This column first appeared on PoliceOne.com.
In the November/December 2005 issue (p. 32), Part 1 of this series discussed three creative and amazingly effective ploys developed by Pat McCarthy, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago streets and a national expert at developing informants, that can help you turn gangbangers into informants. In Part 2 you'll find four more.
The RICO Scam
"Many bad guys, including gangbangers, operate with a sky-is-falling outlook," McCarthy observes. "They think we're following them and listening to their phones all the time. They're afraid the full force and fury of law enforcement is about to come crashing down and bury them at any moment."
If you know a 'banger who's paranoid like that and a little gullible, as many are, you can plant a time bomb that ticks away in his head and compels him to feed you savory morsels of intelligence as his only hope of escaping disaster.
The idea is to prey on the criminal fear of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, which was designed to fight organized crime and which the government also uses against street gangs and drug organizations.
"Acting very secretive and concerned, approach your prospective informant in private and ask him, 'Jose, have you been followed lately or questioned at all by the feds? The reason I ask is that an FBI agent I know tells me they're putting together a RICO charge on somebody I know, but he won't tell me who. I kinda think it might be you. Do you know about RICO?'"
Build RICO up as a huge bogeyman. "What I've seen happen in the past," you can say, "is that the feds zero in on someone and set up all sorts of surveillance on that person to document even petty crimes, like smoking dope or shoplifting. Once they get him on the small stuff, then they go for a conspiracy conviction under RICO."
With him getting a little twitchy, move on to the favor you're willing to do. Tell him, "We've had our differences, but I like you and I don't think you deserve that treatment. Let me see if I can find out more about who they're investigating. If it's you, I'll be up front and tell you.
"In the meantime, I think I know how you can help yourself get free of all this. What I'd like to be able to do is distract the feds with some solid information on somebody else, somebody bigger they'd want to investigate. If you can give me something solid, I'll take it to them without telling them anything about where I got it, and I'll do my best to use that to get the spotlight off of you."
Tell him to take some time to think it over and give him your card. Chances are he'll be calling.
Editor's Note: Some departments have directives that may prohibit street officers from working with informants. The tactics in this article can prove very effective, but check departmental regs to make sure you stay out of trouble. If your agency has such a prohibition, consider talking with an administrator about a modification to permit the use of these techniques.
State vs. Federal Charges
"Most gangbangers when they're arrested are worried, thinking about jail time, their girlfriends, their family members. You can really rock 'em then," McCarthy says.
The fact that most street gangs these days are primarily drug trafficking organizations gives you the opportunity to use the specter of federal charges as leverage to flip an arrestee.
Explain to him that "a federal strike force" is targeting your jurisdiction, trying to develop cases on local gang members. You can reference "a conference our chief had the other day in which we were asked to keep an eye out for any cases that might be good for federal prosecution." Then remark, "I'm thinking this case might be what they're looking for."
Spread a little more BS or even pretend to make a call to the station, McCarthy suggests, then "appear to offer the suspect a choice: 'I could go with either federal or state charges on your case. I could call the feds right now and they'd definitely pick up this case. But these federal cases draw a lot more prison time.'"
Tell him you're willing to go just with the pertinent state charges provided he returns the favor with information.
Editor's Note: Procedures and relationships with prosecutors and judges vary dramatically across the country. Some areas and courts prohibit any type of deal discussion when court proceedings are underway. Discuss this option with your local prosecutors and experienced investigators to avoid potential problems.
An illusion McCarthy has performed many times in his career of recruiting informants is a scenario he calls Courtroom Magic. "This has scored me some very productive street sources who don't know to this day that they were tricked into the job," he says.
Suppose you're in a courtroom or in the corridor outside waiting for your case to be called, and you spot a subject you make to be a 'banger waiting for his case to come up. You get him alone, introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and, if you're able to establish some friendly rapport, you offer him what appears to be a straightforward business proposition: You'll help him by "talking to some people" and trying to get him off if he will confidentially relay useful street information to you.
If he bites, tell him to wait in the rear of the courtroom. Make certain he's positioned where he can watch you. Then approach the prosecutor, introduce yourself and explain, "I'm running a little scam on that defendant in the back of the room. I'd like to milk some information out of him and I told him I'd talk to you about his case." Make crystal clear that you are not asking for any favors or special consideration. All you'd like the prosecutor to do is make eye contact with your prospect and give him a smile and a nod.
If he cooperates, ask the 'banger to point out the cop who arrested him. Approach the officer and explain the setup, asking him to nod like the DA did. He might even be willing to approach the defendant and simply say, "He [meaning you] talked to me about your case." That's usually enough to convince the bad guy you're really doing something for him.
Then tell him you're going to see the judge. At a point when the judge is off the bench, head back toward his chambers as if you're going to meet him privately. Once you're out of your prospect's sight, go somewhere else. Do not go anywhere near the judge, but after a credible lapse of time, return to the defendant, give him a big smile and a thumbs up, and tell him, "The judge wouldn't make me any promises, but he was listening. We'll just have to see how things work out."
Then arrange a time when you can sit down with your prospect and talk in more detail about what you expect from him.
Depending on continuances, it may be long enough before he goes to trial for him to prove whether he's going to be a worthwhile asset for you. If he is, you may choose to really go to bat for him. Otherwise, let things fall however they do.
"If he's convicted," says McCarthy, "tell him the victim he stuck up has an aunt who's a cop or the stop-and-rob he knocked over is a place where cops like to hang out something that raised the case beyond your level of influence.
"On the other hand, if the case gets dropped or he's sprung, you take full credit. Now he owes you big time."
Ratting on Rivals
Without much prompting or fake favors, gangbangers will talk to you all day long not about their activities but about their rivals, McCarthy notes.
"Treat the gang members you encounter with respect. Respect is everything to them. You don't have to be you shouldn't be weak, but you don't have to act like an asshole either.
"After you're able to build some rapport, tell them you've heard rumors that their rivals are planning to come into their 'hood and do some serious damage. You don't want them to get hurt, and you know they don't want some innocent bystanders, especially little kids in their families, to get shot up by those idiots and draw a lot of heat.
"Let them know you can make a lot of trouble for their enemies if they'll feed you information that will help you take them down. Again, pass out your cards. Assure them you'll welcome even anonymous calls with useful information.
"You have to be creative when you're recruiting sources," McCarthy explains. "Don't be afraid to push the envelope a bit, to try new things. There's nothing wrong with feeding your prospects a little BS to get them on board. The courts allow us to use a good deal of deception in these circumstances.
"After all, these guys are always lying to us. A little turnabout for an important cause is only fair," McCarthy said.
For additional valuable strategies for finding, grooming and managing street sources and C/Is, conducting effective street interviews, surveillance tactics, courtroom survival strategies,
interrogation tricks & tactics, ethical considerations for the street cop and finding hidden traps and secret compartments, consult the new Street Cop video training series produced by McCarthy in VHS and DVD formats. Call 800/275-4915 or visit www.streetcop.com. McCarthy also created the Street Crimes program, a unique and informative three-day training seminar presented in over 100 cities across the U.S., Canada and Mexico every year. All Street Crimes instructors have at least 20 years of actual street experience. Visit www.reid.com and click on Street Crimes Program, or call 800/275-4915.
Next issue: Gleaning incriminating information about gangs from 'bangers' girlfriends and family members, as well as from the "invisible" eyes and ears you encounter every day.
Remsberg's column is a PoliceOne.com exclusive, where it's sponsored by Blauer.