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Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Pete Earley

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1. April 2003
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. . .


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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

PETE EARLEY is the author of Family of Spies, The Hot House, Super Casino, and Circumstantial Evidence, an Edgar Award winner for Best Fact Crime.

GERALD SHUR, now retired, was the founder and longtime head of WITSEC. Both live near Washington, D.C.

From the Hardcover edition.

Leseprobe. Abdruck erfolgt mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Rechteinhaber. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


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 pull weeds from the family's wartime victory garden, an acre patch packed with tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons, beans, and peas. At age nine, he'd gone door to door with his little red wagon, collecting tin cans and cigarette and candy wrappers for recycling to help the war effort. Crime in the city seemed far away.

Those idyllic days ended in 1943, when Rose was stricken with pneumonia and nearly died. After she recovered, she told Abe that she wanted to move back into Manhattan to be closer to her family. The couple rented an apartment on the middle-class Upper West Side, and Gerald, now ten, got a quick lesson in how tough New York streets could be. On his very first day in his new neighborhood, he was confronted by a gang of teenagers.

"What's your religion?" one asked.

"Jewish," he replied.

"Then you're a Christ-killer," the boy shouted. "You need to pay."

The boys beat him until he collapsed, and it took him a week of bed rest to recover. Ironically, the gang's leader was a police sergeant's son. Shur had never before encountered religious prejudice. "From that point on, I absolutely hated intolerance of any kind. My parents had been ahead of their time when it came to teaching us that prejudice was wrong, regardless of whether it had to do with race, religion, or nationality. That beating made me intolerant of intolerance."

Abe and Rose were keenly aware of what was happening in the city and the world, and they expected their sons to stay informed. At night, the family listened to the news on the radio and discussed current events. "No matter what my answer was to a question, my father would reply with 'Why?' When I explained, I got another 'Why?' and the whys continued until I ran out of answers. This was his way of teaching me. Never did my father give his opinion before he received mine, and never did he tell me my opinion was wrong. I was taught to listen to other people's opinions, to consider them thoughtfully, but also to question them vigorously and be ready to defend my own views under similar grilling."

Shur's parents encouraged him to keep a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, and it soon was stuffed with articles about the mob. There was a lot of news to clip. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration) had caught Lepke smuggling narcotics into the city, and the gangster had gone into hiding. He agreed to surrender to radio newsman Walter Winchell and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover after a fellow mobster assured him that Hoover would seek only a five-year prison sentence. That turned out to be a lie, and Lepke was sentenced to death on a murder charge and executed. Johnny Dio quickly moved in to fill the void left by Lepke, which is why Abe Shur was familiar with Dio's bodyguards. The mobster and his goons were familiar figures in the garment district.

By this time, Abe had quit his labor-negotiating job and opened his own dress-manufacturing shop. Manhattan was the center of America's dress industry; in the late 1940s and early 1950s nearly every dress sold in the country was manufactured there. Competition was brutal. During the day, Abe oversaw his sewing machine operators. In the evenings, he met with jobbers to find work to keep his employees busy. Profit margins were thin, kickbacks common. Whom you knew mattered.

Abe Shur proved to be a shrewd businessman, his dressmaking shop prospered, and the family decided to give Gerald a splashy bar mitzvah. Two hundred guests were invited. Gerald's initials were carved in four-foot-high blocks of ice. There was a five-piece band. All the attention embarrassed him. "I only danced with my mother, and I was more interested in getting a chance to play the band's drum set than all the festivities." During the party, several guests handed him gift envelopes filled with cash. Years later, he...

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Amazon.com: 4.2 von 5 Sternen  33 Rezensionen
22 von 24 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Into Obscurity -- Not So Easily Accomplished! 21. Mai 2002
Von Daniel J. Maloney - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I found WITSEC to be fascinating from cover to cover. Gerald Shur was one of the original founders of the federal Witness Protection Program. For many years, he was the lynchpin in bringing increasing levels of organization and professionalism to a once informal "make it up as you go along" experimental program.

Now retired and finally free to give an insider's view of the program and its successes and failures, Gerald Shur offers a sometimes captivatingly honest and direct chronicle of the challenges and growing pains the program went through over the years. He is able to give an honest appraisal of the good decisions and successes the program has had, and even more admirable, he is able to state and own the program's shortcomings and outright failures. I admire the fact that Shur has been able to step aside from this work that he lived and breathed for so many years and offer a fairly objective story of the program.

At one point in the book, a relocated witnesses' wife tells her own personal story. It is a touching and sad story of a woman who had to abandon herself without notice and chronicles the 25 years after she was first relocated. I cannot imagine, even after having read this book, how difficult it must be to leave one's entire identity behind in order to "become someone completely new" -- birth history, family, origins, family support systems, and familiar surroundings -- all in order to help save a partner's life or one's own! While some have been extremely critical of the purpose of the witness protection program over the years, this is no glamorous escape for criminals who would be otherwise incarcerated for their entire lives. During my reading, it sometimes struck me that the cost of giving up one's entire "life" in order to be protected is as stiff a price to pay as going to prison.

