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.
For Sergio Borquez there were no crusades; righteousness isn’t written into the Civil Service Code. “Sarge” Borquez had a job that happened to include putting people in jail, that was all. To live, people work; to get ahead, people work hard and getting ahead is the name of the game. It doesn’t take long in a room with Borquez to figure out the creed is there.
Born in Mexicali and raised in El Centro, Borquez approached his life as a man starting at the bottom, pointing up. Sergio was five years old when the Borquez family crossed the border through America’s back door, but that was old enough to know that the people of northern Mexico called such journeys progress. With that faith, Borquez graduated from San Francisco State after his discharge from the 82nd Airborne Division. The next step was to look for work. With an interest in law but none in law school, Sarge found his way to the lobby in the San Francisco Federal Building, stood at the directory and copied down all the federal agencies that used detectives. Borquez figured his best bet was being a cop for the big bird that made it all possible, a federal agent with a shiny badge and a paycheck every two weeks.
Now, at the end of 14 years on the job, Sarge would jump at a chance to start over. “I was too young then,” he explains, “to understand what federal service for a Mexican meant. I had the idea at the time that you just work hard and get ahead but you don’t. After a while, you begin to wonder about yourself. Then it gets to a point where you know they’re screwing you because you’re a Mexican. I finally had to figure,” Sarge shrugs, “that it was better than picking cotton.” Like all survivors, Sergio Borquez learned his lessons as fast as he was able.
Starting in 1961, Sarge was taught at the hands of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The narcs were hiring, Borquez needed work and even figured being an agent would be interesting. He knew nothing about dope but was ready to become an expert. From the first day at work, Sarge burrowed into the trade the way the boss figured a brown man should.
It was well known around the office that Mexicans looked just like junkies and the narcs were excited now that they finally had one working on their side. Young Sarge became what is known in the profession as a “cage agent” and stayed that way for the greatest part of his career. The name grows from the claim that the same job could be done by monkeys. Just open the cage, send it for a banana, and put it back in its iron box.
Other agents would figure out who they wanted to bust and then go fetch Sarge. The agents who held his leash got the credit for successes and Borquez got his ass in a vise for failures. Which didn’t bother Borquez as much as the fact that he never got a chance to do anything else. When he wanted to learn surveillance and the other tricks of the trade, Sarge had to train on his own time and spent most of the Sixties moonlighting a second shift with hopes of getting off the bottom of the bureau. Every now and then it left the man from Mexicali feeling like cannon fodder.
And for good reason. When a deal goes sour, the first one caught in a crack is the Mexican who was run up front. Getting in and out of the openings in a dope deal is a snake’s job and Sarge got so he could slither with the best of them.
Sensing the future was electronic, Sarge had learned the trade in his garage late at night. Borquez tinkered with tiny wires, soldering guns, and read all the manuals he could find. For practice, he bugged his living room. When the chance came, Sarge was in just the right spot to jump.
The opportunity was called the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1968. The legislation’s Title III, “Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance,” set forth for the first time circumstances under which wire and oral communications could be intercepted. Cast as “an indispensable aid to law enforcement,” Public Law 90-351 allowed the courts to authorize taps if they had “assurances that the interception is justified and the information will not be misused.” For Sergio Borquez, the legal language meant a bigger meal ticket. As the region’s technical officer, GS-13, he made $24,000 a year with overtime. Sarge had become a crackerjack soundman and an expert at the long-distance listen. BNDD wanted to get into the wires as soon as possible and only Borquez could fill the post.
The rest of the office had no doubts the Mexican knew his job once they’d seen his work. There are, Sarge explains, two basic kinds of taps: legal and illegal. Within the domestic United States and in possession of a court order, the legal ones are simple. The silver box you see on an occasional telephone pole is called a “B Box.” In it are all the numbers of a certain section of the telephone grid. Each number has what is known as a “pair,” two electrical connections through which current and conversation pass. If there is an unused pair in the B Box, the phone company assigns it to the bureau, two wires are run between the suspect’s pair and the government’s, and the narcs have what amounts to an extension on somebody’s phone. That extension is run to a house or apartment rented nearby, just like installing a new listing. Instead of the traditional receiver, the wires are fed through a capacitor, into a tape recorder and onto the court records.
The ones with no legal cover are a little harder to pull off. The work in the B Box can be done without the phone company’s knowledge, but not for too long. B Boxes have workers in and out of them and a tap is hard to disguise from trained eyes. Transmitters are the best bet in that situation and there are two kinds: the ones that use batteries and the ones that take their juice straight from the line. Using the phone company’s current is dangerous because it can distort the phone’s reception if the bug draws too much. When batteries are used, they must be changed every week. These bugs broadcast an FM signal with a standard range of 2 blocks. They are commonly installed on or two poles from the suspect’s house and monitored in a car or van. If you’re really into it, you can place a transmitter inside the receiver in the house. The standard model can be activated by dialing six of the number’s seven digits and then blowing a special whistle into the mouthpiece. That tone opens the line up, as though the number had been completely dialed and answered, but doesn’t ring the phone. Left that way, the receiver becomes a microphone picking up all over the room. When asked if he ever did any of those inside the country, Sarge shakes his head from side to side.
Sarge could get into the line every time and that connection manufactured a lot of numbers in BNDD books. “People pour out their lives on the telephone,” Borquez explains. “If you were to tap someone’s phone, the typical thing is you’re going to hear everything, their whole life, even more than you can remember or use. They lay out everything. The thing is that goddamned phone runs right out of their house. You can do it anywhere from the first pole on out of sight.”
Narcotics enforcement isn’t a job like the pictures in your high-school civics book either. Pat Saunders noticed that right off. Saunders hired on as a believer; not the kind thirsty for junkie blood but the suburban brand, one of the faithful who grew up with plaster houses, Catholic schools, and Jack Webb. To Saunders’s way of thinking, the law was something no one could live without and he didn’t mind taking the work.
Somewhere between the printed page and the stucco avenues along the racetrack, Pat lost his faith. Today he feels tricked, used, and takes it all personally.
“When I became an agent,” he explains in a slow voice, “I thought I was out there stopping the flow of narcotics, being an aid to society, helping people out, taking it off the street and all that. I just didn’t realize how crooked the bureau was and how people really don’t care. I think I believed all the propaganda I read. I felt really bad that I would go to somebody and say, ‘Hey, I’m somebody I’m not and I want to buy some narcotics and I’m not an agent.’ I felt bad deceiving people and I felt bad busting people. It still makes me feel guilty. I shouldn’t have been an agent. I don’t like to lie to people and trick them and stuff. It’s a hypocritical way of living and I don’t like to live that way. After a while, it’s all just a lie. You don’t know the truth from a lie, you’re so used to it. I began to figure I was just a big fraud. And I think the bureau’s a fraud. They’re a corrupt, unethical organization. I think they ought to be looked into and they ought to be stopped.”
Until it caught up with him, Pat Saunders wore the same badge as all the other narcs in Los Angeles. In 1970, when he joined, working for the police just seemed the best way out of his situation. Saunders’s wife was pregnant and going to school paid no bills. Pat’s first step was to LASO where a tour of duty at the jail convinced him to move on as quickly as he could. BNDD was next. From the looks of their brochure, the bureau solved crimes, dressed like regular people, and acted as the last line of defense for the nation’s soft underbelly. The package appealed to Saunders. Two steps ahead of the credit bureau, a narc was born.
Saunders’s first bust hit him like a long morning on a cold toilet seat. He hadn’t figured on it being quite the way it was. The rookie agent had lined up an appointment for hash with a hippie named Ralph in Laguna Beach. When the word got around the office that a bust was coming down in “the Zoo,” Laguna’s longhaired corner, the briefing was filled with volunteers. As Pat learned, this was standard practice. “Usually,” he remembers, “when you go into an area like that a lot of guys are attracted because you get a chance to rough up some hippies. Before you know it, the word gets around and a lot of guys volunteer to go, even though they’re not in your group or anything. It all comes from their utter contempt for the hippie lifestyle.”
The next day, with his .38 tucked in the waistband of his suit, Saunders walked out of Ralph’s house and lifted the shades off his sweaty nose. That was the bust signal. A dozen agents, backed by 15 local police, roared across the shaded street, pistols and handcuffs drawn. The law descended, Ralph said, “Oh, shit” and it was all over except for the mopping up. Unfortunately for the people in the house, mopping up was why everybody had come. Nobody had thought to get a warrant but it didn’t seem to matter. Agent Clauswitz jammed past Saunders and hit the living room at the head of the charge. He grabbed the nearest longhair and dragged him onto the lawn. “Spread-eagle, hippie puke,” the law growled. To make his point clearly, Clauswitz pointed his .38 at the base of the captive’s brain.
The women from Ralph’s house followed the agents outside under their own power and walked into a stag party.
“Hey, cunt,” Agent Roscoe shouted at the blonde, “when you hump these creeps do you make ’em bathe first?” Roscoe laughed.
“Fuck off, cop,” the blonde blurted.
Roscoe laughed again, yanked her arms into handcuffs and ran his hands along her ass.
While the agents chained the hippies up, all the idle personnel had been doing a little redecoration. The lamps were smashed and some of the furniture thrown out on the lawn. When the raiding party left, the law cruised away from Laguna with a wagonload of longhairs and 600 pounds of hashish. All the credit went to Saunders and amounted to more than one gold star on his jacket. The arrest was announced over the teletype to Washington, telling how the brand-new agent had made a big seizure and nailed the crooks. Saunders was dubbed “the Boy Wonder” around the office and, for the moment, squelched his doubts. Like every high-school pitcher, he liked winning prizes and used that part of his mind to paste over the Bill of Rights. Pat tried to think of Ralph’s bust as an athletic event. The technique seemed to work. Saunders’s mouth stayed shut and his career stayed open, but he didn’t go blind.
