EXCERPT

Hey, Where's the Money?

Our team was asked to assist in serving a search warrant near Fifty-first and Wood with one of the mid-level teams. Supposedly, the target location was holding some big weight crack destined for the streets. I was being given the opportunity to observe the working style of a team that specialized in gathering information and executing search warrants. It was an area I wanted to get into because wedging was tedious and lacked challenges, not to mention the fact that the daily doses of injustice were starting to make me sick to my stomach.
This search warrant was executed in the middle of the day during a spring day in 1994. The reason for this timing was simple: we wanted to reduce the possibility of having a lot of bodies at the house. It was a schoolday, and most of the gangbangers, believe it or not, were at school.

Our teams met at 3540 to go over the strategy and instructions. We were assigned perimeter duty and weren't going to be invited to search the target location. That was new to me, and I thought it was strange.

"Hey, Mickey," I said on the way to the spot. "Perimeter. What's up with that shit?"

"They're probably afraid of us seeing them work or afraid we'll stick something in our pockets," he responded mildly. "What else could it be?"

"I guess you could be right," I told Mickey as we pulled up behind the target location and took our positions.
I had heard stories about drugs and money that had been confiscated but never reported on the inventory logs or placed in the evidence safe. I thought back to X in 14 and it made me a bit leery.

One of the feds had once told me about the magical and mysterious disappearance of two pounds of marijuana. Another officer told me of a collection of comic books valued at more than $25,000 that disappeared from a warrant residence. Coin collections vanished. Cell phones and beepers turned up missing. Stories of quickly gained riches while serving search warrants in Narcotics were commonplace throughout the Police Department. Whenever I ran into buddies in 14 the jokes focused on the wealthy guys in Narcotics--some owned numerous buildings, others owned construction firms or travel agencies--and I was always asked if I had hit big one yet.
Mickey and I were assigned to cover the back door in case anyone decided to run out when they heard the front door being smashed by the ram. (A "ram" is a cylindrical-shaped, hardened nylon tube containing cement. It weighed about 12 pounds, was roughly three feet long, about eight inches in diameter with two handles running along the top-side for utmost leverage when striking the dead-bolt cylinder on a door. A precisely placed hit would shake the whole damn house, break the lock, shattering the door and jamb, and allow the police entry.)

Mickey and I took our position and awaited radio directions notifying us when the location was secure. That call came five minutes later: "Hold your positions outside. We got one in here we're interrogating. We'll call ya in a second."
The radio transmission had a tone of disappointment as if the seizure had amounted to less than expected. Mickey and I looked at each other and shrugged. My enthusiasm returned momentarily when they radioed us to come in.

"Hey man, where's the fuckin' dope?" I heard as we entered the house through the back door. The kitchen was in shambles--dishes broken and cabinet drawers spilled on the floor. I wondered how in the hell they were expecting to find contraband in this mess.

"Huh, motherfucker! I asked you a question," shot through the house as we made our way to the front room. It looked like the tornado had hit the kitchen and then blasted its way through the house. "Where's the damn dope?"

The questions were being aimed at an agitated black teenager. He was around seventeen, a bit overweight with a medium Afro and a pick stuck in it. At the end of the pick was a curled fist--the symbol of black power. I wondered what was going on in this kid's head as he sat with his hands cuffed in front of him surrounded by cops. It was strangely quiet until a loud crash, like glass shattering, came from the back of the house.

"Yo, man! What the fuck y'all doin' to my auntie's crib?" the kid hollered, trying to get up. Detective Malfitano, the short Italian-Irish cop who had procured this warrant, put a foot on his chest and pushed him back down onto the sofa. "I done told y'all there ain't shit here!" the kid wailed.

A cop came from the back of the house, approached Malfitano, handed him an object and then glared at the kid.
"Oh, yeah?" Malfitano said jeeringly. "Then what the hell is this?"

The kid's eyes lit up like he had been hit by lightning as Malfitano held up a small plastic bag with some rocks of crack in it.
"Nah, you motherfuckers. You ain't putting no case on me," the kid protested, shaking his head back and forth.

