Gangsters Inc. is proud to present our interview with former undercover FBI agent Joaquin “Jack” Garcia. Some of you may know him as Jack Falcone, a jewel thief from Florida, and if you actually met Falcone then chances are you spent some time in the can. Posing as this jewel thief Garcia managed to infiltrate the Gambino crime family, almost become a made guy, and send 32 mobsters to prison.
But that is only part of the story. Now, Jack Garcia sits down with Gangsters Inc. to tell us about everything else. From his days as an FBI rookie to him becoming one of the most successful undercover agents the United States ever produced. He’ll give his views on the Mafia and organized crime, drug cartels, his book and movie deals, and what he’s up to now. Enjoy!
Just a few minutes after Garcia sits down for our interview, it becomes clear how he managed to win the trust of so many hardened criminals. With his fast wit, smart humor (at times at his own expense), and intelligent opinions you can’t help but like the guy. With his enormous physique he also casts a big shadow similar to Paul Sorvino’s character in Goodfellas: “Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn't have to move for anybody.”
But there was one essential ingredient I missed that helped pave the way for his undercover success: The greed of the criminal.
“It’s what surprised me the most,” Garcia tells me. “How greedy they are. Criminals are all about making that fast buck. And the thought of getting a conventional job and working hard like all of us is something they don’t understand. It’s all about the money. And that’s their downfall too.”
Because as an undercover agent Garcia was always eager to help criminals find what it was they were looking for. Be it drugs, a way to launder money, a couple nice Rolex watches, some jewels maybe? Once their eyes were blinking dollar signs, he knew he had the hook in. Garcia: “Greed cannot be controlled and they start overlooking a lot.” He was always prepared for any questions, but in the end, gangsters chose to believe in their moneymaker. Even if he was too good to be true.
Garcia joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1980. After he saw the movie Serpico, in which Al Pacino plays an undercover cop battling police corruption, he was sold. Rather than joining the New York Police Department he aimed for the stars and decided to apply “for the best agency in the world.” In doing so he became the second Cuban-born FBI agent in its history.
“When I got into Quantico (photo shows a young Garcia in his early FBI days), you kinda start drinking the Kool-Aid. You get into the whole G-Man thing. And I wanted to do the basic FBI stuff which was bank robberies and fugitives. But the needs of the Bureau outweigh your own, which means they can place you anywhere to work, in any city, on any criminal violation. A lot of people think it’s like join the army and be all that you can be. I’ve talked to kids in colleges who tell me things like ‘I’m gonna get my bachelor’s degree in psychology and I’m gonna join the behavioral science unit.’ It doesn’t work that way. Same with people who say they’ll become a SWAT teams guy, or go undercover. It doesn’t work like that,” he explains. “Each division, I believe there are 59, has its areas to enforce. They decide as to what investigative crime they will be focusing on based on that particular area.”
A good first impression and a bit of luck are extremely important when it comes to ending up in a nice place at the FBI. When people speak highly of you, you are more likely to get in on interesting cases. But that decision still ultimately lies with the boss who decides which agent gets which assignment. Garcia: “You may have a desire to work organized crime but if you don’t have the right network or boss that assigns you then you may never go there.”
For Garcia his lucky break came when he was approached by another agent to help out on a case dealing with national security – Which he still can’t talk about. It was his first taste at undercover work and he loved it.
“I thought: this is interesting! You are meeting with bad guys, you’re extracting information, you’re acting, you’re telling them certain things and they’re believing who you are claiming to be,” Garcia remembers. “So when I finished that operation I started volunteering for undercover work. The beautiful thing that happened was, it’s all about timing, I got into the Bureau in 1980 in 1984 we started working narcotics. Before that was all done by the DEA. I’m a fluent Spanish speaker, so I was a natural, there weren’t that many like me, since then the Bureau has changed so it now mirrors the demographic of our society but in the old days, they were very limited as far as minorities that could work undercover.”
I WAS BORN AN UNDERCOVER
Garcia would spend a total of 24 of his 26 years as an FBI agent working over 100 undercover cases. Though undercover work itself is thrilling, getting to that point is not what it’s made out to be. “You go through the process of doing the psychological exam, you make sure whether you have the capabilities, and you get your supervisor to approve you going to the school. Now when I went through, I went to the second FBI Undercover school. Nowadays they apply for the program and they go through two weeks of intensive training. In fact that program is so good that even other countries come and participate in it.”
During the course the majority of people, believe it or not, are sent home. “They just don’t have what it takes,” Garcia adds. “They are sent home because they are associating with the particular subject group or maybe they’re not handling themselves appropriately, maybe they get scared in certain scenarios. These scenarios we come up with during training are very lifelike. And a lot of people can’t handle it and you want to weed them out. because the last thing you want is to have somebody go undercover and not make it home that night.”