After a year of fronting off and running scams, Saunders began wanting a quieter and more private post, somewhere he wouldn’t have to talk to the people he hunted. On Borquez’s suggestion Saunders was shipped to the bureau’s I Street Washington headquarters for what was described as technical training school. The course lasted two weeks and involved 15 agents collected from around the country. Most of the instruction took place in one of the narcs’ classrooms, but their education began down at the phone company. There the agents were given a trunk full of equipment, complete down to Ma Bell’s helmet and workman’s suit. The instructors explained how telephones work, issued manuals and demonstrated taps. When the material had been digested, the group reconvened in the BNDD headquarters for instruction in breaking and entering.
The curriculum didn’t include any explanation of why the subject was being taught. It was enough to know that the burglar’s craft was next on the agenda. The bureau issued lockpicks and imported a locksmith for three days of sessions. He demonstrated how to enter hotel rooms, how to use a tool that would turn the whole lock in its socket, how to make keys, how to use a lockpick and open an apartment building security door with a ten-pound magnet. When the locksmith left, a regular bureau employee taught the agents how to go in through a house window, how to use a “slim jim” to pop a car-door lock and how to place microphones around a room so they won’t be noticed. Classroom time was complemented by night exercises designed to put raw skill into practiced form. The last of these involved breaking into a bureau house in Chevy Chase and placing a bug inside the telephone. Once again, no explanation was given and no explanation was asked for. The technique’s use, as Pat remembers, was assumed.
It shouldn’t have been, at least according to the lectures on wiretap authorization. Legally, all interception devices must be placed outside the suspect’s premises and a clear chain of command must be followed. The group supervisor requests a tap from the assistant regional director, who asks the deputy regional director, who gets the director himself to sign a request which is sent to a U.S. attorney. If the lawyer is satisfied, the proposed tap goes to the attorney general for a final okay, and on to a judge. There, according to Title III, the jurist makes a decision based on the information’s importance and the reliability of the government’s suspicion. On the streets, the process looks a little different. According to Saunders, the form is followed but the substance isn’t. “The judge just signs,” Pat explains. “Those things are almost automatic. They don’t care. They can get a wiretap on anybody, just do a little research, say he’s a big enough dope peddler. Usually they require an informant to say the person is making narcotics deals on the phone. You can get a snitch to say anything you want him to if he’s motivated enough. It’s just a big scam all the way around.”
The icing on the cake, as far as Pat Saunders was concerned, was the yacht party. It all started with a simple smuggling case. Borgdorff, the owner of a 70-foot schooner, was raided at the Long Beach Marina and caught dead to rights with a bilge full of weed. The party came a week later. The pier was closed off and Saunders and Borquez were assigned to drive the guests to boatside in government Cadillacs. Borgdorff’s yacht had been stocked with kegs of beer and as many women as could be procured.
The biggest hit of the evening was movies, especially the one about the naked burglar caught in the act by the housewife in the see-through nightgown. Someone said it was a real classic made in 1932. In the bunks forward and aft, the supervisors were holding office hours for any young women with a proper respect for authority. When one declined the boss narc’s invitation to taste his all-night sucker, he threw her overboard. A good time was had by all.
Especially Borgdorff. His charges were dropped at the request of the arresting agency.
The factory where the agents reported each morning in service of the law, at 1340 West Sixth Street, squatted across from Central Receiving Hospital. The only sign that could be seen from the street said “Federal Building,” a message made clear once you reached the security guard in the lobby. He challenged strangers, but never bothered Laveroni; the big fella was known to be 100% Federal himself and passed up the stairs with just a nod.
Jerry fidgeted. As usual, he was two weeks behind on his forms. “The fucking paperwork,” as Laveroni puts it, “is incredible. They got a form for everything.” To Jerry, these were an annoyance that did little but chain him to his desk; for the men he worked under, the paper was their industry’s foundation.
Once a year, the agents’ nationwide collection of statistics were paraded past Congress as clear proof of a budget wisely spent. Throughout the last ten years, this paper has served narcs well. In 1964, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics employed 446 persons and consumed an appropriation of $5 million. By 1968, FBN had merged with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control and had been renamed the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs with a $14-million budget and 948 employees. BNDD was in turn joined to one wing of Customs in 1973 and the conglomerate put forward as the Drug Enforcement Administration. Being an administration as opposed to a bureau has meant $73 million and a job roll of 2,867. By 1975, DEA expects to spend $140 million and hire 1,319 more employees. The paper, as Laveroni’s supervisor made a point of telling him, more than paid for itself.
Out on the streets, Laveroni made up for his slow speed on a typewriter with a bag full of tricks. One of Jerry’s special skills was dealing with informants. Eighty percent of the bureau’s cases start with a snitch and the big Italian had more pigeons on his string than anybody else in the building. “A dumb agent,” Jerry explains, “guided by the right informant, can follow along with his tongue out and shake the world.”
When his snitches came downtown to talk, Laveroni set up in the interrogation room along the second floor’s far wall. Fronted by a slab of clear glass, the space was nothing more than a table, a few chairs and a microphone sealed off from the rest of the desks and lit by its own bulb. Inside, Jerry tried to feel his way along the conversation to a handhold on each source’s talk box. Informants, he explains, are individual cases, but there are really four standard brands of motivation. The first is the guy who hates dope. He wants no money for his work and thinks of himself as a good citizen. Often this good citizen also has a cop fetish, can’t make the grade for his own badge, and figures to get the next best thing. The second is the guy who needs money. A hype with a runny nose will sell his mother cheap. He’ll even sell his connection if the price is high enough. The third is the dealer himself. These businessmen occasionally give up the competition in exchange for a reduction in their own heat. This kind of informant talks because he wants someone busted and takes the police as an ally. The fourth and last is called the twist. It is a position delivered by the police themselves. Once someone is under arrest, the word is passed to him that cooperation is often rewarded and prison is a lonely place. If the prisoner bites, standard practice is to send him on a test case and strike a bargain if he proves to be for real. Charges are held in abeyance while the snitch works and are dropped when he busts his quota. This last brand of information is the most common and widely used, but it’s not unusual to find snitches with weird combinations of them all. Like Lucielle.
Laveroni worked with Lucielle for over a year and never could quite figure where she was coming from. Lucielle was a walk-in; just popped into the office and said she’d like to do some folks. And what a bunch of folks she said she could do. Laveroni left his paper to investigate and walked in on a list longer than Lucielle’s arm. She named people in Milwaukee, Denver, Tucson and San Francisco who’d walk into a bear trap with her as the bait. She smiled at Jerry when he came in and closed the door. Lucielle told Jerry she was a big-time smuggler and considered herself a hot property. When he asked her why she was there, Lucielle said she was worried there might be a warrant out for her arrest. The Teletype said there wasn’t and Lucielle seemed relieved. She said she’d call in a couple days and left the way she’d come. Watching her ass twitch down the hall, Laveroni told another agent her act reeked of bullshit.
When the agents checked her story, Laveroni found he’d been way off the mark. Apparently Lucielle was just what she claimed. Customs had her pegged as the inventor of the aerosol-can smuggle. Lucielle had recruited a team of women, assigned them large straw handbags and used the squad to haul cocaine up from Bogotá. Each bag was loaded with cans of hairspray, deodorant, crotch lotions and other assorted sprays. Out of each load, a few were ringers with a pound of coke in the bottom and a ten- to 20-second spray booster on the top to help pass any border tests. And they passed them all. The cops never got wind of her action until after Lucielle had closed up shop for a long vacation. On top of that, the names Lucielle had run down tested out in the files at 100%.
A week later, Lucielle hadn’t called and Jerry didn’t miss her. Laveroni had the woman listed in his head as a bitch who was probably more hassle than she’d be worth, whatever the files said. But he finally decided to visit Lucielle. The woman dickered about pay for her services and dropped a steady stream of hints into the conversation. It was all a tease until she finally got close to home.
“A cat called me today,” Lucielle bragged, “from San Francisco. Says he’s got 14 ounces of coke. He wanted to know if I could handle it for him.” “What’d you tell him?” Laveroni asked from the living room couch.
“I told him I was out of business right now. I said I was cooling off.”
“Well that’s how you can prove yourself,” Laveroni growled. “You can go out and make this dude. You might even get a little bread.”
“That’s up to the San Francisco office,” Jerry said. “Probably seven or eight hundred.”
Lucielle jumped out of her chair with a snort from the hook in her nose. “$800,” she whined, “what kinda shit is that. I want a fucking $1000 an ounce for everything I bust.”
The woman was getting to Jerry. “Fuck it,” he said and headed for the door. At the edge of the rug, Laveroni made a U-turn.
“Look, bitch,” he rumbled, “get on the fucking phone, call the guy, tell him we’ll be up tomorrow. Tell him you got a dude who’s gonna buy it. He’s interested, he’s got good outlets. If the shit is good, he’ll want to get some more. Just prove that you’re not blowing smoke up my ass.”
Lucielle grumbled all the way to the phone.
The deal was set for the next day and Laveroni and his partner took Lucielle north. A team of agents met them at San Francisco International and began laying out the target. His name was Suspenders Morgan and he dealt snort by the ounce out of San Anselmo. In the early evening, with Morgan’s house surrounded, Lucielle forced one small change in the plans. She said she wouldn’t take Laveroni inside. The dude, she warned, was a rabbit and would be freaked by all that flesh in one living hunk. Laveroni being too big for the job, she said she’d take the partner instead. Laveroni agreed on the condition that she’d make the deal herself. Lucielle said she would and the whole show was clockwork. When they kicked the door in, the agents got the partner, Lucielle, Suspenders, and 11 ounces of coke. To keep her action hidden, Lucielle was taken off to be booked.
When he was being interrogated, Suspenders asked Laveroni about his lady friend. The door on the room was shut and Laveroni was the only badge inside at the time.
“Hey, man,” Suspenders began, “you still got the broad?”
