slow, shaky breath, hoping everybody else was too drunk or coked up to care.

The rest of the evening was uneventful, and Dave and I negotiated a fair price for the stolen silverware, adding an additional count to the growing list of criminal charges.

Not long after the Scottsdale incident, my home phone rang, late one evening. It was Dave, calling collect from jail. He had been arrested for possession of a kilogram of cocaine and was being held in the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, California. In light of his refusal to do a line in Scottsdale I was surprised by the possession arrest. Dave asked if I could help “raise bail.” I promised to do all I could and immediately called my case agent. With a series of calls throughout the night, we were able to “raise the bail” to $1 million. I know that wasn’t Dave’s intent, but you have to admit, we did follow his spoken request to the letter.

The next day, as we continued to insure Dave would not be released, my wife became an important part of the investigation. Although the FBI was not new to undercover operations, we lacked some of the sophistication developed during the course of my career. For one thing, cell phones were nonexistent at this time. The number I provided the bad guys was merely a “cold” number at the FBI office subscribed to by my undercover company. I would have calls to that number forwarded to my home so there was no way anyone could identify where I lived, yet I would always be accessible. While I was in the FBI office, working with other agents on Dave’s arrest, my wife received a call at home. I had forgotten to stop the call-forwarding feature on the office cold phone, and my wife, unsuspecting, answered the phone. The caller asked for me. She said I was “at the office.” When the caller asked for that number, my wife had the sense to ask who was calling. The caller identified himself as a friend of Dave. Fortunately, she kept her cool and asked the caller for a number and told him I would call him later that evening. Had she not been so perceptive and instead given him the number of the FBI office, the case would have ended as soon as somebody at the Bureau answered the phone. My wife was developing the street smarts of an undercover agent. We also learned from that incident, and once we moved to L.A., we had two phones installed at the house. My children called them the good-guy phone and the bad-guy phone; I was the only person allowed to answer the bad-guy phone.

So there was Dave, my first undercover target, sitting in jail, no doubt trying to figure the circumstances by which his bail had gone up to a million dollars. As bad as his short-term prospects were, his long-term prospects were about to get even worse.

A subsequent search of Dave’s storage facility resulted in the recovery of over $1 million in stolen property, including the antique clocks. Dave was sentenced to ten years in prison, after pleading guilty to charges of transporting stolen property across state lines. I never learned if he took up the Christian Science religion. And thanks to a very savvy case agent who negotiated the plea, Dave never learned I was an undercover agent. He and his associates thought I had slipped past the long arm of the law.

peration Ruffcut, as we named the investigation, was only beginning and continued without me when I transferred to Los Angeles. Dave’s arrest allowed me to bow out gracefully. We closed the Sorrento Valley undercover office and reopened one in another section of San Diego. Other undercover agents replaced me, targeting Dave’s associates, and took the operation beyond anything we ever dreamed. Building upon my initial contributions and the continued outstanding work of the other undercover agents, the FBI broke a major interstate theft ring specializing in heavy equipment, art, gems, and weapons. In addition, the agents identified a cocaine trafficking ring operating out of Denver; over thirty individuals were indicted when everything was said and done. I was saddened by my inability to be a part of that portion of the investigation, but proud of my efforts at getting the investigation started and allowing it to proceed with such success. More importantly, I had become an undercover agent and was successful in my first foray into the criminal world.

New York NAMBLA Conference

As we weaved through molasses-slow New York traffic, the ever-constant blaring of horns and what I assumed to be curses in Arabic from my Middle Eastern cab driver interrupted my mental preparation for the NAMBLA encounter, but the moment of truth was quickly approaching. He pulled up in front of Grand Central Station, and it was time for me to meet my “fellow” pedophiles.

I hobbled from the cab using my crutch—my cover identity involved being a handicapped, “grandfatherly” type of independent financial means—and began the long walk around the train station. Even though the invitation said we would be meeting at 6:30
in the lower-level dining concourse, I wanted to be fashionably late. I continued walking around the upper level, with its fifty-plus retail specialty shops, and admiring the 125-foot vaulted ceiling, painted to resemble the evening sky. I ducked in and out of shops as commuters hustled home for the weekend. They were seeking refuge after a long week of labor; my job was just beginning

BOOK: The Last Undercover
10.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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