From Donnie Brasco and Training Day to the Departed, we have seen many a gritty crime drama showing cops and agents going deep undercover to unravel drug cartels. The agents are forced, in many cases, to supersede their adhesion and enforcement of the law to fully immerse themselves in their mission and truly become the criminals they chase. Is reality even remotely close to what happens in these interesting yet fanciful movies? Let’s see as we explore the stories of drugs, bravado and undercover agents.
ATF Agent Lenny, Prisoner number #xxxxxxx
The walls having ears might be a bit of a fallacy, but they might have an ATF agent hiding behind them. James Robert Hackney being the genius criminal mastermind he was, got arrested and shoved in prison for drug related offenses. Because stupidity has no bounds, he started to ask around the prison if there was a hit man he could hire to kill an informant that would expose Hackney’s criminal associates, it was a kill or be killed situation. In comes Lenny the one-named ‘ATF wonder’. After being locked up like a common criminal he started to disseminate the fact that he was a hit man. Eventually Hackney and Lenny’s shackled paths crossed and after expressing his need for someone to get killed, the two men struck up a deal. During the period Lenny went undercover, he was treated exactly as any other inmate. He used the communal showers, stole his bunk from another inmate and was at the same risk of serious bodily harm as any other of the institutionalized criminals. The deal was finalized with Hackney promising Lenny a motorcycle in exchange for the hit. They faked the informant’s death and sent the newspaper clipping to Hackney. Finally, after being implicated in the solicitation of a murder, Hackney added another 25 years to his drug related stint.
Agent Biker Gang
William Queen was a high ranking member of the Mongol outlaw motorcycle gang, participating in everything that being in a motorcycle gang is associated with. He rode stolen Harleys, engaged in violent clashes with rival gangs, ran drugs, carried illegal firearms and grew out his hair and beard as expected of someone living outside society’s mores. He continued this life on the fringes of both society and the law, until one day he revealed himself as an ATF agent by turning in his associates which resulted in hundreds of Mongol member arrests and prosecution. This is where the story gets weird though. Queen decided to write a book about his experience with the Mongols which painted them as a vicious, violent and calculated group of criminals. The book was then picked up by a couple of fancy Hollywood types that pitched it to Mel Gibson’s production company. The production company liked the idea and went ahead with the pre-production. By now many of the incarcerated Mongols were being released and were either approaching the production company, or the studio was approaching them requesting them as consultants and extras. Not only did the Mongols love being depicted as ruthless, remorseless outlaws, they loved the idea of “going Hollywood”. Queen on the other hand, lives in constant fear of retribution.
After a few repeated instances of pizza delivery employees being robbed at gun point, the police knew they had a vicious crime syndicate on their hands. To be sure they caught these megalomaniacs; they sent an officer into deep undercover, assuming one of the most challenging missions of his career. On a faithful summer night, yet a third pizza delivery employee was approached by two gun wielding individuals who were promptly arrested as the pizza delivery person was actually an undercover cop. And the criminals’ guns were just bb guns.
The Smoking Gun (and Dragon)
A lot of undercover cases are an open and shut type situation. You get the dirt, you get the warrant, and you get out. Other times the plot unfolds with more twists and turns than a Scorsese film. Although FBI agent Bob Hammer (kudos on the epic agent name Bob) initially went undercover to unravel a cigarette smuggling ring, he ended up meeting what Agent Hammer (see, great name) characterizes as ‘the most dangerous man in America’. He wasn’t dangerous in the traditional sense of: “He can remove your larynx with his bare hands” but because of his connections and criminal behaviors. Yi Qing Chen could smuggle anything a buyer wanted including counterfeit cigarettes, counterfeit currency, even weaponry. Not only did the ring manage to smuggle shoulder mounted rockets into the U.S, but the counterfeit currency that got over the borders was dubbed “Supernotes” as they were almost identical and undistinguishable from actual dollar bills. After two years undercover posing as a trust fund kid looking to make a quick turnaround investment, Agent Hammer managed to indict and dismantle the smuggling ring.
The much more real, much more sexist Bourne Identity
The Bourne Identity films follow the story of an undercover agent that eventually is betrayed by his own administrators and goes on the run to survive. In the case of Airman First Class Jane Neubauer, she never even had the chance to run. During the initial stages of her training, A.B. Neubauer was recruited by the Office of Special Investigations to become an undercover informant and try to quell drug use amongst trainees by dismantling the drug ring that was supplying the servicemen/women. Ironically she was approached when she was at the OSI office to report a case of sexual harassment. She was encouraged to participate in illegal activities to gain the trust of the members of the drug supply chain, including drinking, doing drugs and missing training classes. One night A.B. Neubauer went to a party which suspected members of the drug ring were attending. At the party she was confronted by a non-military individual because of her function as an informant, and was sexually assaulted, but when she reported the sexual assault the OSI questioned the validity of her claim. Left out to dry, she was threatened with a court-martial case, suspended from her OSI duties and just a few weeks later was arrested by the same agency she worked with for smoking pot.
Do you know any other interesting stories about undercover cops and agents? Let me know in the comment section below.