Why you should care
Because truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes more profitable too.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
I was in the bureau for 25 years. My first office was in Pittsburgh and then West Virginia. I transferred to Detroit and stayed there for 12 years. I ended up in Las Vegas and that’s where I retired. I worked in an undercover capacity for the FBI and was assigned to infiltrate traditional Mafia operations from Cleveland to Las Vegas and several places in between. Upon completion of that, I got into a special operations group, post-9/11, and I traveled throughout the country domestically, doing surveillance and covert work mostly against people suspected of being terrorists in the U.S.
About four years ago, I came to the realization that I’m not going to live forever. I’m kind of where I want to be financially, so I pulled the plug, and my wife, who’s a registered nurse, did the same thing. When you retire, you have to have something that you’re passionate about, so we bought a small ranch and built a cabin in a remote mountainous area here in Nevada. I’m very blessed that my wife enjoys this sort of lifestyle. We have some horses. We also have a small place in Las Vegas. We stay up here for a couple of months at a time and it seems like I’m always digging a hole or fixing a fence or riding an ATV or exploring and hiking. It’s a long way from my life as an FBI agent.
I had the underboss of a major organized crime family accompany me to case a house for a proposed burglary.
I entered into law enforcement after returning from Vietnam and got a job at a small department in Ohio. I really had no inclination for that sort of life, but once I got involved, I kind of enjoyed it. I was a deputy sheriff for five years; when I completed college, I moved to the Ohio Department of Investigation, which was an organized crime unit. Basically undercover work, infiltrating low-level mob operations like gambling and some drug purchases. After doing that for three years, I thought, “Hey, I got a shot here,” and I applied to the bureau. I was real fortunate to test well and I got some veteran points on the exam. Before I knew it, I was accepted into the FBI. It was 1980.
I was always taken aback at the direct involvement of the La Cosa Nostra hierarchy in low-level, somewhat petty crimes: auto theft, burglary and shakedowns. When I was undercover, I had the underboss of a major organized crime family accompany me to case a house for a proposed burglary. That level of involvement always surprised me. I guess that’s one of the reasons these guys go down, they just can’t help not being directly involved. It’s like they actually believe the Hollywood crap that’s part of how they’ve been portrayed throughout the years.
But the old days of the code of silence — omertà — are gone and so are the traditional Mafia ways to make a buck. They’re not needed anymore. Gambling and even some drugs and prostitution are legalized in a lot of venues these days. Plus, the government does an exceptionally good job of dismantling these organizations. Plea bargains, informants, wiretaps, hidden mics and airtight cases make it impossible for them to operate like the old days. But one thing remains constant, and that’s their greed. The old adage of honor among thieves is a falsehood. Greed always gets them in the end.
The bureau has a mandatory retirement age of 57. When you stop to think about it, that’s a pretty young age. After getting your feet on the ground in the bureau, it takes a good agent six or seven years before you really know what you’re doing. At 57, I wasn’t quite ready to be put out to pasture. During my years in Las Vegas, I had developed some contacts, and I immediately stepped into a position as a security director for a large casino. I had upward of 100 security officers working for me. We had more than 2,000 employees, 3,000 slot machines, about 25 restaurants, 18 movie theaters, a huge bowling center and a big events arena.
It’s like being the chief of police in a small town. On any given weekend, you might have 25,000 to 30,000 people come through the property. Everything that was going on in the real world was going on in the casino — prostitution, drugs, theft, auto theft, sex crimes, counterfeiting — it was enough to keep me busy and I enjoyed the action. It was a good transition for me, stepping away from the bureau and going into this environment. I did that for seven years.
Most people don’t realize, but a large part of being an FBI agent is documenting what you’re doing. I was always writing. Even a wiretap affidavit can be 60 to 70 pages long. So I started writing about what I loved. That was our ranch and our living situation.
I knew about the FBI and I knew about the casino business. I came up with this fictional story about a retired FBI agent who’s the head of a security operation at a casino in Las Vegas. The character and his spouse have a ranch up in the boondocks. There’s a situation in the book where the protagonist trips across an old bad guy who’s hanging out in the witness protection program. He’s hiding out in a small town in Nevada, but he’s also running an international scam. I called the book Pigeon Spring and published it on Amazon. I’m writing a second one, so I guess now I’m a writer.