June 28, 2015
Pepperoni Pizza, Prostitutes, or Prison: an Easy Choice for Most: How a Cooperating Witness Continued to Con Everyone While in Prison
This article will discuss the attempted management of a convicted cooperating witness who continued his cons while working with the government. He was a constant challenge with many interesting events. These types of people do not change their personalities just because they are “cooperating.” The first time I met him he said, “You’ll like me in 15 minutes.” He was right.
During my law enforcement career, I was assigned to operate a cooperating witness who had been convicted and sentenced to prison. He agreed to cooperate so that he might get a reduced sentence.
A cooperating witness is “an individual whose relationship with the government is concealed until testimony is required at trial and who, on a continuing basis, contributes substantial assistance to the resolution of a case or direction of a case through active participation in the investigation.” Individuals who only provide information and are not expected to testify are classified as informants.
The first time I met this individual (who will be identified as CW) he shook my hand and said, “You will like me in 15 minutes.” He was right. In fact, over a period of years, we developed a close relationship which included meeting several of his family members and former colleagues. CW was a very charismatic individual and I always enjoyed watching how he worked his magic when meeting new people. He had a way of making you feel special and would then try to figure out how you could be compromised.
In 1968, he was working as a cook and in 1985, he was a multi-millionaire with an estimated net worth of $32 million. Prior to 1985, he had been convicted of a federal felony but was still able to do business with the biggest banks in the country because he told them “up front” that he had a felony conviction.
His son once stated, “He had an eighth-grade education, but he was brilliant. He would never talk down to a person.”
I was taking CW back to prison one afternoon and, he asked if we could stop and get a hamburger. We stopped at a local fast food restaurant, purchased a double cheese burger, large fries, and a drink and then headed back to the prison. All of a sudden, he rolled the window down and started throwing napkins out the window. I told him that if I got stopped by the highway patrol for littering, I would be in big trouble. He said he was sorry, but did not want to make a mess in the government car.
CW asked one of my colleagues to bring Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to the prison. They met in the prison chapel and CW contacted some of his friends who came to the chapel to get some KFC. We found out later that it was against the rules to bring any food into the prison.
A police officer called me one day and said that they had raided a massage parlor and arrested CW who gave them one of my business cards, thinking I would get him un-arrested. I told the police officer to do what ever their procedure called for.
CW called and said that he had gotten in trouble with his wife by taking a call from his girlfriend at home and pushing the Page button instead of the Hold button. Of course, his wife heard the entire conversation so kicked him out of the house. He said he was staying in a local motel so I stopped by to see him. When I arrived, he was dressed in shorts with no shirt, talking on the phone, and watching the stock market channel. He said he would get back in good graces with his wife soon. Sure enough, he was back in his home within a week or so.
I had problems setting up a recording device on his home phone and he said he thought it was funny that the equipment would not work properly. He told me that if I could not get this equipment to work, then who could. Very embarrassing.
On a road trip with him, we stopped for gas, and he asked the attendant to put a bottle of pop on the government credit card. I told him I would be in trouble if the item was charged to the government credit card. He thought this was very funny. I paid for his drink with cash.
CW had a girl friend drive him to a major out of state airport after he was given a 24 hour pass from prison to attend his daughter’s wedding. He did attend the wedding but did not return to prison as promised. He bought a ticket for cash using an assumed name and flew out of the country to a small island where he was later arrested by the police after becoming an international fugitive. After his arrest, he had a heart attack and had to have open heart surgery. Since he was in government custody, the taxpayers got to pay all his medical bills.
My son and I were at the airport one day when we saw CW walking to an airplane departure area with a suitcase and briefcase. He dropped both when he saw me, ran over and gave me a big hug. He then asked why I had not called him recently and said, “Don‘t you love me anymore?”
Saw CW at a local discount store with his maid pushing the biggest cart they had which was loaded with various merchandise. I later asked his wife how much he had spent and she said, “$2000, I hate it when he goes to those big discount stores. He always spends too much money.”
CW convinced a prosecutor to purchase $6000.00 worth of stock which quickly became worthless. This was known as a “Pump and Dump” scheme in which the CW would buy stock and then call all his “friends” and tell them to buy the stock since it was going to increase quickly in value. Of course, as soon as his friends started buying the stock the price did increase. When it got high enough, CW sold all of his shares.
CW asked me one day why I did not handcuff him when taking him out of the prison. I told him I did not think he would try to escape and he agreed that he would be easy to catch since he was overweight and had heart problems.
CW asked me to go with him to a private club in New York, where there were private rooms and good looking friendly women. I told him I was not interested and wanted to keep my job as an agent.
CW told me that if he had to choose between the most beautiful woman in the world and a pepperoni pizza, he would take the pizza.
CW said that the highest electric bill he had at his 23,000 square foot house was $3000.00 in one month. His house had an indoor swimming pool and a roof that would open at the push of a button so that you could watch the moon and stars while swimming.
CW had a chauffer driven stretch limo for business, plus a Rolls Royce, and BMW. CW told me that you had to look successful to convince people that you were.
CW loaned $10 million to a banker friend for three days and charged 3% interest. The banker needed the money since the bank examiners would be at his bank soon and he was short of cash.
CW supplied prostitutes for banker parties. Of course, he would film all the encounters so he could compromise the bankers when needed. He would then send a bill for “consulting services” to the banker who had requested the girls and would be reimbursed by the bank.
Before going to prison, CW took a banker to lunch. During the drive, the banker saw an old Mercedes that he really liked and told CW that he thought that was a very “cool” car. When CW got back to his office, he told his secretary to find and buy a Mercedes just like the one they had seen. The next time the banker was at CW’s office, CW pointed to a Mercedes in the parking lot and the banker commented that it looked just like the one they had seen previously. CW handed him the keys and said, “It’s yours.” Banker compromised.
CW would buy counterfeit Rolex watches and keep them in his desk to give as gifts to people he wanted to impress.
Operating a cooperating witness who has been convicted and sentenced for fraud and who has a national reputation as a con man, is a risky and challenging business, especially when the CW is continuing his con schemes while cooperating with the government, thinking that if he gets in trouble, the government would come to his rescue. Just because the CW is cooperating with the government does not mean that he will change his personality so expect many challenges trying to keep him/her under control.
About the Author:
Dan L. Vogel is Forensic Consultant Expert Witness based in Oklahoma City. He has 27 years of Federal law enforcement experience and has testified as an expert in Federal and state courts. He is currently a member of the Consulting Committee, The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. firstname.lastname@example.org
 Fitzgerald, Dennis G. Informants and Undercover Operations: A Practical Guide to Law, Policy, and Procedures, CRC Press, 2007. Chapters 1.2 and 1.2.2.