"Shut the fuck up, mookie," Malfitano ordered. "Or else you'll be eating bologna for dinner." (Bologna is copper shorthand for jail food.)
The seizure was less than a gram of crack--far below the expectations of the mid-level team. It wasn't due to a lack of effort though. I looked around the place, shocked by all the destruction.
"Hey, Malfi," Mickey called, "there's a garage out back."
Malfitano turned his head, eyed Mickey, and then nodded toward the kid on the couch, "What you hiding in the garage?" He then answered his own question when the kid remained silent. "You hiding dope in there. Ain't you, mookie?"

"Ain't nuttin' in there but a car," the boy answered without concern. "And I ain't got no keys."

Detective Malfitano knew the garage wasn't listed on the warrant; therefore, it couldn't be legally searched, and if any contraband were found in it, it would be thrown out in court. Or so the law says. But, if there were a seizure from the garage, some creative writing would make it legal before it got to court. All Malfitano had to do was type up the case report and claim the dope was found in the house and that was that. It didn't take a mastermind to come up with that change of scenario. The districts taught creative writing 101, but being in a specialized unit was like going to grad school. If it's on paper, it's as good as gold in the court system. As luck would have it, we found the keys.

No one volunteered to go to the garage. Malfitano scanned the room, and his eyes stopped on me. "Hey, Juan," he said, "you wanna do some mid-level work?"
I shrugged. "Why not?"
He threw me the keys. "Make sure to call me on the radio if you find anything."

Mickey and I headed out to the garage. When we opened the door to the two-car garage, we found a pristine light-blue 1967 Mercury Cougar in the middle of a clean working area.

"You can take the car, hound dog," I offered. He let out a howl and began a systematic search of the car. I was pissed that we hadn't been included in the search of the residence, so I wasn't about to exert any undue energy searching for another team's dope. I knew we wouldn't even get the props if we did come across something. Besides, the garage was immaculate and there weren't many hiding places. I began opening drawers and cabinets, but I didn't find any paraphernalia or anything remotely connected to dope.
"Fuck it," Mickey uttered as he got out of the car. "It's clean. I'm gonna check the trunk."

I went around to the rear of the car as he popped open the trunk. For a moment, I expected well-packaged kilos of cocaine to blind me, but that wasn't the case. The trunk was spotless, except for the necessary accouterments for roadside emergencies and a plastic bag containing a box labeled powdered bleach that had already been opened. Purely on a whim, Mickey checked the contents. "Holy shit! Check this out!"
I peered over his shoulder as he flipped back the top of the box. It was filled with greenbacks, two neatly stacked rows of twenties and fifties.

"Is it full?" I inquired.

"Only one way to find out," he replied, sliding his hand down the inside of the box. "It's fuckin' full," Mickey flipped through the first five or six inches of bills. "Shit! This could be one endless vacation in the Bahamas," he mused.

"Or a fucking life in jail!" I countered. I had heard stories about IAD planting money to nail dirty cops.
Mickey pulled out about an inch of the cash and began fanning his face with it. "What the fuck are you doing?" I asked, checking the corners of the garage for hidden cameras.

"I just wanna see how much it is." We counted out $1,000 in that inch or so. "How much you think's in the box?" he inquired solemnly.

"Twenty-five grand," I said.

He got on the radio and transmitted ambiguously, "Hey Malfi, you might want to come out to the garage." We learned early in our careers never to offer a warrant finding over the radio because if it hit the airwaves it could be recorded and the tapes could be retrieved in case there was some discrepancy later. I thought the lesson added to the secretiveness of the unit, so I followed along.

Detective Malfitano rushed out through the back door of the house and asked, "What ya got?"
Mickey made a production of showing him the closed box and, like Vanna White, stepped to the side and let him see for himself. When Malfitano saw the box full of currency, he couldn't have been happier. A shitty warrant had turned around.

We reminded him about the questionable legality of the seizure, and he replied, "Lesson number one: recover (for case report writing) all property in the residence of the warrant. Maybe that's why you shits are still wedging." Mickey and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes as Malfitano grabbed the box of cash without one word of thanks and left the garage.
We glanced at each other and I jokingly asked, "How much do you think'll make it into the safe?"

"Whose safe?" Mickey replied. "Malfitano's or the unit's?"