“Yeah,” Jerry answered, “we still got her. What do you know about her?”
“What kinda deal am I gonna get?”
“Depends on what you know,” Jerry hedged. “Who’s your connection south?”
Morgan hesitated a moment. “The broad,” he finally admitted, “can tell you that.”
“Well I’m looking to help you. I ain’t looking to help the chick.”
“What do I get out of it?”
Laveroni shifted to rote pronouncement. “Well make the U.S. attorney aware,” he recited, “of your contribution to another investigation and attempt to get leniency in your case.”
Suspenders thought about it, “Well…” he stuttered, “Lucielle’s connection is my connection.” Morgan leaned forward and handed the agent a business card with a Bogota address on it. “She gave me the money to go down and score the shit.”
Laveroni leaned back and swallowed. “God damn,” he thought to himself. He’d have to ask Lucielle about that one and went down the hall to do it.
Lucielle copped to Morgan’s claims up front. “I sold him my connection,” she explained to Jerry as the two huddled around the corner by the evidence vault.
“What do you mean you sold him your connection?”
“I got half his action for my bankroll and an introduction to the source.”
“Well, how many trips,” the agent went on, “did he make down there?”
“Two others,” Lucielle answered.
“And he brought the shit back to you?”
Lucielle wiggled a little. “Yeah,” she admitted, “he was. But when he got his own bread together, he cut me out of the act. Greedy, you know. But he was charging high prices on his ounce sales and nobody’d buy them. So he called me and wanted to off it. That’s when I cut you guys in.” Lucielle grinned.
“Then you and Suspenders were partners?”
“Yeah, you might say that,” Lucielle agreed.
Laveroni laughed into his moustache and scratched his neck. At the time, he said nothing. There were a lot of San Francisco agents in the hall and he didn’t want to tell them they’d all just ripped off the snitch’s runner. Stories like that had no appropriate form for filing and tended to come apart at the seams once they were explained.
The kinds of cases Saunders made were a little easier to pin down; the narcs collected evidence and played it back in court. When Pat worked, he worked hard. “I had a lot of reservations,” he remembers, “but I got turned on by electronics. The learning was a challenge. I got into that kinda CIA, you know, spy mentality. I thought it was a big deal at the time. I was talking myself out of moralizing about people-getting beat up and violating their civil rights and things. I suppressed all those thoughts.” Pat eased his mind by making the rounds with Sarge. Borquez was a good teacher and Saunders got better with each case they worked on. The one Pat remembers best was the hunt for Carmen of Covina, Queen of the East Side.
Talk in the shooting galleries ranked Carmen number one in the neighborhood, dealing a pound or two of heroin a week, done up in ounce bags. The bureau wanted this lady and pushed hard to get the judge to agree. While the legal papers made their way through the process, the bureau got a few premature peeps at her action. Like most such eavesdropping, it happened with the phone company’s help.
Ma Bell seemed to trust the narcs and joined in informal relationships to up efficiency and aid the law. One of those was opening the B Box and allowing the tap to be installed before the judge’s permission was official. The bureau was put on its best word not to actually listen until the court approval arrived and they promised they wouldn’t. In Carmen’s case, the wires were first run into the communications room down at the Sixth Street office.
One day Borquez and Saunders crossed the linoleum from intelligence to communications headquarters. Three agents with headsets on were already listening to Carmen talking to her clients. Pat pulled one of the narcs aside for a warning.
“Hey,” Saunders objected, “these guys aren’t supposed to be listening to these conversations. We don’t even have the authorization yet.” In return the brash soundman got a little advice from the eavesdropping agent. “Just don’t concern yourself over it. You know it’s none of your business.”
Under the circumstances, Pat had to agree. The man he talked to was his supervisor.
In a week, the question was a moot point. The judge approved and the tape machines were moved into Carmen’s neighborhood for a closer listen. The command post was across the street from Carmen’s family business. In her dealings, the Queen of the East Side used her relatives for odd jobs and let them live in the apartments she owned on a block framed by Ralph’s Supermarket and Garcia’s Trailer Sales. Across the asphalt and behind the seedling elms planted along the concrete and doomed to an early wither, the agents set up in a room on the first floor with a view of Carmen’s office. Carmen of Covina lived two blocks over in a stucco house and only came by the relatives’ place to use the phone.
Every time she did, a federal agent was listening. Working in eight-hour shifts, the Sixth Street personnel manned the command post round the clock. When the phone crackled, all conversation was summarized in the log. To break the monotony, the agents usually drank or smoked weed. A week after the Carmen watch began, the only relief from the boredom was Carmen’s business. The Queen handled no dope herself, but sent runners whenever deliveries were made. Smack and money were never passed in the same place. Carmen’s folks kept books and used gas-station restrooms as a drop spot for their goods. The heroin was usually taped under the sink. When a deal developed, Carmen’s cousin Rodrigo revved up his Chrysler and jammed out to deliver. At that point, he belonged to the surveillance units connected by radio with the command post. The cops followed, close enough to keep an eye on Rodrigo’s smoke. After Rodrigo dropped, a narc car stayed on the spot, watched to see who picked it up and followed the buyer when he took the goods and left. Everyone involved made the agents’ steadily growing list. When the patterns got standard, the watch tried to liven things up with a little sport.
The fun began when the Assistant Regional Director stopped at the command post for a visit. The ARD brought his ten-year-old son along to-show the boy a little police work. When the phone made noises of another run by Rodrigo, the two of them rode along with Saunders on the tail of the load. Rodrigo stopped at a Union 76 and went into the women’s room. He came out three ounces lighter and headed east for a coffee break at a bar called the Silver Slipper. The ten-year-old watched out the back window until Rodrigo had turned the corner.
“He’s gone, Daddy,” the boy said.
“Okay,” the ARD motioned to Saunders, “go get it.”
“What?” the agent asked.
“Go get the shit,” the ARD repeated. “Look under the sink.”
Saunders fetched and then the two-and-a-half man stakeout waited. In 15 minutes, an Eldorado rumbled up.
“That’s Hot Mustard,” Saunders whispered.
The ARD nodded and told the boy to stop fidgeting in the seat.
Hot Mustard ran women and nickel bags down in nigger town and was a big customer of Carmen’s. The pimp sent the woman sitting next to him across the crumbling slab and foxtail sprouts to check the john. She came out of the restroom with a question on her face and went back in. Then she checked the men’s room. With empty hands, she hustled back to the curb and told her man. Hot Mustard’s “What?” could be heard down the street where the agents waited. He ran to the phone booth and called Carmen.
“Hey,” he said, “the stuff’s not there. What you doin’ Momma? You already got my bread. Where’s my dope?”
“You must be crazy, Mustard, the stuff got left there already. My man just called five minutes ago and said the goods are under the sink.”
“Well, they ain’t there now.”
“On the women’s side?” Carmen asked. “You sure?”
“I’m sure like a motherfucker,” Hot Mustard steamed. “The broad checked both sides. It ain’t around.”
Carmen knew she’d been burned but never figured on it being the law. The Queen of the East Side hung the rap on Mustard’s woman. At least that’s what she told Rodrigo when she called him back at the Silver Slipper.
“The broad must have put it in her snatch,” Carmen figured. “That Mustard, he’s stupid. His broads are burning him.”
“The same broads he’s been using?”
“Yeah,” Carmen finished. “The broad musta gone in and put it up there before telling Mustard it was lost. You better tell that hombre to get rid of them.”
The tap lasted for two weeks and only once did Carmen get edgy enough to think she had stray ears in her business. Carmen heard the click on the line and called the phone company to complain.
The phone company, of course, passed the message on to the bureau. Instructions were given to get off the line while it was checked. The agents were back on in time to hear Ma Bell’s service man tell Carmen that they’d checked the line. There was no drop in current. The phone was fine.
It sure was. Especially if you were a prosecuting attorney. Before their two weeks were up, the agents had compiled a conspiracy case against 32 people. When the bust came down, it was giant-sized. The LAPD, the Sheriff’s Office, the State Narcs and Customs were all in on it along with the bureau.
The agents were pleased. Stacked in five inches of paper on Saunders’s desk, Carmen made it look like they’d done a lot.
Whether they had or not is another question. Even without Carmen, junkies all over the East Side kept getting off on a regular basis. It’s the way the business is built. Putting retailers in jail amounted to pulling the lizard’s tail. It takes no time to grow another. The reason is simple. Money. Beginning with an investment of $300 in the mountains of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, the smack trail moves north, growing a gargantuan profit margin along the way. That cash buys ten kilos of raw opium from the peasants who roost on the slopes of the Sierra Madre in back of Culiacán and Santa Cruz. The nearby labs distill those ten kilos into one of morphine base. When shipped to Sonora, the labs there transform the morphine base into a kilo of heroin, rich and chocolate in color. By the time the stuff reaches the border at either Tijuana or Mexicali, it has been bleached the color of creamed coffee, cut in half with milk sugar by the border connection and is worth in the neighborhood of $30,000 when it crosses the line. With each advance towards the sidewalks, the heroin content gets lighter as each succeeding link steps on it a little bit more. By the time the original $300 worth is sold as ounces, the smack is beige and worth $70,000. By the time it gets down to Freddy Martinez–sold in nickel bags, no credit or personal checks accepted — the investment is six-percent pure and worth $225,000. The 1500-mile journey inspires a total markup of 75,000%. Numbers like that guaranteed Carmen’s replacement in short order.
And most everyone in the office knew it. The Sixth Street raiders had grown to accept that their real function was as a tax on the industry. They couldn’t stop it; the trick was looking like they might. This law enforcement approach entailed identifying the major chains feeding California its drugs and capturing them in a report. A lot of charts were drawn up in the office cubbyholes. Folks like Carmen were placed close to the bottom in big lumps. Nearer the top, the names thinned out. As Borquez saw it, the top of the chart was the industry’s bottleneck and that’s where the bureau should have been hunting. Every now and then, they took Borquez’s advice. Operations like that were international and one of Sarge’s regular duties. The biggest case he ever made in his trips to Mexico was the Salazars, another one of those family businesses.
