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Friday, October 17, 2008

Hollywood police under fire for corruption in FBI agent's book

Hollywood police under fire for corruption in FBI agent's book
South Florida Sun-Sentinel by John Holland - October 16, 2008

He brought down Mafia killers in New York, drug dealers in Los Angeles and crooked politicians in Atlantic City. But in more than two decades as one of the FBI's top undercover operatives, no case confounded and angered Jack Garcia in quite the same way as his investigation of corruption at the Hollywood Police Department. "What was amazing to me is that it was so easy to get cops to look the other way, to guard trucks for us, no questions asked. I'd never seen anything like it," Garcia said this week about an investigation that helped convict four Hollywood officers of trafficking large shipments of heroin. Garcia recounts the Hollywood case and his 26-year career as one of the most prolific undercover agents in FBI history in Making Jack Falcone, a new book about the more than 100 cases in which he posed as a mobster or other criminal. The FBI says he had the most undercover assignments in its history.

"The corruption is systemic throughout the whole [Hollywood] police department. We've heard from numerous sources just how corrupt these guys are," Garcia wrote. He railed against what he called transgressions ranging from officers turning a blind eye to blatant criminal activity to automatically deducting 20 percent off their checks at local restaurants. Posing as a Gambino crime family captain, Garcia effected the February 2007 arrest of Hollywood Police Sgt. Kevin Companion, Sgt. Jeff Courtney, Detective Thomas Simcox and Officer Stephen Harris on drug charges. The men, who pleaded guilty and received lengthy prison sentences, also were recorded on video dealing in what they thought to be stolen diamonds and art and protecting crooked card games, according to court records. Companion even talked about becoming a "made" Mafia member and recruiting more officers to form a criminal crew, Garcia wrote. Hollywood Lt. Manny Marino said the allegations are old and the department is being unfairly tarnished because of a few crooked officers. "There are more than 300 police officers who go to work every day doing their job, and they have to keep hearing about this more than a year later," Marino said. "Anyone can say what they want in a book, and we're going to have to deal with this a long time. But all we can do is keep moving forward."

Making Jack Falcone is a look at Garcia's dual life inside the FBI and the Mafia, including the agency's makeshift "Mob School," where the 6-foot-4, 400-pound, Cuban-born agent learned how to act like a mobster. Unlike most agents, he juggled four or five fake identities at a time, careful not to answer the wrong cell phone or burst into Spanish when he should be whispering Italian to his mob buddies. Garcia's greatest work came as Jack Falcone, a money launderer and hoodlum who ingratiated himself to notorious Gambino strongman Greg DePalma. Garcia was two weeks away from becoming a made member of the Mafia in 2004 when the FBI pulled the plug on the operation, citing safety and what Garcia calls "bureaucratic" infighting that still rankles him. FBI agent Joe Pistone, whose undercover persona "Donnie Brasco" led to book and movie deals, is the only other agent ever proposed for mob membership. Garcia came back to Broward earlier this year, as "Big Tony," to arrest Broward Sheriff's deputies Richard Tauber, of Boca Raton, and Kevin D. Frankel, of Lake Worth, who have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial on drug-trafficking charges. He used the same technique on the deputies that he had used in the much-publicized Hollywood sting. "If Kevin and [Tauber] had stopped gambling and fooling around long enough to buy a newspaper, they never would have gotten caught," Garcia said, laughing, in an interview Tuesday. John Holland can be reached at or 954-385-7909.

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