The Witness Protection program has been responsible for assisting in effectively paralyzing "organized crime" as we once knew in the United States. For over the last thirty years, this program, along with enforcement of the RICO statute and aggressive prosecution have very clearly limited the extent to which organized groups can impose their criminal behavior on others.

Peter Earley and Gerald Shur do an excellent job of providing an engaging and thoroughly entertaining chronicle of the first three decades of the Witness Protection Program from its start through its later development. In addition to its history, and a number of tales of harsh human drama, this is by no means a ponderous read. At points, as a reader I was simply howling in laughter at some of the characters that the program was expected to "protect". Even some of the agents had some extremely funny "three stooges" moments, as unintentional blunders became narrow escapes from harm's way.

Highly recommended

James J. Maloney
Saint Paul, Minnesota USA
10 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Balanced view of a controversial Government Program 29. Januar 2002
Von Gene Coon - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Gerry Shur's unique story telling ability is expertly enhanced by Pete Earley's easy flowing writing style.
This book, which reads like a novel, provides the reader with and in depth look into why and how this Program was developed. Facts are laced with the right amount of anecdotal information, affording a balanced, accurate and fair portrayal of a controversial Government Program.
At times the reader may wonder if the main character of the book is Shur or Howard Safir but you quickly learn that without the leadership and innovative thinking of Safir, Shur's brainchild may have dwindled on the vine.
Pete Earley's inclusion of a mobster's wife's perspective on the Program is brilliant. It comes at just the right time in the sequence of events to allow the reader to more clearly understand the impact that this extremely effective law enforcement tool can have on the lives of those on the peripheral.
Once you begin, you won't want to put this one down.
13 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A long read but worth it 14. April 2005
Von XTreme Cdn - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
What an education you will recieve from reading this book. The majority of the public will never have any clue what goes on in the life of a "protected witness"or how the "system" works ... that's one of the things that drew me to the book. Is Shur slanting the story, aggrandizing his own reputation? Whatever.

*The other thing that drew me to read it ... when I was in college in Southern California many years ago - living off-campus in an apartment with two roomates (attending a small, private Christian 'Liberal Arts' College) ... our neighbor was a single mother who never seemed to go to work (???), and never left the apartment.

One day she mentioned to my roomate that she was in the "Witness Protection Program". The very next week, in the middle of the night, there were agents moving out all her stuff very quickly. She left a note under our door saying she was moving to Hawaii. The day after she was out without a trace ... some people showed up to her apartment to force their way in. They ended up crawling through my roomate's bedroom window by mistake, while he was taking a nap (the guy had a tire iron in his hand). *What was scary - was they guy was very soft-spoken, and politely apologized to my roomate for the "intrusion". They eventually forced their way in through the sliding glass door on the balcony of her apartment (the one guy actually climbed the side of the building). Of course the apartment was empty.

We had called the police ... and within MINUTES the entire complex was swarming with agents, helicopters, and police dogs. We really had no idea what was going on - or if she was telling the truth about any of her story. The book made it all come to life. My story was just like many of those in the book.

The book really summed it up: "You choose WITSEC ... when you have absolutely NO other alternative". What a tough way to live - not to mention the trade-off you make.

Highly recommended reading.
8 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Hollywood, take note! 30. Januar 2002
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This fast-paced non-fiction book reads like a novel. It's a fascinating look into the development of the Witness Protection Program--a program which is part of everyday lexicon, but whose origins and real-life operations are not widely known. Post-September 11, this book offers a timely look at how the original program has been expanded to bring the terrorists of the 1993 World Trade Center attack to justice, and has been used against the Colombian cartels, serving as a model to other countries. Shur, the self-effacing WITSEC founder, bluntly describes the problems with the program, past and present, and candidly talks about its failures as well as its successes. Interagency feuds and critics of the program, including Geraldo Rivera, are given ample space in this balanced account of the program that is widely credited with breaking the mob's code of silence. A first-person account of a relocated relative of a mob informant gives a chilling glimpse of life in the program. Informative AND entertaining, this book has Hollywood written all over it!
6 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen WITSEC and Other Triumphs 1. März 2002
Von Jim Bob P - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
A very well done book about a very remarkable man. Gerald Shur is a patriot and a hero, his story is truly " a profile in courage ". Not only did he have to overcome the understandable reluctance of witnesses ( and what a group they were ) to testify but he also had to mollify Congress, deal with internecine bureaucratic struggles and contend with Geraldo--all the while fighting his own battle with M.S.Then to top it off head a dangerous but successful effort for justice in El Salvador and perform wonders in Thailand. In addition to all the strength of character required and displayed , Shur appears to have remained compassionate and self-effacing, a devoted husband and father.
While reading the book I kept thinking " What a movie " but now I think it would take at least a mini-series--too much good material here for one movie.
Gold medals to Shur and his wife , Miriam , and 5 stars to the book.
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