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Inside An FBI Undercover Operation

Taking down a document counterfeiting ring from the inside proved thrilling and nerve-racking.

June 20, 2011  |  by Alicia Hilton - Also by this author

Photo illustration: LaMar Norman.

I wondered what my grandma would say if she knew I was wearing body armor and a gun under the hot pink sweater she gave me for my twenty-third birthday. She had always encouraged me to be what I wanted to be, but I don't think Grandma would be happy if she knew I had spent the past two years posing as a Mob-connected cocaine dealer. Grandma died four months before I joined the FBI.

As I strode up Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, a Number 4 train rumbled over my head. Though it was about 45 degrees outside, sweat rolled down my back. My mouth was so dry it felt like I'd been chewing sawdust, but I didn't stop at the bodega for a drink. I wanted to keep my hands free.


Two teenage boys loitering on the corner were staring at me. They should have been in school, but probably they were working as lookouts for a local drug dealer. Were they staring at me because my jeans were so tight? Because they were wondering if I was a potential customer? Because they were planning to rob me? Or had I been made?

I knew the longer I played my undercover role, the more likely it was that my cover would get blown. Working undercover makes even the most level-headed agents get paranoid, and today all my senses were on high alert. I knew that my black leather motorcycle jacket was bulky enough to conceal that I was wearing the Kevlar vest and my SIG Sauer 9mm pistol, but I still worried that someone would be able to tell.

It was the first time I'd worn body armor to a meet. It was the first time I'd worn my gun in a hip holster while working UC. But this was no routine meet. Usually I left my guns at home while I worked UC because most of the criminals I did business with would get suspicious if they saw I was carrying. They'd worry I was going to rip them off or that I was a cop if they saw I had a weapon. For suspects considered particularly dangerous, I brought a gun but carried it in a hidden holster, sacrificing ease of access for subterfuge. But today I needed to get to my gun fast.

At locations spread across the Bronx, White Plains, Yonkers, Queens, and Upper Manhattan, FBI Special Agents on 45 arrest teams were conducting a coordinated take-down. Somewhere on the side streets bordering Jerome Avenue, three of those arrest teams and a search team were waiting for my signal.

Two Years of Work

The busts would be the culmination of more than two years of work. Initially, the investigation had focused on public corruption, targeting corrupt employees at the DMV who sold fraudulent driver's licenses and vehicle registrations to drug dealers, terrorists, organized crime figures, and other scumbags who used aliases to enter and leave the U.S. and otherwise facilitate their criminal activity. But as evidence was gathered through undercover buys, surveillance, and other investigative methods, the case expanded to include additional corrupt government employees who sold passports, green cards, social security cards, and birth certificates.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Morning Eagle @ 6/21/2011 11:49 AM

Very interesting look at the operations and the people that conduct them that never make the headlines, nor should they. Hopefully all those scumbags arrested as a result will get maximum prison terms without parole or possibility of early release. This is only the tip of an insidious iceberg doing great damage to our national security. Keep up the good work FBI!

Miller @ 10/9/2012 6:14 PM

What are Tina and joeys last name? I'd like to know how many years in prison they got.

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