For decades no law enforcement program has been as cloaked in controversy and mystery as the Federal Witness Protection Program. Now, for the first time, Gerald Shur, the man credited with the creation of WITSEC, teams with acclaimed investigative journalist Pete Earley to tell the inside story of turncoats, crime-fighters, killers, and ordinary human beings caught up in a life-and-death game of deception in the name of justice.
Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program
When the government was losing the war on organized crime in the early 1960s, Gerald Shur, a young attorney in the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, urged the department to entice mobsters into breaking their code of silence with promises of protection and relocation. But as high-ranking mob figures came into the program, Shur discovered that keeping his witnesses alive in the face of death threats involved more than eradicating old identities and creating new ones. It also meant cutting off families from their pasts and giving new identities to wives and children, as well as to mob girlfriends and mistresses.
It meant getting late-night phone calls from protected witnesses unable to cope with their new lives. It meant arranging funerals, providing financial support, and in one instance even helping a mobster's wife get breast implants. And all too often it meant odds that a protected witness would return to what he knew best-crime.
In this book Shur gives a you-are-there account of infamous witnesses, from Joseph Valachi to "Sammy the Bull" Gravano to "Fat Vinnie" Teresa, of the lengths the program goes to to keep its charges safe, and of cases that went very wrong and occasionally even protected those who went on to kill again.
He describes the agony endured by innocent people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in a program tailored to criminals. And along with Shur's war stories, WITSEC draws on the haunting words of one mob wife, who vividly describes her life of lies, secrecy, and loss inside the program.
A powerful true story of the inner workings of one of the most effective and controversial weapons in the war against organized crime and the inner workings of organized crime itself-and more recently against Colombian drug dealers, outlaw motorcycle gang members, white-collar con men, and international terrorists-this book takes us into a tense, dangerous twilight world carefully hidden in plain sight: where the family living next door might not be who they say they are. . .
Earley, an Edgar fact-crime award winner for Circumstantial Evidence, and Shur present a fascinating third-person account of Shur's 25-year career with the Department of Justice. Starting out as a federal attorney who recruited witnesses to take down the New York crime syndicate, Shur immediately saw the need to protect those who might testify against organized crime. After years of ardent advocacy, Shur created what would become the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC). As this book shows, WITSEC's 30-year history has been anything but tranquil. Some witnesses started up new crime syndicates or haplessly revealed their true identities. Others, wanting to remain in the spotlight, presented false testimony at congressional hearings. Still others took their indispensability as witnesses to mean they were to live forever on government subsistence checks. Additionally, Shur and WITSEC faced infighting among the federal agencies that most used the program, notably, the FBI, IRS and DEA; and the physical protection of witnesses and their families was often badly handled by a poorly organized U.S. Marshals Service. Yet WITSEC has managed to protect thousands of witnesses from certain death for having offered incriminating testimony to authorities. Since the book brazenly cheers Shur's every contribution to WITSEC, it is not the well-rounded work that it should be; nevertheless, this is an eye-opening account of a significant government program, with firsthand testimony by a woman identified only as "Witness X," who has been relocated by the program. (Feb. 4)Forecast: This BOMC alternate selection has plenty of drama and action to satisfy true-crime fans. The dramatic cover photo of a man in the dark, his outline silhouetted by light, will draw attention.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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March 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Witsec by Pete Earley
CHAPTER ONE Gerald Shur was fifteen when he came face-to-face with his first gangster. He was eating cheesecake with his father, Abraham Shur, in Lindy's restaurant in Manhattan when two men sauntered by their table. "Hello, Abe," one said as they passed. Shur's father nodded at him. "Who's that?" his curious son asked. "They're Johnny Dio's bodyguards," his father replied. "I know them from work." Abe Shur was a dress contractor in New York City's mob-infested garment district. His son recognized the name. John "Johnny Dio" Dioguardi was the mob's "labor expert." In the 1950s and early 1960s he controlled several unions for his Mafia boss, crime-family head Tommy "Three Finger Brown" Lucchese. Not long after this chance encounter, Shur read in the newspaper that labor columnist Victor Riesel had been attacked as he was leaving Lindy's by a man who threw sulfuric acid into his face, permanently blinding him. Riesel had been writing columns critical of Johnny Dio's cozy relationship with Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa, and although Johnny Dio was the prime suspect behind the attack, he was never prosecuted. Witnesses refused to testify, and Abraham Telvi, the punk who threw the acid, was found dead a few days later. He'd been executed on his knees with his hands and legs tied behind him. He had reportedly tried to blackmail Dio. When Gerald Shur would later think back about his childhood and try to pinpoint what had influenced him most, he would find three common strands: his loving parents, his Jewish faith, and organized crime. From the time he had started reading newspapers, Shur had been captivated by gangsters. No doubt, stories told by his father around the dinner table and by his favorite uncle, who was a successful attorney, fueled his interest. "My father hated the mob and what it did in a community, and he instilled in me at an early age a determination to become involved somehow in the fight against it." As a child, Shur idolized his father. Abraham Shur was a self-made man. He'd been only six months old in 1903 when he and his three siblings were brought to America by his parents, Russian Jews fleeing persecution. Forced to quit school at age eleven to help support the family, Abe had gone to work delivering dresses for a manufacturer and had gradually moved up the ranks until he became the general manager of the United Popular Dress Manufacturers' Association, a trade group that represented dressmakers in contract negotiations with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The 1930s were perilous times in labor relations, especially in Manhattan's steamy garment district. Mobster Louis Buchalter, better known as Louis Lepke, was at the peak of his power, having first seized control of the tailors' and cutters' unions. From there, he and his mobster pals beat and murdered their way into the bakery drivers' union, where they forced bakers to pay a penny-a-loaf "tax" if they wanted their products delivered fresh to stores. Lepke was one of the first mobsters to realize that if you controlled the trucks that moved goods, you could control an entire industry, and he put that knowledge to work by demanding extortion payments from hundreds of businesses. Police would later estimate that Lepke and his partners were collecting $10 million per year in payoffs from frightened businessmen. It was in this mob-run climate that Abe Shur cut his teeth as a labor negotiator. Gerald was born in 1933, the second son of Abe and Rose. His mother had been a secretary in a dressmaking company when Abe met and married her in 1927. Most of Shur's earliest childhood memories were set in Far Rockaway, then a small town in Queens, where the family moved in 1935. Gerald would recall happy times there playing games with his older brother, Walter, and helping his father p