Author Michael Tabman was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, NY. After serving as a police officer for three years with the Fairfax County VA police department he joined the FBI. Michael, A 24 year FBI veteran, investigated crimes ranging from white collar to bank robberies, organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering. He rose through the ranks reaching the level of Special Agent in Charge. His professional travels took him to Israel, Russia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. After retiring, Michael founded and still works at SPIRIT Asset Protection, LLC as a security and risk management consultant and public speaker. He is a crime and security analyst for local news stations.
Cocaine was the drug of choice in America during the 1980s and 1990s. The Colombian Drug Cartels controlled drug trafficking with ruthless violence. The cartels were well organized, corrupted entire governments and had so much money, the Mob was jealous. The United States declared war on drugs. New York City was at the heart of the war. The FBI and New York City Police Department joined forces. Work the streets with FBI Agent Bob Douglas and his partner Detective Mark Zucarelli as they stumble into a drug money laundering investigation and find that they don’t know who they can trust. Was there more to the drug war than met the eye. Based on the author’s years as an FBI Agent assigned to the FBI-NYPD Drug Task Force, this book tells the story from someone who was in the middle of the war on drugs. Hard hitting, raw and realistic, Bad Intent will make you feel that you are right next to the FBI Agents and NYPD Detectives as they take on the cartels and their own agencies.
Dedicated to our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line, so we don’t have to.
Thanks to my former partner, retired NYPD Detective Mark Zucco for the friendship, memories and inspiration.
Mystery, thriller, suspense, murder, police, cop, detective, crime, Michael Tabman, Midnight Sin, Bad Intent, Ex FBI Agent Michael Tabman, Drug Wars, Cocaine, Drug Cartels, FBI, NYPD
Cocaine floods the streets of New York City. Drug cartels are in control. The mob wants their share. The FBI and NYPD have a drug war to fight. But, who are they fighting?
With my gun digging into my crotch, I squirmed restlessly trying to find a more comfortable position. That didn’t work, so I slowly and carefully shifted the small suede covered holster an inch or two on my belt, hoping to not accidentally shoot my balls off. My mind replayed, and my lips silently mouthed word for word, the argument we had right before I left for work.
Frighteningly, it sounded exactly like every argument my friends described as having before their wives became their ex-wives. I never thought my marriage would even get close to heading down that road. I tried to clear my mind. Coming to work distracted was never a good idea; we all needed a clear mind focused on the mission. Tonight’s mission was to conduct surveillance, make the arrest and then grab the dope and money, if and when the deal went down.
“Hey Bob, what the hell are you doing?” Detective Mark Zucarelli, my FBI-NYPD Task Force partner asked me.
“Huh? Whatta ya mean?” I responded while mindlessly looking out the window at towering apartment buildings eclipsing two-story brick faced homes of the tough, blue collar Queens neighborhood.
“You’re talking to yourself.”
“Oh, uh, no. I was just singing a song that’s stuck in my head.”
“Well, keep it in your head. You’re freaking me out.”
Zook, as he was called, was an experienced New York City Police detective, having worked undercover against the mob and in narcotics. Tall and strong, he was a confident cop, sure of himself and proud of his service. But, he was impatient. Surveillance was not his thing. When you work narcotics, if you’re not the undercover agent, you’re waiting around for something to happen. Drug deals never went on time.
Like the rest of squad, we sat in the car with the windows rolled up, tuning out the cold wind and the rest of the world. Even in the middle of the night, somewhere in this big city, there was cruelty and crime occurring somewhere. We could not hear the distant shrills of a woman in tears as her husband pushed her head through the thin plasterboard wall only two blocks away. Maybe some cops on patrol would be dispatched to that domestic dispute call, maybe not. For us, the possibility of a few minutes of activity on an empty gas station lot would be our only focus tonight.
“Another long night. All for what?” I muttered, not really expecting a response. “For a good bust, Bob, that’s what.”
“Eh, I don’t know. Does anybody really care about drugs anyway?”
“Don’t you think everyone would rather see us take this crap off the streets before it gets into their kids’ high schools?”
“Well, when you put it like that, I guess. It just seems like everybody is so friggin’ indifferent to drugs, and violence and crime in general. Of course, only until it effects them.
Then they care.”
“Well, maybe not completely indifferent. They must care a little. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a job and make the big bucks, right?”
“Oh yeah, big bucks.”
Silence overtook us for a few moments. Zucarelli and I got along pretty well, but we were still feeling each other out as partners. If that worked, then maybe a friendship would follow.
Gazing out the passenger window, a strong gust of wind whipped up some dirt and trash into a small whirlwind that caught my attention. The mini-tornado swirled down the sidewalk until it dissipated as it hit a random target. “Look at that poor schmuck. How do they survive this kind of cold?” I mumbled.
Saying nothing, Zucarelli looked out my window and grunted, also staring at the ragged homeless man sleeping beneath the pile of newspapers and old clothes he managed to find rummaging through the garbage.
“Problem is, they don’t always survive. There’s a good chance the medics will pick up his frozen corpse in the morning.”
“Hmm.” Then my mind drifted into oblivion, the sad plight of this homeless man leaving my thoughts as quickly as it entered.
Suddenly, my attention was brought back to the task at hand as the car radios began to crackle. FBI agents and New York City Police detectives found places to settle in and called out their locations. Engines remained on to keep warm. Steam from convenient-store coffee began to fog the windows. The wait was on.
“So what do you think, Zook?” “Think of what?”
“Of this, you think the van is going to show up?”
