5 Pointless And Awful Government Sting Operations
The government wants to stamp out crime, but just preventing it is kind of boring. Be honest, would you watch a movie about the time nothing happened because all conflict had been successfully made impossible? The really fun part of crime fighting is actually capturing the criminals, and sometimes that means making people into criminals. And other times it also means becoming a criminal yourself.
The Department Of Homeland Security Opened Fake Universities To Deport People
Let's say you live in another country and want to come to the U.S. You use a recruitment company that places students abroad, and they find an American college willing to enroll you. However, it's a school you've never heard of before, so perhaps you're worried. But it has a convincing website, a social media presence, all that good stuff. And luckily for you, the Department of Homeland Security maintains a list of every single legitimate university in the country, where foreigners can apply and get student ("F-1") visas. "The University of Farmington" is on there, so you enroll, get your visa, pay $12,000 for tuition, and come to America. Congratulations, you've fallen into a cruel, stupid trap.
See, once you arrive, the college doesn't sign you up for classes. In fact, they say you're instead welcome to find a job immediately and put this experience toward getting your degree through a program called Curricular Practical Training. This suits you just fine, as working in the U.S. is the ultimate goal of many foreign students (and many American students too, for that matter). All's well until 2019, when U of F announces it's shutting down. Because it was never a university at all. It was just an office building staffed by DHS. Their goal was to catch students enrolling in fake universities, and now that they've caught you, they kick you out of the country.
The real target of this sting operation was supposedly the recruiters -- the students "faced deportation," but the recruiters were charged criminally. Student visa fraud involves recruiters grabbing real visas for universities that they know are fake. But you'd think there'd be a way of arresting such people without luring in honest ones and ruining their lives. Because yeah, these kids' futures are fucked.
Besides losing tens of thousands of dollars and wasting years, now they also have visa fraud on their records, and will likely never be allowed to enter the U.S. again, much less ever immigrate here. The same goes for Canada, the UK, or any other country that asks applicants if they've had visa issues.
Homeland Security insists that the students are also guilty, since they clearly knew something was up as soon as they realized they weren't taking classes, if not earlier. But even aside from the students who then transferred to real colleges because they actually wanted to learn (and were deported anyway), all the students had reason to believe they were following the rules, based on what was said on the department's own goddamn website.
Sure makes it seem like this was all nothing but a scheme by a government that hates immigrants and want to rob them. Another Trump administration blunder, right? Except DHS has been doing this for years, and pulled the same scheme in New Jersey starting in 2013, under Obama.
NASA Set Up A Moon Rock Sting In A Denny's, Making An Old Woman Wet Herself
Back when NASA was sending men to the moon to neutralize the threat there, one of the scientists working behind the scenes was an engineer named Robert Davis. He ended up retiring from his job taking home two paperweights as mementos -- one containing a part of Apollo 11's heat shield, and another with a sliver of moon rock the size of a grain of rice. He'd later say he received these gifts directly from Neil Armstrong. No one's been able to confirm that part, but I mean, I'm not gonna throw a stink about it. Bigger fish, ya know?
Robert lived for 20 years after the moon landing, and after his death, things got tough for his widow, Joann. Her daughter died, leaving her to raise two grandchildren, and her son had major medical bills. She decided to sell the paperweights, but had trouble finding buyers. It's possible that auction houses, seeing a woman swearing that her knickknacks came from the moon, were slightly skeptical. So Joann contacted NASA, asking them directly the best way she should sell the relics.
It turns out there is no best way to sell space treasure. Lunar material belongs to the government, and you cannot own it personally. Perhaps when she spoke with NASA's inspector general (an office that really exists, to catch moon smugglers and other criminals), they could have informed her of this. Instead they brought in Jeff. Jeff, a "confidential informant," later phoned Joann, claiming to be a former NASA employee willing to buy the stuff from her. He set up a meeting at a Denny's, and once they were both there, he offered her $2,000 for one of the paperweights. Then the agents swept in.
Apparently three armed officers (plus three more in the wings, for backup) were needed to relieve this 4'11'', 74-year-old woman of her contraband. They took her purse too, and pulled her out of the booth. She asked to go the bathroom, they refused to let her, and she ended up urinating in her pants. They marched her to the parking lot anyway, gave her the Miranda warning, and kept her there for two hours.
They did not arrest her, though, as she had not in fact committed any crime. It was an entirely unjustified use of law enforcement, as a court declared six years later, awarding Joann $100,000. Which at least was probably more than she was ever going to get for the paperweights on Etsy.
Related: 5 Hilariously Illegal Ways Governments Solved Huge Problems
The ATF Ran Fake Pawn Shops, Leading To More Gun Thefts
Though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives may sound like a department for celebrating the four coolest things in the world, they actually regulate these products, and seek to get illegal guns off the street. That's not an easy task. People propose all kinds of laws for limiting future sales, but those do little for guns already out there. For that, the usual solution is buyback programs, and even those don't always seem to reduce gun crime. Lots of people sell police their old guns that way, or sell spare guns, but not a whole lot of criminals are interested in showing cops their semi-automatics, for some reason.