The Salazars were and still are one of the biggest wholesalers feeding the West Coast. The secrets of their success were simple. They hired hard-nosed folks who wouldn’t turn no matter what twists the cops ran down. Besides good help, the Salazars had Grace. Grace Salazar was the genius of the enterprise and one of its safest members. She stayed out of the United States in the Tijuana colonia. The whole neighborhood, police included, thrived on her presence and wasn’t about to let any paddies sneak up unannounced. Grace did business with her regular customers by long distance. She kept the books and received payment in the mails. As long as your balance was as big as your order, the Salazars guaranteed delivery across the border within 24 hours. She also invented the Salazar code, an element that had the narcs baffled and made all calls impossible to trace. Grace’s organization had a protective shape and anyone who wanted Grace would have to go south to get her. As usual, Borquez was the man for the job.
The plan was to send Sarge to Grace’s wire dressed as a Mexican lineman. BNDD planned to use the listen as a crowbar to pull the lid off the Salazars’ act. Due to the Federale policy of selling information to the highest bidder, the Mexican police weren’t brought in on the case until the Americans were ready to bust. In the meantime, the narcs stayed in a San Ysidro motel and crossed the border each day to work. The job took two months.
And it was complicated. The biggest problem was where to listen from. Grace’s neighborhood made renting a room for their tape recorders impossible. If agents sat in a car on the street, they might as well have been painted bright red. The police from Los Angeles ended up on the doorstep of the American consul, five blocks from Grace’s headquarters. The State Department didn’t want the narcs inside the building, so they set up in a camper parked outside. The only other problem was the bug itself.
Sarge solved that by building a tiny radio transmitter that fed off the electricity in the line. He ran a piece of drop line from the main wire to one of the two connections on the bottom of his bug. The other line out of the transmitter was spliced to a wire pulled out the back of the silver box on the side of the pole. That was the lead from Grace’s number. The connection closed the circuit and the Salazars could talk just like they used to except that they passed through the United States government on the way. The installation took three minutes and Sarge was gone.
Most of the rest was listening. The transmitter broadcast the conversations and the tape recorder lapped them up. When the agents returned to San Ysidro each night, Borquez ran the tape through again and again until he had enough of the code’s letters to send it all to the Pentagon’s code breakers in Washington. The computer’s answer sewed up the L.A. customers, but for Grace herself, they needed a lucky break. The agents got it when she made a rare slip. Ordinarily, Grace never made calls. To keep the numbers secret, she only received them. After two months spent by Borquez squatting in the back of the truck sweating like a slug, Grace dialed for the first time. Her call was to the Salazar Tijuana warehouse. Slowly, over and over again, Borquez listened to the recorded clicks made by the phone’s dial. The next day, Sarge had a number, which became an address before the morning was over. The house was staked out and Federales brought in from Mexico City to make the bust.
The heat came down when Grace got a call from the warehouse saying “one was ready to go.” At the same time, a young woman left the stash pad, looking 30 pounds heavier than when she came in, and got into a Ford driven by a second, older woman. As the car headed for the border, the Federale lieutenant with Borquez turned to him. Dust was billowing around their wheels and falling in grains on the back of the seat. “If she heads across,” he warned, “I’m gonna take her.” That’s just what he did. The car stopped south of the foot crossing and the woman with the load began to walk towards the line. On the Mexican side, the Federale yanked her arm.
“Come here a second,” he said. With a jerk, the cop led her to the guard shack. Inside, the Federale got a good hold on her blouse and ripped it right down the front. Two kilos of heroin were taped around her belly and below her tits in ounce bags. The lieutenant pinched one of her nipples and laughed. The other agents grabbed the driver and the case was made. The next step was called Round Up.
The first stop on the tour was the warehouse. The building had eight rooms and the biggest was used for cutting. This cutting room was equipped with work space for five Waring blenders. The workers wore gloves and masks and there was enough heroin sifted into the cracks to keep a hype sniffing the floorboards for a year. The house’s value was testified to by the two bazookas Grace had stashed by the door. The Salazars never got a chance to use their hardware. The heat came down between shifts and the warehouse was empty, so the employees got a visit at home instead. The Americans led the Federales to all the homes they’d identified in the family. When Grace’s door flew off its hinges, she was surprised. Grace was on the phone at the time.
Grace Salazar ended up spending the better part of two years in prison, but the family survived. She had to sell a couple of her Tijuana hotels to recoup, but the investment was worth it. The Salazars still wholesale as much stuff in California as anyone in the business. The Americans were much too interested for Grace to buy a quick release, but in Mexico, as Grace learned, even prisons have telephones. The only difference is that the calls cost more. The Salazars were back in business six months after Grace was led off in chains.
With a starting salary of nine grand, growing to 25 for supervisors and 37 at the top of the ladder, the government takes care of its narcotics agents reasonably well. Probably the only group to treat agents better is the agents themselves. Over the years, the profession has developed a program of job benefits that just won’t quit.
The extras begin with a government car. Fortunately for narcs, their job calls for frequent and reliable transportation that can be parked at home nights. That policy makes all agents into two-car families for the price of one and it’s not always a Rambler they get stuck with. All cars confiscated in the course of an arrest become bureau property and the fleet includes Mercedes, Eldorados and a Rolls-Royce. But that’s just small change and, sooner or later, must be accounted for on paper. The real dividends are in the course of work itself.
People in the dope business deal in cash and keeping accounts just means evidence in court. The dealer’s stash is usually hidden but that’s no real protection against a search warrant. When the bust comes down, the only money that must reach the office is the cash the government put up to sucker the deal in the first place. Pat’s eyes got opened in a stagnant flat over Venice Boulevard. At the time, a team of agents had just kicked down Abel Quadrelle’s door and started to shake the place down. Saunders came in with the rear guard. Saunders was sent with another agent named Conroy to the bedroom to look for clues and it turned out to be a profitable assignment. Abel kept $10,000 there, rolled up in a Mason jar. With hands like a carnival pickpocket, Conroy had the jar opened, pilfered and back in its spot before anyone had a chance to notice. Except Abel. He remembered the ten grand very well. When the search was over, the agents told Quadrelle it was time to go to jail and asked if there was anything else he wanted to bring along. Abel said he had a jar in the bedroom. When the jar was fetched, it had $500 left inside.
“I think I had more,” Abel complained.
Conroy heard and approached Abel from across the room by the goldfish bowl. “What the fuck are you talking about?” the agent snarled. “You know, wetback, you ought to learn to shut your mouth. You’ll do less time.”
“Yeah,” Abel admitted, “I guess you’re right. Maybe I didn’t have all that much.”
No more talk about the ten grand was ever heard. As Pat remembers, the bulk of the money went into the “split.”
The split was the informal organization that channeled most job benefits. The older guys in the office ran it and never disclosed the totals involved. Dividends were usually paid according to whether you knew what had actually taken place and if so, how much. Inclusion in the split wasn’t automatic but ended up being close to universal. “If they think you’re going to be loyal,” Saunders remembers, “a team player sort of thing, then everything’s cool. Then some guy’ll say, ‘hey,’ hand you some money and if you take it, they figure you’re one of the boys.” The boys did all right by themselves. “It’s quite common to break in,” Saunders claims, “just to steal the guy’s dope or the guy’s money or whatever. A lot of things like that went on. A lot of ripoffs and stuff. Agents steal money out of houses and off defendants. A whole lot of money never reached the office. Just enough was turned in to keep the heat off. They’re always ripping off a guy’s money or personal belongings. They take samples too. Especially if they get the defendant’s private dope. They’ll always take hash or coke or grass.”
One year, the BNDD’s L.A. books ended up better than $8000 short. The mystery of the missing money was never solved, but Saunders had a good idea how it happened. He had seen the same mystery played out firsthand with evidence. Pat’s encounter followed a big heroin seizure in East L.A. Saunders was the agent in charge of the seized dope and carried it all down to the evidence room by the vault. He was supposed to “process” it by sorting, weighing and recording it all in the log. When Pat had narrowed the pile down to two more packages of powder, he turned around and saw Conroy behind him. The agent was stooped over one of the tables, collecting heroin by the ounce and putting it in a sack. Conroy didn’t look up until he’d cleaned the table off. Saunders stopped him right there. Pat had his limits and there was no way he planned to be the fall guy on one of Conroy’s capers.
“That shit’s already been weighed,” Saunders warned, “don’t pull that stuff now. My name’s gonna be right on the evidence. If you want to rip it off, do it on your own time and don’t put me in a cross.” Conroy replaced the evidence with a grumble and left.
As far as Pat could tell, the same techniques had been used for years. The cover never came off because, whatever else, the split remained an in-house operation. Before you were admitted into the circle, you were tested. “They play games with you,” is the way Saunders describes the examination. “See if you’ll falsify reports, perjure yourself, or lie about anything. If you do, you’re in.” According to Saunders and Laveroni, those entrance requirements didn’t keep the arrangement very exclusive. “A lot of agents,” Laveroni remembers, “will make statements on the witness stand that they’re not really knowledgeable of.” Saunders is even stronger on the subject. “In my opinion,” he argues, “agents are probably the biggest liars I’ve ever met in my life. They perjure themselves at least a couple times every time they testify. They’ll lie about almost every point of an investigation. Especially the part about seeing things. They’ll say they saw stuff they didn’t see and couldn’t have seen, just to make the case airtight. Perjury is rampant throughout the bureau. That’s a well-known common fact.” Apparently not quite so well known that it’s interfered with the agents’ action. The split, for one, has always gone unmolested, even when the defendant complains. There are a lot of reasons.