After a few minutes, the members of Malfitano's team decided enough energy had been exerted, and they headed back to Thirty-fifth Street to do the paperwork while our team resumed wedging.
The next day Mickey and I checked the twenty-four-hour activity sheets from the prior day. We immediately flipped to the information regarding the warrant we'd assisted in. We noted that only $3,500 had been inventoried.

Our eyes met. "You gotta be fuckin' joking!" I said. "Thirty-five hundred dollars?"
Mickey didn't say a word and we never talked about it again. But after that incident, I began to see recovered property in a whole different light. I knew that if I ever saw another laundry box full of cash, I'd make sure some of it wound up in my pocket. That said, I didn't think I'd ever have that opportunity again. Though the fear of IAD lurking in the shadows was real, I could see myself giving in to the temptation of finally hitting the big one.

****

Our team was serving a search warrant on the third floor of 64-- South Indiana, and I was riding with Sergeant Abernathy. He volunteered us to guard the back of the residence to ensure that no one ran out as the front door was being knocked in. Driving through the alley, I checked the numbers on the garbage cans, stopping at the target address, and sat in the car while they hit the place.

"Hey, Sarge," Javier called on the radio, "we're in and there're a few people in the place, so it's gonna take a while. We'll call you if we need you. Ten-four?"

"Ten-four," Sergeant Abernathy sighed as I put the car in park and shut off the engine. We were going to sit tight and wait for the call. There were no fences or garages, just garbage cans, dumpsters, and open fields around us, with the back of apartment buildings to our side. I turned my head and looked up at the rear windows of the apartment building just in time to see a black male furtively drop something from the third floor. The object landed in some tall grass. I checked to see if there was any reaction from Sergeant Abernathy. He remained as still and silent as usual, so I assumed he hadn't seen what I saw. I got out of the squad and shut the door.
"Sarge, I'm gonna check out the back and see if I find any tips and clues."

"All right, Juarez. I ain't going nowhere."

I walked away from the car and began picking up discarded items in the yard, inspecting them, and then throwing them back into the grass. After each time I did this, I slowly turned my head toward the car. Sergeant Abernathy never looked in my direction. He just stared off through the windshield.

I slowly walked in the direction of the dropped object; I didn't want to seem too obvious. Smoothing over the high grass with my foot, I saw a roll of U.S. currency. I had the image of the laundry box firmly etched in my mind as I picked up the one-inch roll and held it in my closed hand, visualizing that I just hit the Big One. There was no way IAD threw this out the window--and the guy who dropped it would be pissed as all hell that he couldn't find it, but what was he going to do? Call the police and report that someone stole the money he dropped out the window while a search warrant for drugs was being executed at his residence? I didn't think so. Confident I wasn't seen and feeling like I could get away with snagging it, I put the roll in my pocket. The cackle of the radio made me jump, but it was only Javier saying they were done with the search. I went back to the car, and we headed to 3540 to process the paperwork.

I was scared shitless that day and constantly looked over my shoulder for any unusual faces when we got back to the unit. The roll in my pocket was a constant reminder of the theft I was in the process of committing. I wasn't home free yet. Waiting until the right moment, I headed to the men's bathroom and paranoia overcame me. My heart was beating in my ears as I searched every recessed corner for a camera and checked the mirrors to ensure they weren't two-way. I was too nervous to take the bundle out and count it, so it remained in my pocket like a rock.

On the ride home, I thought every car behind me was IAD, waiting for the right moment to pull me over and search my pockets. I imagined the roll had a homing device on it and gave me away. Even when I got home the uneasiness continued, but with palms sweating and a quickened heart rate, I removed the bundle from my pocket. A one hundred-dollar bill was rolled around the other bills, and I removed the rubber band. With my ears pricked for the sound of feet running up the stairs or the ram smashing my door, I smoothed out the roll and began counting. There were ten hundred-dollar bills. It wasn't even close to being a big one, but it would come in handy when it came time to pay my tuition for the fall semester.

Over the next three or four weeks, I remained uneasy whenever I saw a new face come up the stairs to the second floor of 3540. No one ever came looking for the money and no one ever knew about it except me. However, this action weighed heavily on my conscience. I never did it again.