It may sound cliché but Garcia has seen and experienced it: “You can’t make an undercover,” he says. “It’s one of the things I’ve always said against the training course. You are really born an undercover. You gotta be a person who likes to bullshit, be a good talker, be engaging, comfortable in all settings and surroundings, doesn’t show his fear. All undercover agents have fear. I had fears during all the cases I worked. The thing is you don’t show that fear. You’re around a criminal element that at any given time could do some harm to you. You have to control your fear and not let them know that you are frightened of them. Part of it is some of these people think that by going to this school they are going to come out an undercover, well they’re mistaken. You have to be able to get along, talk fast, think quick, those are the important traits to have. Nothing the school can teach you, they will show you the parameters of working undercover, the do’s, don’ts, be careful here, who to call, but as far as creating an undercover by no means, you go into that school an undercover already.”
What follows next is the school of hard knocks. Going out onto the streets and learning it the hard way. Garcia: “You slowly start getting better. Like with everything else you start out small and learn from your mistakes.” As he learned and grew, Garcia’s undercover assignment started becoming more serious and more difficult. The smart members of organized crime needed help with a variety of illegal activities and against the skilled and highly trained undercover operator Jack Garcia their smarts didn’t stand a chance.
LAUNDERING DRUG MONEY FOR CARTELS
Wait, did I write ‘Didn’t stand a chance’? Maybe it wasn’t exactly such an easy win for the FBI and Garcia. The Cartels were a tough nut to crack, he says. “The amazing thing I find about the Cartels, they’re more sophisticated. One of the things about working around mobsters is you’ll be following a mobster with surveillance. When you lose that mobster you could find him within an hour. Where is he gonna be? At his gambling parlors that he goes to, or their social club that he goes to, his goomar’s house, his mother’s house, so you’ll find the guy. They also know they’re being tailed. A lot of those mob guys will come over to the guys doing the surveillance and try to be cute: ‘Hey now I’m going over there. You wanna cup of coffee?’
With members of a drug Cartel things are not so easy. “When they pick up a tail, that very next day they pack up their bags and transfer to the west coast. You never see this guy again. So when we were working narcotics especially with a sophisticated Cartel group we were really very careful. I opted sometimes to not even tail these guys because if they pick it up, especially after I do a money laundering transaction or dope transaction with them.”
“Cartels are also very compartmentalized. It isn’t like everybody knows who everybody is. If you take down a guy with dope and you’re trying to offer him a deal to cooperate he can’t give you anything. He says ‘Look I got a page, that page told me to call to this number, I call that number and a guy tells me to meet him on the corner of whatever at three o’ clock, I was there, he gave me the keys of a car, I put the stuff in it came back, gave him the keys back. Who is it? I don’t know.’ He doesn’t ask. Because if he’s asking that gets back to the Cartel who will ask him ‘Why you asking? You don’t need to know that.’ Everything is set. Because they have these compartments that’s as high as you go. You’re not moving up the ladder like you’re supposed to do. There is no such thing as ‘I want to meet your boss.’ Sometimes if you launder enough money and you work a wiretap you identify the boss which is good but most of the bosses are in Colombia or Mexico so they are difficult to get to. You have to catch them through money, wiretaps, as opposed to any undercover meet.”
Working narcotics was quite the trip for Garcia. It was during this time that he also realized that despite the Bureau’s best efforts in busting drug dealers the media wasn’t that interested. “That’s the fascinating thing about the mob and organized crime,” Garcia begins. “I’ve been working narcotics since the FBI got into it in 1984. I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest men and women in law enforcement and we were really rocking and rolling taking down a lot of these drug criminals. We had done a lot of seizures, I’m talking boatloads and ton loads of drugs, a lot of money seizures where we really hurt them in their pockets. None to very few of them make the newspapers. For some reason it’s not glamorized. We took down five thousand kilos in New York and that never even made the newspapers. But if you lock up a mobster with one kilo you got newspaper fodder for weeks and weeks.”
The good ol’ American Mafia. The media darling and Public Favorite Number One. After a slow start, the FBI has had huge successes in breaking down the mob’s influence. For decades Italian-American Mafia families ruled organized crime in many major U.S. cities. Eventually extending that influence into the legitimate world. “It’s something distorted but I do understand why the world romanticizes organized crime, especially Cosa Nostra,” Garcia admits. “It’s the only one of the few criminal groups that actually infiltrated all of legitimate America. They’ve gotten into the unions, corrupted police departments, corrupted politicians , construction, because of that they are very influential. They’re looked at as a different breed.”
Click here to read Part 2 of Gangsters Inc.'s interview with Jack Garcia in which he talks about infiltrating the Gambino crime family, what he's up to now, and his movie deal.
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