One of the most common is that the ripoff doesn’t involve a bust. Pat remembers two cases like that, both of which reached the stature of legends within the split.
The first grew out of the investigation of one Tio Sanchez. Sanchez owned a clothing store on Whittier Boulevard and a home in Carson City, complete with swimming pool and family room. Tio didn’t do enough business to live that well and rumor had it that he was a big peddler with a connection to the south. The case produced nothing solid until an informant entered the picture. His name was Jaime. It seems the snitch had been Tio’s runner, carrying $100,000 in cash to a Tijuana restaurant once a month. When Jaime’s deliveries to the south started showing up light, Sanchez gave Jaime the heave and hired a new man. Jaime wanted revenge and a little help with his parole officer. In return, he sat in the interrogation room and laid Tio out to agents Staniford and Bilbo. All of a sudden they took quite an interest in the investigation. To break the case, they needed to know the new runner’s name and Jaime couldn’t supply it. Their next hope was Saunders. Bilbo and Staniford approached him by the water cooler and wanted to make some kind of deal. If he’d put a transmitter on Tio’s line, Pat was assured of a third share in a hundred grand. Saunders got no richer. The case dragged on for better than three months and then was closed down with no arrests. If they got the bread, neither Staniford nor Bilbo told Pat about it. He wondered when he saw Bilbo’s new Buick, but thought better of asking questions.
The second was initiated by the bureau’s airport detail. They had spotted through airport security inspection a black man carrying $30,000 in a briefcase. An agent named Fortune handled the call back at Sixth Street and advised the detail to put a watch on him in case he was about to make a buy. Two airport agents followed the cash to a downtown hotel and left when Fortune and his partner took over. Fortune had convinced the hotel operator to listen in on his calls. About four in the afternoon, the operator notified Fortune that the man registered as Jones, B.D., had just arranged to meet a guy named Gumbo and his partner Leroy. The agents were idling at the curb when Jones took his $30,000 with him in a taxi that left him near 102nd Street where according to the official reports, Jones drove off in a Pontiac and lost his tail, never to be seen again. Saunders himself would never have known different if Fortune hadn’t come to the office the next day bragging about how they’d cut the nigger off in an alley and lifted the briefcase. “You should have seen the eyes on that coon when we drew down,” Fortune laughed. “Big as dinner plates.” Not long afterwards, Fortune made the down payment on his new $50,000 home by the ocean.
One of the most widespread bonuses was an informal job-referral service to help the narcs pick up a little cash on the side and do a few favors for folks the bureau wanted to impress. In June of 1972, Saunders and Borquez did a job that turned out to be bigger than it seemed. Pat was at home in Long Beach when he got Sarge’s call. Borquez said they had a piece of work to do in New York and told the junior agent to bring his debugging equipment and meet him at the airport. They would fly out that night. It was an inconvenience, to be sure, but Saunders just figured that was the reason he drew the salary he did; leaving in the middle of the night was just part of an agent’s job. It wasn’t until he was settled into the seat on American Airlines’ last flight east that Pat found out it wasn’t bureau business they were up to.
Sarge leaned across the seat’s padded arm and explained that the ARD had arranged a little side work for them on the East Coast. Some rich man named Vesco wanted his house and office checked for bugs and for some reason was having it done out of Los Angeles. Neither of them had heard of Vesco and didn’t think much of it. Pat asked if he should call his supervisor and ask for leave, but Borquez shrugged it off. “The ARD will take care of it,” Sarge explained.
Pat and Sarge were met by a chauffeured limousine at Kennedy International and driven straight to the Fairfield, New Jersey, headquarters of Robert Vesco’s corporation. The search for eavesdropping took half the day and netted zero. When they were sure the office was clean, the narcs got back in the limo and motored on to Boonton, New Jersey, and Vesco’s home. Robert Vesco met them at the door with a handshake. “The house,” he said, “is yours. Do what you have to.” Borquez and Saunders did and netted another zero. No one, they assured Mr. Vesco, was tuning in on his scene in New Jersey. After a round of chitchat with Mrs. Vesco, the agents left and spent the night in New York’s Carlyle Hotel, courtesy of their temporary employer. The next day, the narcs returned to L.A., mission accomplished, and thought little about the excursion.
After two months passed, Vesco’s Los Angeles representative, stockbroker Tommy Richardson, paid the ARD $2000, who in turn gave Borquez and Saunders $700 apiece. Later the ARD put the bite on Richardson for another grand, claiming “the troops aren’t satisfied,” but he kept it all for himself. Judging from the payments, the work was important to the man in New Jersey. Saunders figured that much out when Robert Vesco was indicted along with John Mitchell and Maurice Stans for trafficking in influence. Vesco, it seems, had been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time he hired Borquez and Saunders. Robert Vesco didn’t stick around to explain and hasn’t been seen north of the Caribbean since. Borquez and Saunders were eventually called before a Senate subcommittee and questioned about the job, but both stood behind the Fifth Amendment.
Most moonlighting wasn’t quite so newsworthy or well-paid. It was just a little chip here and a little chip there but it was enough to keep the process a regular function. Some agents subscribed to private retirement programs and passed information on to defense attorneys in exchange for work as a private eye when they reached civilian life. Leaking was rationalized on the grounds that if the agent didn’t, the federal attorney’s office would. Most folks there were looking for a nice private practice to join.
According to the books, none of this was supposed to happen. The organization was designed to prevent it. The wing of the bureau assigned to keep agents on the straight and narrow was named “Inspection” and called “the shoofly” down on Sixth Street. Inspection didn’t share the L.A. headquarters. The shoofly’s task on paper was “to correct deficiencies in employee behavior and attitude, correct situations which interfere with efficient operations, maintain the high standards of government service and to maintain public confidence in BNDD.” Inspection’s behavior, however, has not been so clear-cut.
Borquez, Laveroni and Saunders all agree that Inspection’s real function was as an arm in the political wrestle for control in the local office and the bureau at large. “This outfit,” Borquez says, “reminds me a lot of Hitler’s regime. You have the regular army, like the agents, and then on the outside, the Gestapo, Inspection, each trying to get on top of the other.” The narcs’ version of discipline grew out of a standard condition in the bureau’s workings. “There’s a saying in the bureau,” Laveroni explains: “If you got a rabbi, you’re gonna make it. If you got some big fucking honcho back in Washington D.C. who likes your act and there’s another big honcho position, he’s gonna appoint you, whatever you do.” Over the years in Los Angeles, lines of support developed. Throughout its history, L.A.’s Office of Inspection, according to three who dealt with it close up, was just one more vantage point to strike from. “They can make a case on anybody,” Borquez claims. “It’s just a matter of how you stand. If they want you or not.”
When the clique in control of Los Angeles wanted to teach Laveroni a thing or two, he ended up with a three-day suspension for refusing to give information about a fellow agent. At the same time, an agent with friends in high places was seen by civilian witnesses beating a suspect. Though formally charged, he was quickly exonerated and promoted to a lucrative training post in Washington D.C.
Narcs in Los Angeles developed a refined brand of enforcement designed to nab their fellow officers. One sure promotion was doing another agent, and there were those in the office who built their careers on it. “They build paper cases on fellow agents,” Borquez contends. “They write reports, line him up until they’re ready for the big one. Then when he commits an error, he gets it right in the neck. They’ll even set people up. There’s a million ways. If you don’t like a guy, you might hold an ounce of heroin and later slip it in the guy’s desk. If you know the ARD goes around and checks the desks, it’s a good setup.”
The best defense against the whole process was blackmail. If you can bust your enemies, your enemies will think twice about busting you. The arrangement amounted to a balance of terror. Narcotics agents in the Los Angeles office were busy tapping each other’s phones, breaking into each other’s desks and working hard to feed their weaker members into the jaws of Inspection. “They’re so busy fighting each other,” Borquez says, “they don’t have time for the real criminals. Every now and then they accidentally bump into a guy.”
The struggle for control at the organization’s base, like the split and the ripoffs, took place behind closed doors. The winners went public as “Mr. Clean” and the losers were cast as “corruption.”
And it wasn’t just a question of Los Angeles. In the nation’s capital, the winners at the top got there by amassing the most appetizing strategy. Whichever plan sounded the most likely to succeed was the most likely to end up with a goodly share of government funding. As a result, the history of narcotics enforcement is laced with the rise and fall of several forces and their attendant strategies. The most recent star to rise in the war against dope was Customs, America’s border police.
The Bureau of Customs made their play under the wing of Richard Nixon. The president wanted action. Their first step was called ODALE, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement. ODALE had all the markings of the man who nailed Alger Hiss to the wall. As explained in the printed “Guidelines for ODALE Operations in Los Angeles”: “What ODALE is all about is the concept that hitting the heroin traffic in one manner only, particularly a manner which relies eventually on prosecutors and judges to keep heroin dealers out of the traffic, must be unsuccessful. Thus,” the document continues, “ODALE in Los Angeles will rely on many approaches, aimed not only at prosecuting heroin dealers, but at harassing and disrupting them by using the many statutes and procedures available to us.
“The courts and legislatures,” according to the “Guidelines,” “have created many avenues of heroin disruption which have not been fully utilized. ODALE will enforce any law which helps us disrupt heroin traffic. This may entail a probation or parole revocation (which has been abysmally ignored), forced testimony before the Grand Jury leading to indictment (at least leading to harassment of known violators), prosecution for income tax violation (also greatly ignored), bar activity, involuntary commitment of addicts for up to seven years (a method virtually untapped), tighter enforcement of firearms and immigration regulations, etc.”
To do all this, special interagency task forces were created with Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, IRS, Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization, Customs and BNDD agents represented. Customs and BNDD were to supply the bulk of the manpower and operate under the direction of a special U.S. attorney. When it came time to recruit, a lot of agents in the Los Angeles BNDD office wanted a change. Jerry Laveroni was one of them. His clique was at the bottom of the pile and his future in BNDD wasn’t looking all that bright. Fortunately, Laveroni had all the qualities the new force was looking for.
