Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program
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For decades no law enforcement program has been as cloaked in controversy and mystery as the Federal Witness Protection Program. Now, for the first time, Gerald Shur, the man credited with the creation of WITSEC, teams with acclaimed investigative journalist Pete Earley to tell the inside story of turncoats, crime-fighters, killers, and ordinary human beings caught up in a life-and-death game of deception in the name of justice.
Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program
When the government was losing the war on organized crime in the early 1960s, Gerald Shur, a young attorney in the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, urged the department to entice mobsters into breaking their code of silence with promises of protection and relocation. But as high-ranking mob figures came into the program, Shur discovered that keeping his witnesses alive in the face of death threats involved more than eradicating old identities and creating new ones. It also meant cutting off families from their pasts and giving new identities to wives and children, as well as to mob girlfriends and mistresses.
It meant getting late-night phone calls from protected witnesses unable to cope with their new lives. It meant arranging funerals, providing financial support, and in one instance even helping a mobster’s wife get breast implants. And all too often it meant odds that a protected witness would return to what he knew best–crime.
In this book Shur gives a you-are-there account of infamous witnesses, from Joseph Valachi to “Sammy the Bull” Gravano to “Fat Vinnie” Teresa, of the lengths the program goes to to keep its charges safe, and of cases that went very wrong and occasionally even protected those who went on to kill again.
He describes the agony endured by innocent people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in a program tailored to criminals. And along with Shur’s war stories, WITSEC draws on the haunting words of one mob wife, who vividly describes her life of lies, secrecy, and loss inside the program.
A powerful true story of the inner workings of one of the most effective and controversial weapons in the war against organized crime and the inner workings of organized crime itself–and more recently against Colombian drug dealers, outlaw motorcycle gang members, white-collar con men, and international terrorists–this book takes us into a tense, dangerous twilight world carefully hidden in plain sight: where the family living next door might not be who they say they are. . .
with Escobar and the cartel to know he needed to keep quiet and lie low after his cover was blown. But his daring and ego proved to be even bigger than his waistline. Seal refused to enter WITSEC, saying he didn’t want to disrupt his family, and then he did something even stupider. The DEA had not been the only law enforcement agency after Seal in 1982, when he was arrested as part of the Screamer sting. Federal and state agents in Louisiana also had been trying to catch him smuggling drugs.
their current lives and testify, often under the fear of death, contributed so much to our system of justice. For it is they who have had to endure the hardships of relocation and changed lives. • • • Pete Earley would like to thank the following persons for their help with this book: Bernard Breslin, Don Campbell, Max Caulfield, Pascal “Paddy” Calabrese, Peter Carlson, Norman Carlson, Lee Coppola, Paul Coffey, Eugene Coon, Monica D’antuono, Ronald Goldfarb, Fred Graham, Eduardo Gonzalez, Jesse
but it was the only case the strike force could make. It helped that the Hobbs Act was a federal law. This meant the case would be heard in a federal courtroom before a federal judge, completely bypassing the local district attorney and district court. The mob wouldn’t be able to pull strings. As soon as Randaccio and Natarelli were arrested, the Magaddino family began hunting Calabrese and Rochelle. Rumors surfaced that Magaddino was offering $100,000 to anyone who could find them. Mobsters
to get whacked,” McPherson said. “There were whispers that Nixon was going to send the CIA out to silence him. There were deputies who were afraid to help guard him.” Dean and his wife, Maureen (Mo), hadn’t wanted to use aliases or go undercover with new identities, so McPherson personally protected them. He and the couple flew to Nashville at one point so Dean could go over his Watergate testimony with federal prosecutors. “The Deans were getting cabin fever, so Dean asked if he and his wife,
be broadcast in the United States. He didn’t think anyone would find out, but the Thames network sold the show to a Canadian network, and on Thanksgiving Day in 1985 Fratianno got top billing on a segment called “Murder Inc.” Many of Fratianno’s Montana neighbors watched Canadian channels because they lived close to the border, and his alias was blown. A furious Safir sent McPherson to haul Fratianno into Washington for a dressing-down. “We’re going to have to move you again, Jimmy,” Safir