Undercover police work is a fascinating universe due to the inherent paradox. You have a person sworn to uphold and enforce the law, who then becomes immersed in – and ingratiated into – the world of outlaws.
In addition to the innate risks of being around criminals, undercover agents live in constant danger of having their identity compromised. In other words – the peril of being outed as law enforcement is a looming concern. There is also the very real fear that the agent will “go native” by empathizing, and identifying, with the criminal targets.
One slip-up as an undercover cop could mean an agent’s life. But, despite all the risks – brave individuals still go deep undercover with the goal of bringing down criminal enterprises.
Here are three successfully bold undercover agents who helped lock-up some dangerous people.
In 1998, ATF agent Billy Queen infiltrated one of the nation’s most dangerous biker gangs – the Mongols. Assuming the identity of “Billy St. John,” Queen was introduced to, and joined, the San Fernando Valley chapter of the gang. And within a short time, the undercover ATF agent became a well-respected “patched-in” member of the outlaw motorcycle club.
Cruising around Southern California on his chopper with his long-haired, tattoo laden, beer guzzling biker brothers, Queen’s street smarts and tough guy attitude earned him instant credibility. Being so well-respected by the outlaws, Queen rose quickly through the ranks to the position of treasurer.
Fighting off any instinct to embrace the dangerous, outlaw lifestyle, Queen kept in close contact with his ATF handler, providing the feds with quality intel concerning the full extent of the Mongols’ criminal actions.
At the end of his undercover operation, the feds conducted a nationwide sting that resulted in the arrest of 54 of the 350 members of the Mongols. The charges ranged from rape and murder, to arms violations and narcotics.
Despite the successful operation – deceiving and crippling an outlaw biker club has some significant drawbacks. There’s little doubt that Queen has a price on his head, and he most certainly sleeps with one eye open.
As a 30-year veteran of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Terry Mills spent a great deal of time doing undercover work. He immersed himself into the world of drug dealers, terrorists and gang members. And even though he lived dangerously for many years, the one case that made a huge impact on him involved animals.
In 1986, while working as an investigator with an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Mills came upon a major multi-state dog fighting ring. And for 15 months, Mills assumed the identity of a dog fighter who operated from a rural Missouri property where he trained pit bulls. Over the course of his investigation, he attended dog fights throughout Missouri and Southern Illinois. What he encountered left a permanent scar on his psyche.
Witnessing the horrid abuses inflicted upon these dogs made this an exceptionally difficult assignment for Mills. A man who had gone undercover with ruthless gangs was shocked at how brutal these dog fights were, and how the people involved had no regard for the lives of these animals. Mills was astounded that these people believed dog fighting was a cultural right, along the same lines as hunting, fishing and even – religion.
Because of Mills’ tireless and soul crushing work – over 100 people were arrested, and more than 500 dogs were rescued.
By the mid-1980s, New Jersey contract killer Richard Kuklinski had already killed over 100 men. Known by the mob and law enforcement as “the Iceman,” Kuklinski was a stoic, ruthless murderer, who never displayed much emotion. (Kuklinski’s nickname is attributed to his cold-blooded nature, and the fact that he froze the corpses of his victims to mask the time of death.)
The Iceman was on law enforcement’s radar for a long time. Then finally, in 1985, the New Jersey Criminal Justice Department set up a joint federal, state and local task force dedicated to bringing the hammer down on Kuklinski. The task force was simply known as – “Operation Iceman.”
With a career spanning five decades, Kuklinksi was a fierce hitman who killed with reckless abandon. Operation Iceman agents were determined to lock this guy up. The undercover cop assigned to befriend Kuklinski was ATF Special Agent Dominick Polifrone.
Although the Iceman had killed with guns and knives, his late-career preferred assassination method was cyanide poisoning. So, when Polifrone was introduced to the Iceman, the ruse was that the undercover agent wanted to hire Kuklinski to kill someone using cyanide. They developed a relationship, and Kuklinski freely shared murder tips and stories with the agent.
Operation Iceman turned out to be a success. Agents arrested Kuklinski on the day he purchased – what he thought was – pure cyanide from Polifrone.
In 1988, the Iceman was convicted of five murders and sentenced to consecutive life sentences. Then, 15 years later, he was found guilty of the 1980 murder of an officer of the NYPD, resulting in an additional 30-year sentence. In 2006, Kuklinski died in prison of natural causes.
One thing that all these undercover agents possessed was the ability to act like a chameleon. They were able to blend in with their targets, think on their feet, and relate to just about anyone. An undercover cop’s social skills are almost more vital to a successful operation than their investigative skills. Are there any undercover stories over the years that have piqued your interest?
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