An agent named O’Connell from Boston made that much clear when he arrived in Los Angeles as part of ODALE’s manpower search.
O’Connell settled himself in the director’s paneled office. “I want guys,” he explained, “that can kick ass and take names.”
The director mentioned Laveroni’s name and bragged, “He can walk through doors without even opening them first.”
“Good,” O’Connell ended the conversation, “that’s the type of guy we want.”
And that’s just what they got. Jerry figured his career was finally on the move and by all outward signs, he was right. As ODALE was being formed, the young agent was sent back to D.C. to partake in the public celebration of Nixon’s attack on narcotics. The affair convened in the White House. Billed as a drug-abuse conference for professional athletes, the gathering featured mock searches and interrogations by agents, lectures on the drug menace and a speech by H.R. Haldeman, who urged the jocks to keep drugs out of our national pastimes. Nixon even came by for a little small talk and shoulder rubbing with the studs of the force.
After a few weeks on the job, Laveroni decided ODALE lost a lot of its glamour. ODALE’s directive called for agents “to bring substantial federal resources to bear on the most visible level of our country’s drug traffic: the level of the street pusher.” Most of the folks who find their way to that point in the business are strung out themselves and have hustled their way into an all-expenses-paid habit. They don’t make much difference to traffic one way or the other, but there sure are a lot of them when stacked in a pile. In a war of statistics, that is known as a breakthrough.
Laveroni remembers it well. “I made a lot of cases,” he says, “but they were all inconsequential. The federal government was buying dope from the little fucking hype on the street corner. To me, it was interesting at first, but after a while, these guys were such fucking pukes that I had a hard time even rapping with them.” To execute the strategy, groups of agents were sent into a neighborhood to ply the trade for a few weeks. The task force bought spoons of smack, raided bars that served the junkie crowd and made periodic sweeps where all the buys were gathered in a stack and shown to the press. If nothing else worked, ODALE had its own grand jury, one Laveroni describes as “based on harassment. If you couldn’t get a guy any other way,” he elaborates, “go out and subpoena the fucker and have a bunch of intelligence information backed up. Get him before the grand jury, get him to lie about any one thing. Then what you try to do is flip him–you get him thrown in jail for the duration of the grand jury–or make him take the Fifth. When he does, then you say we’ll grant immunity, tell us your connection.” In the president’s game plan, ODALE was the blitz with all the linebackers coming straight for the water boy.
At first, the program looked pretty successful, but then, like the rest of the game plan, it began to strangle itself.
In the case of ODALE, strangulation was a matter of paper. The shit collected in mounds. There were as many forms to be filled out in the arrest of Gordo the Hype as there were if the Godfather himself had been busted. One agent after another was swamped in paper to the point of paralysis. When enough reached that impasse, the ODALE agents called an audible and went back to doing things the way they’d done before. For Laveroni, back to the old style meant an inside line on some big busts. And he performed well. Felix Ruiz, arrested by his Mafia friend “Angellini” with four pounds of coke, couldn’t believe his eyes when Laveroni pulled out his badge. “You were good, man,” Ruiz muttered. “You beat me in front. You were fucking good.”
Apparently the feelings weren’t unanimous.
A week after Felix’s arrest, Jerry Laveroni was called into his supervisor’s office and told he was being bounced out of ODALE. Laveroni was to be reassigned to BNDD. The explanation for the action was a pending investigation.
“It involves charges by a broad,” the supervisor advised Laveroni, “that’s all I can tell you.”
“What kinda horseshit is that?” Laveroni demanded.
“I can’t tell you anything more than that.” That was the last Laveroni heard of his charges for a long while.
Faced with Customs’ bid for the vanguard role in narcotics enforcement, BNDD responded with a game plan of their own. It was called the “Geo-Drug Enforcement Program (G-DEP).” To adapt the thinking of enforcement to the international nature of narcotics traffic, the BNDD divided the world into six Geo-Drug areas. An area, the strategy’s handbook explained, “is a management term combining specific drug categories with designated geographic locations used to divide responsibility for program effectiveness which can be controlled and measured.” The combinations ranged from Europe, the Middle East and Heroin (DA-1) to the entire world and its supply of marijuana and hashish (DA-6). For all its pretenses, the G-DEP was a simple signal that international operations were making their way to the forefront. When they did, Sarge was on the spot. To him, all this border crossing was old hat.
And Borquez liked it. When he went south, being a Mexican didn’t work against him and Sarge was left with a lot more room to operate. At the point of arrest, all American agents were under instructions to make tracks for San Ysidro before the photographers arrived. Except for Borquez. Sergio could pass for a Federale and usually stuck around to mop up the bureau’s interest. After a few cases, Sarge became Sixth Street’s expert on Mexican police procedures.
For as long as Borquez dealt with them, the Federales didn’t fuck around. In a case Sarge helped make, the post-bust questioning was conducted knee-deep in the Pacific. In another, the cops used a rain barrel. Either way, the technique was the same. The prisoner was grabbed by the hair and held underwater long enough to get a feel for the method. Somewhere this side of death, the Federales usually got what they were looking for. If the prisoner was too stubborn for water, he still had a chance to live and regret it. Such cases called for commandeering a motel room and opening the interrogation with an innocent question about the state of the prisoner’s heart. That was followed by a quick strip and a cop to hold each arm. Then the officer in charge brought out the cattle prods. The long, slim tube communicates an electric charge sufficient to send muscles into uncontrollable spasms. The prisoner is soaked down for increased impact and nudged around the nuts. As the interrogation proceeds, names are offered in droves. Each one is like money in Federale pockets.
With this background and experience, Sarge was a natural for the bureau’s international campaign. At the time, Ankara was the focus of a big American push. Bureau intelligence identified Turkey as the spawning ground of the opium that moved to Marseilles to be refined and on to the United States’ eastern seaboard for consumption. The official announcements at the time were full of a Turkish agreement to ban poppy cultivation in exchange for $35.7 million of American aid. On the less public side, Borquez was told of the need for a good soundman and handed a ticket.
Sarge reached Turkey as part of a team of agents assigned to teach the Turks how narcotics enforcement was done. The members of the task force were chosen for their various language skills and each posed as a European, bearing passports bought on the black market with the CIA’s help. The team worked from a “safe house,” a seemingly private residence in Ankara. Borquez started by teaching the Turks all about electricity and radios. In one case, Borquez took the electronics gear shipped over in the embassy pouch and wired up every table in a downtown bar. In another, Borquez watched the captain of his Turkish pupils take a wad of bills from a neighborhood hash dealer and announce there was no dope on the premises. The Turks seemed to pick up on established techniques quickly. After two months in the Middle East, Sarge returned to L.A. feeling like he hadn’t done anything that much different.
And he was right. Especially at home. Stateside, Borquez had yet to escape his cage-agent role. Even his technical officer status didn’t help when the bureau needed a Mexican. The case that still sticks in Sarge’s mind brought the technique to its inevitable conclusion.
The man Sarge was sent after was a famously mean east side high roller named Humberto Calderone. Calderone had two scars on his face, running side by side like railroad tracks. The mutilation earned Humberto the name Choo-Choo with the regulars in the Wild Horse bar on Huntington Park Boulevard. The club was a junkie hangout and Calderone ran errands for the club’s owner, a short squirrel named Aguilar. Sarge and Choo-Choo had a long relationship spanning three separate buys. Each time, the deal went down with a threat by Calderone. “If anything goes wrong,” Choo-Choo warned, “I’m gonna slit your throat.” For the first two everything was smooth. Both those exchanges took place in the Wild Horse’s men’s room. When it came time for the third buy, the paddies planned to pop the deal and Sarge maneuvered the exchange into the dimly lit alley in back of the bar. Choo-Choo was waiting when Sarge arrived.
“Let’s see the bread,” Calderone opened. Sarge flashed a roll of bills. When Choo-Choo had seen it, he backpedaled to a heap of garbage against the fence and dug out a one-pound package of stuff. To trigger the law, Sarge was supposed to scratch his nuts. As Choo-Choo approached with the heroin in his hand, Sarge scratched like hell but none of the other narcs seemed to notice. Humberto did, however, and he began to worry when Borquez kept rubbing himself instead of passing the cash. Suddenly Choo-Choo made his move. The dealer dropped his load and peeled for the bar’s back door. Humberto’s attempted escape alerted the paddies and they charged. Shouting “Stop” and “Federal Agent,” Borquez pulled his piece and joined the race right on Choo-Choo’s heels. Just steps from the door, Calderone spun in his tracks. Borquez saw a blade flash and watched Choo-Choo’s swipe pass under his chin. Sarge spun his wheels trying to back away and didn’t wait for Calderone’s second try. Sarge just figured he’d been issued a gun for a reason and cocked his stopper. The first .45 slug hit the dealer’s foot. When that didn’t grind anything to a halt, Borquez pumped the next round into Choo-Choo’s thigh. Pieces of flesh flew against the Wild Horse’s wall and for Sarge everything turned into slow motion. Calderone kept coming forward in thick shakes, but not for long. The third bark from the pistol sent hot lead rattling around in Humberto’s bowels. This last shot had the desired effect. Calderone stood straight up like he’d been starched and then collapsed in a heap on the gravel.
Sarge stared at the dealer wiggling in the stray garbage and grunting up blood, but didn’t feel a lot. It was just a job and besides, Choo-Choo looked a lot better in that pose than himself. Choo-Choo’s legs jerked and he called for his mother. The paddies reached the fight just when Calderone fell. Leaving the cleanup to the white boys, Borquez edged away into the shadows. Like the rest of the Chicano crowd, the agent milled around and watched the paddies sort out the mess. The guy next to him asked Sarge which of the gringos had done the job on Choo-Choo and Borquez said he didn’t know. As the crowd grumbled about white cops, Sergio Borquez joined the mutter and sifted to the crowd’s back apron. He felt strangely safe there.