The solution, decided the ATF, was to create a bunch of stores that looked like seedy pawn shops to attract criminals who wouldn't deal with law enforcement. Then they could jail the gun sellers, boosting arrest numbers. How? By employing a felon in the shops, since it's a crime to sell guns to a felon. The ATF set up some of these shops near churches and schools, because selling a gun in such areas carries extra penalties. And to lure in teens (whom the ATF hoped would return with more guns and drugs to sell), they provided booze, let them smoke weed there, and had female agents dress sexy and flirt with the, I'll say it again, teens.
Getting criminals in the door was still tricky. Someone had to go out and talk up the shops to gang members, and it had to be someone who was visibly not a cop in disguise. The ATF fell upon the perfect sort of person for this: the mentally disabled. They hired one unemployed guy with an IQ in the 50s to clean for them and hand out fliers. Then they got him to lure in gun sellers, and consequently arrested him on 100 counts. Another mentally disabled recruit was 19 years old. They tattooed their shop's logo on his neck as an advertisement. He was confused by this, and more confused when they arrested him months later.
These shops also attracted customers by selling stuff at very low prices (discounted cigarettes, and jeans at 90% off) and buying guns at very high prices. Higher, in fact, than guns cost new. Maybe you've guessed the way shoppers would obviously respond to this: They started buying guns elsewhere and then selling them to the ATF at a profit. Then other criminals decided it would be even easier to just steal guns from other stores and sell them to the ATF. Sometimes they'd even steal guns from authorities, but the ATF took steps to limit this. If the gun had been stolen from police, you see, they would buy it at a slightly lower price.
Related: 6 Massive Secret Operations That Are Hidden All Around You
The DEA Got The Guy Behind The DeLorean To Sell 100 Kilos Of Cocaine
Today you probably know the DeLorean because of Back To The Future, but it was a real car before that -- one that went out of production a few years before the movie got made. The company had a lot of trouble selling it because without a flux capacitor, it was just an oddly slow sports car. To keep things running, founder John Z. DeLorean needed a huge influx of cash, and it wasn't like someone was just going to walk up to him with a deal worth tens of millions of dollars.
One day, DeLorean's ex-neighbor James Hoffman walked up to him with a deal worth tens of millions of dollars. He introduced DeLorean to a banker named Benedict Tisa and a Mafia money man named John Valestra. They wanted him to help them traffic 100 kilos of cocaine. Valestra brought 25 kilos of the stuff to a hotel and videotaped DeLorean toasting the deal with champagne. And then they arrested him, because Valestra was a DEA agent and Hoffman and Tisa were with the FBI. Damn. Hopefully he got to finish some of the champagne, at least.
A whole lot of high-level drug arrests happen when the DEA arranges drug deals themselves and then arrests everyone involved for participating in said drug deals (and, one hopes, for additional actual prior crimes). In New York City, for instance, the DEA repeatedly gets gangs to arm themselves and storm supposed stash houses, which could end really badly sooner or later. Sometimes this even involves the DEA distributing additional drugs in a community, but they consider it worth it as long as it allows for that big arrest in the end. But some stings see less success. See, sometimes they go up against a crazy millionaire.
The government tried to pin DeLorean as the mastermind, and they'd even timed the arrest to come the same day his factory shut down to emphasize how much he needed to make money. But when his legal team laid out the whole deal for jurors, they figured he hadn't really done anything, and if he had, the government was wrong to entrap him. So they acquitted him of all charges, and DeLorean spent the rest of his days trying unsuccessfully to build a monorail, going bankrupt, and opening a new business selling luxury watches. He named the company DeLorean Time. It failed, but hey, it's better than that cocaine thing.
An Undercover Officer Fathered A Child With An Activist He Was Spying On
In 1968, protesters in London demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy against the Vietnam War. Clearly this was the sort of antisocial activity that could, if unchecked, eventually turn things against the Crown, so authorities needed to respond. The Metropolitan Police Service formed a new unit for infiltrating leftist activist groups. It was officially called the Special Demonstration Squad. and unofficially called the "hairies," because officers stopped shaving to pass as filthy hippies.
To create their personas, the officers stole the identities of 80 dead children. One of these secret agents masquerading as a ghost child was Bob Lambert, and a detailed chronology of everything he did and who he arrested during his years undercover remains hidden from the public to this day. He joined Greenpeace, and there allegedly authored a libelous leaflet about McDonald's which resulted in a trial that lasted ten years. He also infiltrated the Animal Liberation Front and possibly firebombed a department store that had been selling fur.
Lambert started relationships with several protesters as part of his operations. This is, of course, a standard part of what it means to be a British spy. Traditionally they must pursue two women, one of whom will betray him and then die, while the other accompanies him into the sunset on a boat at the end. But Lambert's multiple relationships were notable for how far he took them. One of them, with a woman identified only as "Jacqui," lasted four years. They had a child together. Then when the kid was two, he vanished without warning to return to the wife and kids she knew nothing about.
Jacqui had no idea what happened to the man she'd known as Bob Robinson and had lived with (for three or four days each week) for years. Then in 2012, she read about Lambert's undercover activity in a newspaper article. The shock was enough to send her to a psychiatric clinic. She went public, saying she'd effectively been "raped by the state," and the Met ended up paying her 425,000 pounds in a settlement. Her son is also now old enough to sue as well, in case that's still unresolved.
Lambert went on to lecture about terrorism -- a subject he knows a bit about -- and to supervise other operatives. He offered novice spies some advice he'd learned: When sleeping with activists you're entrapping, always wear a condom.
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