Lessons from an undercover Cop

Mike Russell went undercover into the Mafia. He is a very brave man. There are certain lessons from his book “Undercover Cop” that I’ll share here. He says that:

Most Mob movies speak of respect and honor, when in reality it was all about who made the most money [for the bosses]. Many infractions by a good earner were overlooked, while a marginal worker could get whacked [murdered] for getting caught in traffic and being late for a meeting.

If you are riding in a car with Mafiosi, and they want to murder you, they will first put you at your ease, and then deliver a lightning knife thrust to your heart. Most of the bleeding is internal, so you don’t make a mess of their nice car. If the car isn’t so nice, they may just shoot you in the head.

Mike also says that “Your average wiseguy is poorly educated, couldn’t string two cohesive sentences together, and is fat and crude.” On the other hand, a Mafia captain would be expected to be well-dressed, well-spoken, in good shape, and educated.” Some of the Mafia leaders own legitimate businesses, and could make a good living without being in the Mafia. Perhaps they like the excitement of “extortion, murder, labor racketeering, gambling, hijacking, bid rigging, and political corruption and bribery”. One Mafiosi owned a horse farm in Rhinebeck (I’ve seen some when I’ve cycled up there), others owned semi-rural properties that were useful for burying dead people.

Mike joined the Mafia in the 80’s, in New Jersey, when the police department in Newark, New Jersey was “a cesspool of dirty cops”. This meant that if the wrong cop heard that Mike was undercover, he would notify the Mafia. Mike worked for the State Police, which was less corrupt, though a few bad cops were caught there too. And there were plenty of corrupt politicians in New Jersey, and during his undercover work, Mike was shocked at finding out about one of them, who often showed his “family values” and paraded his nice family, or said what a great place America is to the clueless public. It was interesting that President Nixon directly pardoned a Mafia big shot, and President Clinton pardoned Mark Rich (in 1983 Rich and partner Pincus Green were indicted on 65 criminal counts, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran at a time when Iranian revolutionaries were still holding American citizens hostage. (Though Mark Rich actually helped the Israeli Mossad learn about what was going on in Iran, so there is layer within layer here. But I digress).
Christmas is a good time for wiseguys since ordinary citizens can be corrupt too, and when they can get remarkably cheap goods from a vendor, they don’t ask too many questions.

You hear a lot about evil capitalists from leftists, to whom I usually don’t pay much heed, but Mike had to clear some of the toxic waste where “an elaborate network of wiseguys, corporate investors, and numerous corrupt politicians planned to build substandard housing on contaminated land.” As opposed to the greedy capitalists, the noble workers may not be better, since their unions are sometimes controlled by the Mob, or they have made a devils bargain with the Mob.

One time a Mafia member named “Petey Fish” hijacked a truck full of goods. It turned out to belong to another Mafia family. After hurried meetings between the two families, everything was smoothed out, and life went on. Until one day Petey turned up dead. This shows that a peaceful silence after you cause a problem does not mean you are out of the woods and home free.
If you disrespect someone, as “Fat Tiny” did to “Joe Zarra” by needling him during a Mob sit-down to resolve an issue, you could, as “Fat Tiny” did, end up in the trunk of a car. Though nobody knew for sure that Joe did it. Usually the Mafia waits until the “heat dies down” before they get the revenge for the slight that they never forget.

Mike’s lone undercover operation was so successful, that as it was going on, the attorney general of New Jersey asked the hundred member Organized Crime and Racketeering task force to “render assistance”. Mike did not like this at all. He says that “Too many agencies, too many politicians, and too many headline seekers were now involved in this case.” It was a “train wreck in the making”, and indeed, by making premature arrests, the task force nearly got Mike killed. The Mafia people started suspecting him, and he had to persuade them he was not informing on them.

The evidence that Mike got included video evidence, so the Mobsters pleaded guilty. I’m surprised they were only put away for five years, and when they got out, several went right back to organized crime. Its seems that even when their activities are exposed, they don’t have all that much to worry about.

Crime does pay. Some of these wiseguys made millions. However, if you are a regular citizen who wants a favor from the Mob, you are a fool. For instance, one man asked the Mafia to protect him against his own corrupt employees, as well as misbehaving customers, and the Mafia did, but the Mafia plan was to “bust the joint out”. In this scenario, they become silent partners, and then they order more supplies than the business requires, all on credit, and then sell those supplies on the black market. When the business’s credit is all shot to hell, they burn the joint down for the insurance money. If the owner gives his new partners problems, he ends up dead.

From my own experiences, I would warn police that going undercover like Mike did may be a much riskier proposition now. Technology has evolved, so that crime organizations can (in theory) place bugs in the home of new people they hire, and find out if they are informers or not. Not only that, but from my experience, there is at least one crime organization that has access to drugs that put you in a daze, or make you talk incessantly. While you are in a daze, they could (in theory) plant a bug in one of your possessions. Or copy your house-keys.
The talk drug can be useful too, for instance in interrogating a person whose loyalty is in doubt.

Mike had to worry about informers in the police who might betray him. Thirty years later, now that so many large organized crime outfits operate in the U.S., my guess is that they probably try to get their people into the FBI, or police. If I were them, I would think that would be worth the effort.

America is not the place it was even fifty years ago. To take one example, the U.S. army won’t hire 71% of youths who apply, because many have felony convictions, or lack a high school diploma, or are obese. In addition to this, about a third of white children do not have a father married to their mother, and with Latinos the number is fifty percent, and with blacks its seventy-five percent. With the exception of the obese, these others may drag the country down a whirlpool of desperation. The more desperation, the more crime. The more children who were not brought up in a stable loving home with two parents, the more criminals.
People like Mike Russell can only do so much.

Undercover Cop – Mike Russell (2013)


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