Humberto Calderone bled to death halfway to the emergency room.
You’d think killing someone would be reason enough for promotion, but it never turned out that way. After reaching as far as technical officer, Borquez rose no further. As he watched agents with half his seniority pass him, Sergio Borquez did a slow burn. Chicanos, he explains, don’t advance. Saunders agrees. “Mexicans and black guys never got ahead in the bureau,” Saunders claims. “It wasn’t because they weren’t good agents, because they were exploited on all the big cases as far as going undercover. They still never got anywhere.”
The bureau’s distaste covered a lot more than Mexicans. Pat Saunders found that out the hard way. To the rest of the narcs in the office, Saunders gradually lost his Boy Wonder tag and began to be identified as a misfit and if not actually a hippie, at least too close for comfort. Saunders was the only one in the office who voted for McGovern and spoke up against the war when the narcs went out to chew the fat. If he’d been looking over his shoulder, the uppity agent probably would have tried to tread a little softer. When the herd turned on him, Saunders got run over. Borquez remembers: “He just got set up. That’s all there is to it.”
The chain of events began with Clauswitz and a case he was working on in Long Beach. The narc had Wayne Caristi, a neighborhood hype, lined up. Wayne was a skinny kid and not much of a businessman. He dealt to keep his arm full and that was it. Salinas, a bureau informant, knew Wayne well and the agent had him call up his friend looking for coke or weed. Wayne told Salinas that it could be arranged. The next day, Clauswitz got a task force together.
Caristi was laid back watching Mod Squad when Salinas arrived with a pocket full of cash. Wayne switched the set off and told the snitch to wait in the apartment. The unsuspecting hype took the money, got in his old Ford, and headed for the connection. The score only took a few minutes. It was a good pound of boo, clean and packing a rush that Salinas would dig. Wayne blew a sample at the dealer’s and another on the drive back. He circled the block, but didn’t notice all the strange cars parked along the avenue. Clauswitz and company were waiting.
Saunders was posted on one corner and called in when Wayne passed. Wayne and his pound got across the street, but no further. He was edging between two parked cars when the agents screeched up. “Hold it, motherfucker,” Clauswitz shouted as he jumped onto the pavement. Clauswitz and a Long Beach PD got to the hype first and began the investigation.
They went for the arms, pulled them behind Caristi’s back and jacked them up to shoulder-blade level. A week earlier, Wayne Caristi had been released from the hospital following collarbone surgery and his bones were in no shape for jostling. “Hey,” the hype pleaded, “be cool. I just had surgery three or four days ago. It’s all wired back together. You’re gonna fuck me up bad.”
Wayne heard Clauswitz laugh. “What’s the matter,” the law asked, “does it hurt?”
“It’s killin’ me.”
Clauswitz leaned forward so Caristi could feel the agent’s breath simmering on his neck. “You know what, Puke?” Clauswitz offered in a stage whisper, “Fuck you.
“Where’d you come from?” Clauswitz continued. “Tell me where you got this shit.” The answer was important to the agent. Surveillance had attempted to follow Wayne when he left with the money, but had got lost in the shuffle. Only Wayne knew where the goods came from, so Wayne had to be taught to talk. To his credit, he learned slow.
“I can’t tell you,” Wayne grunted. “It’s my weed. Period.”
Ignoring his pleas, Clauswitz and the LBPD began to use their fists and knees on the hype’s kidneys. “You better tell us,” the agent advised between blows, “or we’ll break your fucking arm off.”
“It didn’t do no good to talk to them,” Wayne remembers. “They wouldn’t listen. They just figured, ‘We got you, you’re wrong, fuck you.’ It was like I was a punching bag. Like they really enjoyed it. The harder they punched me, the more they liked it.” When Wayne heard his shoulders crack, he slid down and pleaded:
“I just got out of the hospital,” he sobbed. “You got me outnumbered. I’m flying on one wing and you caught me. I ain’t trying to fight. What the hell do you want?”
Wayne knew very well what they wanted and screamed again as the agents proceeded to go after it. The interrogation took place inside a surrounding ring of narcs. Pat Saunders was among the spectators and after three years of swallowing assorted crap, Saunders lost control. He found himself two steps in front of the crowd and all over Clauswitz’s case.
“Hey, lighten up,” Saunders broke in. “That’s not how you make an arrest. We caught the dude and he’s got the weed and that’s it. You got no right to kick his ass.”
There wasn’t widespread support for Saunders’s position. The other agents just got pissed and a few argued back. They all wondered whose side Saunders was on. By now, Saunders was more than a little hot himself and didn’t give a shit what they thought.
“That’s not right,” he went on. “There’s no reason to beat on the dude. He’s not resisting arrest. He’s not trying to get away. Lay off the poor guy, for Christ’s sake.”
Before anyone was convinced, Wayne solved the argument. The hype broke into whimpers and said he’d take them back to the connection’s house. With Wayne in tow, the convoy of police adjourned to a vacant gas station nearby for a thorough search. When it was over, an agent guided Wayne to a phone booth and had him make all the arrangements for a visit later in the evening. Back by the abandoned pumps, Saunders and Clauswitz were still going at it. Pat warned Clauswitz that he’d had enough and was going to report the whole incident to Inspection the next morning. Clauswitz called him a pussy. When Saunders held his ground, Clauswitz changed his tone but Saunders had no intentions of backing off. This fucker had to be stopped. Clauswitz was still pleading, full of appeals to loyalty between badges, when Wayne was led back from the phone booth, ready to work.
The law followed Caristi’s directions and stopped south of the dealer’s house. Clauswitz instructed the hype to buy a spoon of coke and made him use his own money to do it. Wayne brought the dope back to Clauswitz who handed the snort to Agent Allezio seated in a narc car. He tested it with a deep hit in each side of his nose. “Yeah,” Allezio reported between sniffles, “that’s some good flake.” From that point on, Wayne was useless and was sent to jail in manacles with Allezio driving.
On the way there, Wayne decided to get brave and complained: “You know what? You can’t give me no case. ‘Cause you know what? You horned about half that spoon of coke, man. That makes you the same as me. You’re as wrong as I am.”
Allezio had a quick and ironclad answer. “Let me give you a little advice, motherfucker,” the agent shouted. “If you say anything when we get downtown, I’m personally gonna kick your ass. If I can’t do it, I got a couple people who’re gonna help me.”
“Now you’re threatening me, huh?”
“I’m telling you,” Allezio continued, “if you shoot your mouth off, I’m gonna fuck you up worse than anything you got tonight. If I get in a position where I can’t do nothing here, I’ll get you on the streets. Don’t forget, I’m a cop and you’re the bad guy and I’ll always know where you’re at.”
To the best of Wayne’s recollection, that’s precisely how the game was played from then on. When he bailed out the next day, Caristi returned home to find his apartment door kicked off its hinges and the room turned upside down. Two days later, the same thing happened while the hype was out for the afternoon. Wayne’s neighbor told him the two guys who had done it matched his description of Allezio and Clauswitz. But that was just the bust’s dying embers.
The main thrust of the case was still rolling out in Long Beach when Caristi left for jail. The agents hit the dealer’s door and proceeded with the arrest. In the middle of the search, Clauswitz and Saunders found themselves together on the porch.
“Hey,” Clauswitz badgered, “you’re not really gonna turn me in for whipping that puke are you?”
“Yeah, I am,” Saunders answered and walked back inside. Five minutes later, the time came to wrap the dealer up and send him off to the holding cells. Following traditional procedure, the connection was asked if there was anything he wanted to bring along. The dealer mentioned an envelope with $400 in it. The cash was supposed to be in the second drawer of the bedroom dresser. It wasn’t. When the money turned up missing, Clauswitz got the agents together, spoke up for honest cops, and suggested that they search each other’s cars. The narcs returned to the living room without finding anything, but the money was located during a second search of the bedroom, one drawer down from where the dealer remembered leaving it.
The temporary disappearance of the cash didn’t seem like much at the time, but Saunders should have known better.
That same evening, after the case had been sewed up and put to bed, Clauswitz visited his supervisor’s house. Something that happened that night was bothering him, he said. It was Saunders. Clauswitz related how the money had disappeared and then been mysteriously returned. Clauswitz was sure Saunders had taken the cash and then put it back when his act was discovered. When asked what made him feel that way, Clauswitz said Saunders had told him so when they talked out on the dealer’s porch. Sitting in the boss’s living room, Clauswitz related how he tried to convince Saunders to put the money back. It wasn’t the last time Clauswitz got to tell his story.
The next day, Inspection called all the agents involved for debriefing. Each of the narcs was taken into a closed room, one at a time, and interviewed. While they waited, the agents sat on the chairs in the hall. Clauswitz took a seat next to Saunders and used the opportunity for one more plea. Clauswitz’s wife, the agent reminded Pat, was pregnant for the fourth time and this was not Clauswitz’s first brush with brutality charges. If he was caught on one more, he would be out of work.
“Gimme a break,” Clauswitz pled. “My family’s at stake.”
The appeal worked. Saunders reluctantly agreed to cover his fellow agent’s act and went in the office for his interview. When the Inspection officer asked what had happened to the suspect, Saunders said nothing.
“Tell the truth,” Inspection cautioned.
“There’s one thing I can’t tell you about,” Saunders admitted, but said no more. When Clauswitz’s turn came, he told Inspection that he knew Saunders had taken the money. After he’d asked Saunders to put it back, Clauswitz noted, the money reappeared. Clauswitz had recruited three others to say they’d heard Saunders bragging about the ripoff after the arrest. When Saunders found out, he knew he’d been had and took two weeks off to collect his thoughts. The conclusion he reached was simple. As far as Saunders was concerned, it wasn’t worth fighting to keep a job he didn’t like. He returned from leave on January 12th, 1973, and submitted his resignation. Before he left, Saunders had one last conversation with Inspection.
