Undercover agents are advised to incorporate a core part of their real personality into their criminal persona in order to keep the true self from getting irretrievably swallowed by the manufactured role. For Jack Garcia, the Cuban-born FBI agent who infiltrated the Gambino family in 2002 as Jack Falcone in a two-year investigation which resulted in the convictions of old-school capo Greg DePalma and his Westchester County crew, the key piece of his authentic personality which he carried into the undercover work was his good heart.
Jack Garcia chronicled his many undercover experiences over a 26-year career with the Bureau in the 2008 memoir Making Jack Falcone which director Stephen Soderbergh is adapting into a movie starring Benicio Del Toro in the title role. Although Garcia descended as Falcone and other personas into a dark world of wise guys, drug dealers and dirty officials, he never let go of his fundamental nature as a decent guy which not only kept his ego from fragmenting but also was an effective means in disarming the targets.
In recounting an early role as a money launderer preparing to meet some drug dealers or "dopers" Garcia writes:
Most dopers think that anyone they meet is going to be a tough guy, so my M.O. is to disarm them with my affable, outgoing personality. I entered the restaurant with a bounce in my step, as if I owned the place. I made a comment about the weather: "Man, this heat is killing me! How you doin'? How you feelin' today? What kind of food they serve here, anyway?" The dopers, expecting someone mean, are invariably delighted to see that I am a nice guy, someone they can talk to.
The G-man's good nature also was an instrumental tool in later landing the big prize Gambino capo Greg DePalma:
The more time I spent with DePalma, the more confident I grew in my role. I was accomplishing the unimaginable. I passed myself off as an associate, a Mob guy in training, among the real wiseguys. As a result, my true personality came out even more. I am by nature a gregarious, fun-loving, people-loving person. I think my nature was a large part of the reason why the Old Man took to me so quickly. I don't know if I was ever afraid of him. I certainly respected him for the seriousness with which he took his responsibilities as a Gambino capo. But as our friendship deepened, I could do things that really expressed my true nature. I hugged him, goofed around with him, and teased him a little bit. And I know he loved it. I know he loved me.
Indeed, DePalma loved the undercover agent enough to propose him for membership in the crime family.
The genuinely nice Jack Garcia often was revealed through Jack Falcone in encounters with innocent civilians during the undercover work. For example, Garcia recounts his disgust over the roughshod treatment by the Italian mobsters of the Hispanic staff in the restaurants, and then quietly slipping the bullied workers a few bucks in a bid to remedy the wrong:
They love to show off by breaking balls, by putting working people in their place. This behavior always disgusted me. I found it revolting and unnecessary when Mob guys addressed hardworking Hispanic waiters and busboys, family men who were just trying to make a buck, as if they were lower forms of life. "Hey, what are you, a Mexican or a Mexican’t?" they might say when the busboy failed to bring them more bread or water when they had asked for it. Whenever I saw that happen, I'd motion the waiter or busboy over to me – of course, when the Mob guys weren't watching – and hand him a ten, a twenty, or sometimes a hundred, and tell him not to worry about it, that my friend didn't mean it.
In one instance Garcia refused an offer from DePalma for a new suit because he knew that the poor tailor would be stiffed on the bill (and then there was the thorny matter of getting fitted while wearing a wire).
Even though Jack Garcia brought out his good side in the undercover operations there was no doubt that his street persona – whether mob associate Jack Falcone or Cuban drug dealer Manny -- was a bad guy, and he carried authority and projected toughness with his imposing physical heft and big time roles. For example, after a target in one operation was busted he agreed to cooperate in exchange for protection from Manny, and was relieved upon learning that the supposed narco was an undercover agent: "He wasn't afraid of jail time, the state police, the DEA, or the FBI. He was afraid of me!" Garcia writes:
[I]t's so important for me that I never come across as a blowhard tough guy when I'm undercover. Obviously you've got to be feared and respected. What I aim for is to be respected … and liked. When they like me, the fear just comes along naturally. You start low key and kick it up when necessary. You can't start tough and then become mild. I always used to tell the dopers, "Never mistake my kindness as a sign of weakness."
Good guy Jack Garcia nabbed a lot of bad guys in his undercover years, and perhaps the most loathsome of the lot was Greg "Old Man" DePalma who worshipped only money. Indeed, if money is the root of all evil, then the Gambino capo was the devil. Garcia calls DePalma "a leech on society," and writes: "No amount of money was enough for Greg. Mob guys are never satisfied." The Old Man sounded like a cold sociopath in casting his fortunes with the mob over his own family in the name of the almighty dollar:
The reality is that these people aren't wonderful and they aren't generous. Greg DePalma told me over and over again that for a made man, his crime family comes ahead of his blood family. He told me often that if your kid was on the operating table, and he had only ten minutes to live, and your boss called you in, you had to immediately leave the hospital and report to him. You could send flowers later to your kid's funeral.
Indeed, when DePalma's son Craig fell into a coma after a botched suicide – the kid had remorse for agreeing to cooperate with the feds – the Old Man placed him in a nursing home, and exploited the tragedy by using his son's room as a place to hold mob meetings on the assumption that it wouldn't be bugged:
Before long, Greg was holding court for as many as eight or nine wiseguys at a time. We met and did business right in front of Craig's body. Or we would have him placed on a gurney so we could take him to the "garden" out back and get him some fresh air. Craig's room became Greg's office –it’s where he met everyone from [Arnold] Squitieri and [Anthony] Megale, the Gambino boss and underboss, to members of his own crew including Louis Filippelli, Robert Vaccaro, and me. Squitieri, who never met anyone in public, came to the home one time wearing a baseball cap and glasses. We got a surveillance photo of him nevertheless. This was the most distasteful and disquieting part of my job. I couldn't stand going to the home, but I had to do it almost every day.
DePalma said the mob came over family, and in the end he had neither.
The feds shut down the DePalma investigation in March 2005 with 32 indictments just two years after Garcia had infiltrated the Old Man's crew. DePalma's wife did not attend his trial since she hated him for bringing their son Craig into the life, and his mob cronies shunned him for bringing Jack Falcone into the crew. DePalma was convicted on a racketeering charge, and sentenced to twelve years. In reflecting on the resolution Garcia writes:
"As far as his going away, I'm glad about it. The world is a better place with him behind bars. Businesses aren't being shaken down, people aren't being slapped around – everything's better. At least until the next guy steps up to the plate in his place."
And there will be "the next guy."
For those who think the Mafia is in its dying days Making Jack Falcone is a wake-up call. Garcia's infiltration into the Gambino crime family revealed that the mob is as entrenched as ever in the New York economy, particularly the construction industry, and there are several capos running crews about whom the FBI was not even aware.
They'll always be bad guys, and hopefully good guys like Jack Garcia will continue to step up to bring them down.