An Inside Look at Federal Narcotics Enforcement
The names, places, dates and circumstances of the episodes related in this story have been changed to protect the innocent and give the guilty half a chance. Only Sergio Borquez, Jerry Laveroni, Pat Saunders and Wayne Caristi’s names are for real. However, the incidents happened exactly as they are related.
This story started last April with a letter addressed to the editor of Rolling Stone:
We are both former federal narcotics officers with the Los Angeles office. We are interested in discussing our former employment and how it is practiced.
R. Patrick Saunders, Jerry Laveroni
The message was scrawled in ballpoint across a notebook page. Attached was Saunders’s typewritten, Xeroxed resume, listing the high points in his training and career with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
The thread leading out of that note has stretched over seven months and countless conversations with Saunders, Laveroni and, as time progressed, Sergio Borquez. Former federal narcotics agents, they tell their stories in the voice of the law as it is spoken on the streets.
At first sight, Laveroni is a beast. A thick neck spreads into 12-gauge shoulders. But the arms are what holds the eye: Folded across his chest, each could hide a good-sized shopping bag. Jerry Laveroni sits in a chair like a man not to be fucked with.
In person, folks trust Jerry because they’re afraid not to. That kind of act buys a lot of dope in the right circles.
The last job Jerry held before joining the law was in Hollywood on several segments of The Wild, Wild West series. Laveroni usually played the heavy who leads the rascals’ charge into town. When the western lost its sponsors and Laveroni was faced with a five- or six-year scuffle to make it as an actor, his wife told him to try the Sheriff’s Office. He was always talking about crime and crooks so it made sense just to go ahead and be a cop. In 1970, the LASO gave the rookie a beat in West Hollywood so when Laveroni got bored with the black and whites a year later, he jumped at the bureau’s recruiting poster. By now, federal narcs had been renamed the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, but the pitch was just the same. No more desk sergeants and flashing lights, no more traffic tickets and uniforms. Jerry Laveroni had little traffic deciding. He would join the top cops who wore classy suits and went straight for the crooks.
First he would have to learn the trade. To do that, Laveroni was sent to the National Training Institute at BNDD headquarters in Washington D.C. The classes were on the 11th floor of a building at the corner of 14th and I streets with a savings and loan on the ground floor. The trainees stayed in a hotel around the corner and started class at eight in the morning. Five days a week, they were taught courses like “Initiation and Development of a Drug Investigation,” “Stimulants,” “Depressants,” “Radio Procedures,” and “Report Writing 1 and 2.” Justice Department attorneys were imported to explain the law and the rest was taught by field agents on temporary assignment. If he’d only read the syllabus, Laveroni might have thought he was back at Valley State.
On his first full day in school, Jerry was approached by the senior agent in charge of physical training.
“I understand you’re a pretty bad motherfucker,” the agent commenced.
“I don’t know about that,” Laveroni sidestepped.
“Well, you’re agent leader,” the senior went on, “so you’d better be.”
The agent leader was head trainee and led all the rest through their exercises in the gym. Eighty recruits were divided into four groups called Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. Each group had a leader and Laveroni was over them all. Jerry’s assignment required him to work directly with the counselors. Recognizing the limitations of the classroom, the school assigned a full-fledged agent to each class as a big brother. At night in the hotel, the veteran narc gave advice and answered questions. As a rule, he was full of valuable tips. On the day the attorneys covered the laws of search and seizure, big brother cleared up all the confusion. “Don’t worry,” the counselor advised one trainee, “when you get back to your region, you don’t have to hassle with all this shit. You’ll do what you want and get away with it. Just learn to cover yourself.”
At the time, Laveroni had no idea how right the agent was. Jerry was too busy being the class honcho to go into details. Each day as they scissored back and forth doing jumping jacks and pushups, Laveroni led the singing. The prospective agents sang songs about being a capital B, bad narc, born standing up and talking back, an evil dude from Class 22 that never let any junkies get away. When they were done, the class prepared for their mock shootouts. At the bottom of the stairs, trainees made a line and waited. One at a time, they were called forward, given a 25-pound weight for each hand and sent running for the top. Three flights later, the students reached a room where they were issued a gun and ammo. As they loaded, the instructor told them the situation in the room next door. Behind that wall, there were two dealers, the undercover agent, a pregnant hostage and assorted hangers-on. When it came time to go in, the room was dark. As the lights flashed on, each trainee was to get off the best blast he could at the silhouette targets. Laveroni still laughs today as he remembers. “A lot of guys,” he chuckles, “shot the pregnant woman.”
Laveroni wasn’t among them. He did very little wrong in school. At the end of the Training Institute’s ten weeks, Jerry Laveroni was named number one in his class and presented with an award by Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. As top trainee, he was given his choice of assignments. “The bureau,” the director explained, “keeps an eye on its top agents.” With his career off and running, Jerry headed back to L.A.
He’s been disappointed ever since. The job was not like the one he imagined. “It’s unprofessional,” he explains today, shifting to the front of his chair. “Everybody is fairly intelligent but everybody is more job-security conscious than they are enforcement conscious. There’s no professional administration or internal respect. The saying in the L.A. office went like this: big cases, big problems; little cases, little problems; no cases, no problems. With an attitude like that, everybody is running around covering their ass. They’re more concerned about their private lives than they are about the organization they represent. There are agents who are GS-12s,” he complains, “Who never made a case. Myself, I made more cases in my fucking group than anybody ever did and I was the only one who wasn’t making a regular promotion. If you have the right type personality with nothing to make your fellow agents or supervisor jealous of you, you’re going to survive. If you’re sunny side up, they’re gonna step on you.”
Laveroni has no doubts he was a good cop. The rub, he figures, was that he never had much company.
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