“We have enough information to get an indictment on you from the U.S. attorney,” the Inspection officer began.
“That’s nice,” Pat replied, “but I didn’t do anything.”
“We think you did,” the officer explained. “Clauswitz said you took some money, but if you’ll cooperate with us and make some cases on agents in the office, well drop it all and forget it ever happened.”
Pat Saunders got out of his chair before the offer was complete and left through the door. Fuck all this, he thought. He was going to start law school and find a new trade. Worried about Inspection’s threat, Saunders wrote Inspection headquarters in Washington to make it clear that he hadn’t resigned under threat of punishment. D.C.’s personnel officer wrote back. “Your Official Personnel Folder,” the reply read, “has been reviewed and it indicates that you resigned effective January 12th, 1973 … ‘to pursue a legal career and assist in family business.’ There is nothing of a derogatory nature in your Official Personnel Folder. I do not know what you are alluding to when you claim that there are ‘charges of misconduct’ against you.” Saunders figured he’d just been worrying without reason, but once again he was wrong.
Six months after leaving the force, the former agent was indicted in federal court on charges of embezzling money from a defendant, even though no money was lost. If it ever reached court, the government’s case would include the testimony of three agents who would back up the claims of Clauswitz. Their motives looked simple to Saunders. “The bureau,” he asserts, “didn’t want to have the fact known that agents were beating up on defendants and conducting illegal searches, the fact that I was a potential witness against the bureau or any of the agents as far as illegal wiretaps and illegal activities committed by agents. I think they just wanted to intimidate me and put me in a position that I was afraid to talk. Teach me a lesson. That’s my personal feeling, anyway. And you know, up until now, they did a pretty good job.”
Saunders’s defense rested with four witnesses. Wayne Caristi was one of them and he was already in jail. The second was an agent from Inspection named Avenal. Avenal was prepared to testify that Clauswitz was a notorious liar and shouldn’t be believed under any circumstances. Shortly after word of Avenal’s aid to Saunders got around, the Inspection agent was transferred to Texas with no warning.
Laveroni was the third witness. The two were friends around the office. He was prepared to testify that one of the prosecution’s agents told him that he really didn’t know anything about Saunders but was just making the story up as a favor to Clauswitz. Before Laveroni had a chance to say his piece, his own act began to unravel. The “broad’s charges” reappeared after a year. Agent Laveroni was formally charged with fucking a female informant and accepting the gift of a cheap turquoise ring. Both charges were in violation of bureau regulations and Laveroni was summoned to Inspection headquarters to answer the allegation. A lot happened along the way.
Luckily for Laveroni, he felt it coming as he pulled his car to a stop in front of the federal courthouse. He had noticed a green Volkswagen trailing him, half a block back for the last two miles, but he didn’t really flash on it until the car was almost even with his window. As the car wheeled into the edge of his eye, he threw himself down, pulled his pistol and listened as a .38 slug whistled over his head. The bullet’s high whine was cut short by two pings when it met the building steps. Laveroni poked his head over the car door. The gunman in the VW took the next right, blew the light at Temple and Spring and disappeared. “I was going over,” he explains, “to answer a chickenshit beef of accepting a fucking ring from a lousy snitch and I almost get blown up. Sure I was pissed.” His face was the color of eggwhites when he opened Inspection’s door.
“I don’t want to talk about it now,” Jerry growled across the desk. “Someone just took a shot at me.”
Inspection offered to reschedule the appointment for the next week.
When the date rolled around, it was clear the case had made some progress in the meantime. Laveroni was summoned to the deputy regional director’s office where the DRD, the ARD, and Laveroni’s supervisor waited. The deputy regional director began the conference.
“Well, Tom,” he opened, “as you know, there have been some allegations.”
“My name’s Jerry,” Laveroni interrupted.
“Oh, yes, Jerry.” The change of names slowed the conversation for a moment. “Well, Jerry,” he began again, “these are pretty serious allegations. I have no choice but to put you on limited duty. We want you to turn over your badge, your commission, your gun and your handcuffs to the head of Personnel.”
Laveroni’s arms twitched. “Am I fired or what?” he demanded.
“No, you’re not fired.” The DRD chose his words carefully and spoke them in small herds. “You’ll be assigned to Compliance to check drug company inventories.”
Sitting in the soft chair, Laveroni knew it was all over. Any outfit that pulls your protection right after your life has been actively threatened was not the kind of folks Laveroni could afford to work with. After two weeks’ leave, Laveroni submitted his resignation in the middle of December 1973. “I just decided to quit,” he explains. “I figured this wasn’t an organization to work for, it was something to try and stop. I respected my position the entire time I was with the bureau. I still respect the laws that are enforced by the bureau. I think I was a good agent and I think the bureau was very shortsighted in putting undue pressure on me. I challenged their ego. I was too outspoken; I consider it a shame that the bureau will continue functioning the way it has in the past. They may replace the head of the snake, but the body still wiggles.”
Pat Saunders’s fourth witness was Sergio Borquez. He too got some attention for his faith in Saunders. In late 1973, as Laveroni was being ushered out of the narcs’ ranks, Borquez was notified he was being transferred to Texas. The message was clear. “For a Mexican,” Sarge explains, “that’s like sending a black guy to Mississippi. It’s the bottom of the ladder.” By now, Borquez’s employers had changed their name to the Drug Enforcement Administration as authorized in Richard Nixon’s Reorganization Plan No. 2. The new administration was Customs’ latest victory in their campaign to corner the market on narcotics law. In the merger with BNDD, Customs held the edge and the Los Angeles region was one of the border cops’ plums. Borquezsaw what looked like handwriting on the wall. The Customs he knew didn’t look like much of a future. “You have to laugh at them,” Sarge complains. “Customs is famous for cowboy hats, cowboy boots. They’re like small-town investigators on the border. To them especially, Mexicans are the enemy. They’ve always been down on us.”
Borquez’s dilemma was solved with an accident. Before his transfer took effect, Sarge was in San Ysidro preparing for another mission south when he had an accident that left him in a neck brace. After a long period of doctor’s leave, Borquez resigned from the DEA in March 1974 with a medical discharge. “I wish I had never gone into narcotics,” he says now, looking back. “I feel personally I wasted all those years. Here I am 39, almost 40, and I’ve got to start a new life. If only I had known how many assholes there are in there and how they act. Always trying to get you. Not promoting you because you’re Mexican. Who needs that?”
At the end of it all, Pat Saunders was left with a crippled defense and he finally pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a last-ditch effort to keep himself from being disbarred before he’d had a chance to finish law school.
To this day, all three are among the mass of Los Angeles unemployed, searching as hard as they can for jobs that don’t look much like the ones they had before.
So far, they’ve found little.
My conversations with these three ex-agents took place over a four-month span and the time was full of more than one strange event. Saunders answered the phone once and listened to someone playing a recording of his own voice. Laveroni had an appointment with an airline to see about a security job until some unknown person called the personnel office and canceled it without Jerry’s knowledge. Sarge was so jittery he came to each of our meetings with his .45 tucked under his shirt. But the strangest event of all was Sammy.
Sammy was the informant who helped Laveroni and his partner catch the Modragone brothers. The snitch called Jerry the second week I was in town. Sammy said he was in the hospital after an accident and he’d just had a visit. Two active agents came by, he said, and offered him a grand in front to go out and find what Laveroni and Saunders were up to. Sammy wanted to talk to us about it. Laveroni agreed and we arranged for Sammy to meet us in a room by the Santa Monica Pier where I was staying.
The apartment was on the second floor and from the window we watched the snitch as he strode along the promenade and entered the building. Sammy seemed at ease when he sat down. Sammy had a plan.
“I don’t intend to give those bastards anything,” he explained, “the way they’ve treated me on top of the way they’ve treated you. What I was thinking was I’d talk it over with you today and maybe take their thousand bucks and just feed ’em bullshit. I can tell them nothing’s going on or whatever.” Sammy said the first visit he got from the agents was April 11th. On the 12th, two different agents came out. The second two, Albert and Goodchild, seemed worried. When Sammy mentioned their names, both Saunders and Laveroni laughed.
“Those assholes never made a case in their lives,” Laveroni interrupted.
“I told them,” Sammy continued, “if they expect something out of me, I’m gonna need money. They’re gonna clear it with the front office. Inspection has honchos coming in from all over the country, according to Albert. He wanted to fly an agent in from New York and have me dupe him into you two.” Sammy motioned at Saunders and Laveroni.
“What do they think we’re gonna do?” Saunders asked.
“Old Goodchild said all kinds of shit like, ‘Do you realize the potential of those agents to our operations on foreign turf?’ and, ‘What if they went to work for the other side?'”
Everyone in the room laughed. We told Sammy to do whatever he had in mind and he said he still liked his plan. Before he left, we emptied his pockets, found $100 and made him drop his pants and life his shirt to check for a body wire. Sammy was clean.
And we halfway bought his act. He didn’t ask questions, his nerves were steady and his story held together when he was quizzed on it. We saw him again the next Wednesday. This time, Sammy failed every test. His story fell into three or four pieces and he twitched. He had $200 more in his pocket and a pattern began to emerge. We figured Sammy’d been told no more money in front without a little production to match and Sammy was torn. He split the second time with no return invitation.
He never came back but I had the feeling his friends did. In fact, before I left Los Angeles, I had the feeling I was followed, my apartment was under surveillance and my phone monitored.
Last week, I finally talked with Sammy again and he said it wasn’t my imagination. “They had me get your telephone number when I was up in the pad so they could run your tolls,” he explained in his motel room. “Goodchild even told me all kinds of things about the pad that I didn’t know. They know who you called and where you are.” Our conversation didn’t last long. I had a plane to catch and he had a good reason to leave town.