Though none of the government employees were known to be armed and dangerous, some of the subjects at other locations carried weapons and had extensive criminal histories. They used their travel agencies, insurance agencies, and other businesses as fronts, laundering money and dealing in forged documents, drugs, guns, and counterfeit currency. Over the past two years, I had become quite close to some of these individuals. I knew that people like the brother and sister team I was about to do another transaction with would not hesitate to kill me if they thought that violence would keep them out of jail.
Closed for Business
Five minutes before the scheduled take-down time, I arrived at the location where I was supposed to do the final deal and discovered that the business was closed, the glass front sealed off by a rolled-down graffiti-covered metal door. "Closed," I muttered for the benefit of agents monitoring the transmitter I was wearing.
Despite my concern about getting made, I didn't think that the subjects had been tipped off about their impending arrest. Criminals are notoriously flaky. They'd probably partied hard the night before and were sleeping off a hangover.
Even during the daytime, that section of Jerome Avenue is not the type of neighborhood you want to hang out in. I glanced around me, wondering if any of the arrest or search team cars were watching, then I walked a couple doors down and paused in front of a pawn shop, pretending to admire a stereo and a pair of gaudy gold earrings in the window. Probably both were stolen. And I'd bet that most of the new merchandise sold in the pawn shop "fell off a truck."
After waiting a few more minutes, I glanced at my watch and headed up the block. It would look suspicious if I waited on the street too long, and I couldn't risk meeting agents surveilling the area. I stopped at a fast food joint up the street, used the bathroom and grabbed a drink, then headed back. All the time, I surreptitiously looked for agents and the subjects I was supposed to meet. No sign of anyone.
Twenty minutes later, the business was still shuttered. I felt edgy and cold, but I didn't want to call off the bust. I knew that if we didn't grab Tina, Joey, and their associates that morning, they would likely hear about the other subjects' arrests and flee the jurisdiction. And they were more likely to be armed and resist arrest if they were busted at their homes. Plus, doing one more deal right before the bust would be additional evidence against them that could be used at trial. I kept walking.
One Last Transaction
I circled the block again. The metal door was rolled up. The lights were on. I saw Tina at her desk. I felt my heart start pounding harder. Not from the brisk walk or the caffeine I'd been chugging all morning, but from the excitement that leads up to a
"Hey, Tina, how you doing?" I put the paperwork and photos for two passport applications on her desk. She didn't ask who the men in the photos were. She never did. She didn't care if they were drug dealers or terrorists or what their real names were. All she cared about was money.
"Good, real good." She shoved the paperwork in her top desk drawer and then looked back at me. "Where's Alex?"
"He had to take care of other business." I smiled. Tina didn't try to hide that she thought my undercover partner was sexy. She was like a dog in heat. Her husband was incarcerated in Greece. Her common-law husband in the U.S. also was behind bars for murder. If she knew that "Alex" was an FBI agent, she wouldn't be so eager to get in his pants. I smiled wider, knowing that my undercover partner was back at the command post, preparing to interrogate subjects after their arrests.