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Old 08-17-2012, 01:01 PM
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PreciousDust PreciousDust is offline
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Witness Protection questions

I appreciate any and all insights into any of this...thanks!

1. Say, theoretically, that federal authorities released a convicted and cooperating felon back into the general population, after they've served their time, in hopes of getting more busts while the ex-felon continues to cooperate. But then, after some time, the feds and/or the ex-con came to feel that the ex-con needed Witness Protection. How would the feds make that ex-con "disappear" so that they could start a new life in Witness Protection? Towards that end, would they possibly help the ex-con fake their own death? And has anyone ever heard of that sort of thing happening?

2. Say, theoretically, that a reporter from a reputable newspaper was doing some actual investigative work and, while exploring a crime, started poking around in a situation as described in 1) above, i.e. where a person of interest had either been placed in the Witness Protection program with a new name, or where that person of interest had actually died while in the Witness Protection program (or if not in the actual program, at least protected by law enforcement in some fashion). If law enforcement got wind of the reporter's inquiries, would they tell the reporter to cease and desist, and to keep quiet about it? Would the reporter be legally bound to do as directed by law enforcement, and would the reporter therefore most likely (or definitely) comply with law enforcement's request?

In advance, again, thanks for any help.
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Old 08-27-2012, 08:40 PM
phubbard63 phubbard63 is offline
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I'm speaking from no official position or first-hand knowledge, just books and documentaries.

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Towards that end, would they possibly help the ex-con fake their own death? And has anyone ever heard of that sort of thing happening?
I've never heard of that happening. I can't imagine that they'd do that, if for no other reason than that the whole point of the witness protection program is to protect witnesses. If the government convinces the world that Sammy Gravano is dead, then struts some guy onto the witness stand in John Gotti's trial and says “this is Gravano,” they're gonna have some explaining to do. I can just imagine what a defense attorney could do with that – “hey, we all know what's going on here. Gravano really is dead. And the government couldn't convict Gotti otherwise, so they got this guy, whoever he is, to play the part.” Think about some of the other ridiculous ideas that smooth-talking defense attorneys have got juries to believe; this kind of argument might sink the case.

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If law enforcement got wind of the reporter's inquiries, would they tell the reporter to cease and desist, and to keep quiet about it?
I doubt it. You've heard of Henry Hill, of “Goodfellas” fame? The WP program had to move him several times. Hill just couldn't keep clear of the bottle, and sooner or later he'd get smashed and tell some new drinking buddy of his, “hey, you've seen that movie with Ray Liotta? Based on a true story, and the dude ended up in witness protection at the end? Well, guess what? I'm the guy!” The next day, when he sobered up, he'd tell the WP agents what had happened, and by that evening he'd be on a plane off to some new place with yet another new identity … and Hill would soon get some new drinking buddies at his new home, and the whole thing would happen again. It didn't matter whether the person he had blabbed to took him seriously or not – the relocation was automatic. Hill actually lived pretty close by here for a while, although I had no way of knowing it at the time. (No, I never met him.)

Here's another example, from a documentary I saw a few years ago. A family had been relocated into the WP program. New names, new identity documents, the whole works. They had just moved into a new home and settled in when the agents caught something they'd missed. The daughter had a bicycle she had brought with her. The bicycle had her original birth name scratched into the handlebars. Now, there was no evidence to even imply that any of their new neighbors had seen the name on the bicycle, or for that matter even the bike itself. But it didn't matter. There was only one possible safe course of action – yank the family out of their new home and do the whole relocation bit over again; new place, new identities, etc.

Given examples like that, I'd think that if WP caught wind that a reporter's queries were getting too “warm” they'd be far more likely to just yank the witness and relocate him. Even if they could trust the reporter to keep quiet, the fact that one reporter figured it out would mean that the witness's new identity and cover story wasn't as good as it should be.

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Originally Posted by PreciousDust View Post
Would the reporter be legally bound to do as directed by law enforcement
I don't think so … law enforcement's power to order anyone to do anything is very limited (for example, the old Hollywood cliche where the cops tell someone "you're not under arrest, but don't leave the city" is a load of crap -- they can't do that). And the courts generally look down on “prior restraint” of the press in any form.

Last edited by phubbard63; 08-27-2012 at 09:04 PM.
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Old 08-28-2012, 05:07 PM
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michmi michmi is offline
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1. I do not believe they would help fake someone's death. I have a relative who went missing in another city within a couple of weeks after an interview with the FBI, the family assumed WP program over being dead because we could see him doing this and leaving the family in limbo. Fast forward about 5 years and his son died--guess who was lurking around at the funeral service? FBI. That's when it dawned on us he was really dead, because if they're checking to see if he showed up they don't know where he is either. And really, from what my relative was into, the choices were dead or witness protection, no other possibility.

From what I know, they will do is give you a new identity and documents supporting and put you in a new location. I don't even think for the most part they even let local law enforcement know.

If a reporter started asking questions, they would just relocate the witness instead of doing any damage control. I can't imagine law enforcement (and I'm talking FBI) even acknowledging they know anything about the witness, let alone give a warning. I know when my relative's wife was calling them they simply said they would not discuss any individual with her. That's why we thought he went WP.
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Old 08-28-2012, 08:56 PM
phubbard63 phubbard63 is offline
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Aggh, sorry about your relative. That's gotta be a tough situation for the whole family, to say the least.

The last part of Nicholas Pileggi's book about Henry Hill, Wiseguy, gives a pretty decent if shallow description of what it's like for someone entering the WP program. Of course, there were things Hill couldn't talk about, and things might have changed since 1980.

One other thing I remember from that documentary. The program pays a monthly stipend to the protected witness but is also very restrictive, confining, and difficult to live under. Many protected witnesses get fed up with all the rules and regulations, drop out voluntarily, and take their chances.
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Old 08-28-2012, 09:38 PM
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Strawberry Fields Strawberry Fields is offline
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The WP has always fascinated me. We live in a somewhat rural area (only 3 miles from downtown) but still sort of out in a country-like setting. In the summertime, it is hard to see our neighbor's houses. We moved into our old farmhouse back in the 80 and there is this house across the road from us. We never actually met the families that lived there, but it always seemed strange that occasionally one family would move out and then without even a FOR RENT sign being there, a new family would "seemingly appear". We started noticing we never saw a family move out and never saw a new family move in. The house was owned by a police officer and supposedly he rented the house out. It is a pretty property with a small pond, horse pasture, etc.

I have always joked with my husband and daughter that I think it is a home for people in the WP program. A couple years ago the house went up for sale and the same family has been living there for a couple years now. My husband has met them, but since we have a long driveway, I have not met them. Incidentally, our property is in the county and that is city. So, whenever a family moved there that had children, they always would have gone to different schools than our daughter.

Probably all my imagination about this, but interesting to me anyway.
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Old 11-11-2012, 01:26 PM
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This has nothing to do with the original questions, but I had one too. If a RSO were to go into Witness Protection, would their new name have to appear on the registry for the state where they lived?
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Old 11-11-2012, 06:27 PM
deca deca is offline
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This has nothing to do with the original questions, but I had one too. If a RSO were to go into Witness Protection, would their new name have to appear on the registry for the state where they lived?
My total guess answer is "yes". Imagine if they didn't put his new name on the registry and he was caught "at it again" or was allowed to have a job that would put others at risk. He might confess that he used to be so-and-so and he had been a RSO. The government would be in big trouble!
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