“Oh, it’s gonna happen.”
“Really. Why you so sure?”
“C’mon. Every time your star FBI agent gets assigned something, it just happens.” “I know, I’ve seen that. Maybe he’s just lucky.”
“Lucky nothing. Reardon is so far up Franks’ asshole, it couldn’t be any more obvious. Any time a groundball case comes in, Franks assigns it to Reardon and he comes out looking like a superstar. This is a good one; it’s gonna go.”
“You sound pretty sure.”
“Hell yeah, I’m sure. Your Miami office handed this one to us. You know they got that hot informant who infiltrated the cartel down in Colombia.”
“I did know that. I didn’t think you knew. I thought that was confidential information.”
“Get real, Bob. Nothing is confidential. You guys leave all those secret reports right there on your desks; you talk openly on the phone. Shit, we don’t know how you FBI agents keep anything confidential.”
“Neither do I. Besides, what’s the point of having a task force if we can’t tell you everything. It’s not like they’re plans for a nuclear war. It’s just drugs.”
“Agreed. Anyway, if the snitch is right, this van is packed with coke. Once it’s unloaded the dealer is gonna give them half a mil to ship back. If we do it right, we’re gonna seize it all.”
“Yep, and then Reardon gets a few more arrest and seizure stats and we get the privilege of backing him up.”
“Now you got it, Bob.”
“What I don’t get, is why Reardon. There’s fifteen swinging dicks on the squad, well fourteen and Julie. Why not share the wealth; that would only be fair. What’s his motivation?”
“Don’t be so naïve. Franks is one dumb motherfucker. Nobody can figure out how he got to be an agent, never mind a supervisor. Reardon, as the second in command, covers for Franks’ screw-ups, then Franks pays Reardon back by putting him in line to get the desk when he retires in a couple of years.”
“Really? You think that’s his intent - you protect me from myself, and then I’ll take care of you by setting you up for my desk? Is it that easy?”
“Yes it is. That is one screwed up system the Bureau has for promoting people. At least in the NYPD we got a sergeant’s test to weed out some of the crap trying to move up the ranks. It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than the FBI way.”
“The FBI way?”
“Yeah, pure friggin’ politics. C’mon, don’t act so surprised. That was the first thing that hit all of us when we got on this NYPD-FBI task force.”
“Really, of all the things we have in the FBI, the first thing all you cops noticed was the politics?
“Pretty much. That and all the crazy rules you got. We don’t know how you expect to work on the street when you need six layers of approval for everything little thing you want to do and every dollar you want to spend.”
“You get used to it.”
“Have you gotten used to it?”
“I don’t know. I tell myself that I have, but every day I go home with my head spinning.” “I gotta be honest with you Bob. Me and the rest of the cops respect the FBI and what you do with Russian spies and shit like that. But we don’t really picture FBI agents as narcs. So, when we see someone like Franks leading the charge, it kinda feeds into the cop perception of the FBI not knowing their ass from their elbow when it comes to street crimes.”
Taken aback by Zucarelli’s honesty, I felt my jaw drop a bit. Not that I didn’t know that about the cops; we all knew how they felt. I never expected to be hit with that so bluntly. Yet, I was glad that Zucarelli was comfortable talking honestly with me.
“Really, then what made you guys decide to join an FBI task force?”
“C’mon, you kidding? We get the FBI paying our overtime, giving us rental cars and cell phones and all this other crap NYPD can’t afford. Nothing like sucking from the government tit.”
“I guess it is a good deal for you. Maybe we should bribe the PD to work on foreign counter intelligence task forces too.”
“Good luck with that. Money can only buy you so much cooperation.”
“Can’t say I blame you. Those FCI guys are miserable. All they do is get breakfast, play basketball at the navy yard, go to lunch, go shopping and head home at 3:30. As long as they do one memo a day, they’re good to go. What a blow job that work is.”
At that moment, Franks got on the radio.
“Speaking of the dipshit…” Zucarelli chuckled.
“13-1 to all units, just a reminder of the plan. After the load is delivered and the exchange made, 13-6, 13-8 and 13-9 follow whoever takes the load and stay on them. The rest of us will follow the van for a few blocks and then jump ‘em,” were Franks’ instructions.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and this won’t go. We get home early and Reardon comes up empty handed,” I said to Zucarelli, half kidding and half hoping.
“Whatever. Do we know where in Colombia the coke is coming from?” Zucarelli then asked me.
“No, we don’t. It seems like things were easier to figure out before the Colombians stepped up to the plate, killing Rojas and then extraditing the Montoya brothers.”
“Yeah, I know. Back then it was either the Medellin or Cali Cartel running things. With those fuckers on the run, everybody went underground. Who woulda thought the Colombians were really gonna take on the cartels like that.”
“Well, they probably just pushed too far with all that violence. They would’ve been better off working like our mob here. I mean, look at how they whacked Catalano, the supposed boss of bosses. Right outside a restaurant, in the middle of a busy street, they take him and his bodyguard out. No one else gets hurt. It was like a friggin’ work of art.”
“Good point. But then look what happened. After taking over the family, Gulotti got a little too much like Rojas. He got in the government’s face and backed them into a corner. They had to take him out. Crime is a funny thing. If you don’t push too hard, you can get away with a lot. Like we said before, the public is pretty indifferent.”
With that sobering thought, we slinked into our seat and became silent. The digital clock on the dashboard flashed 5:42 with a soft green light. The deal was supposed to go at 5:30. For drug deals, which never went on time, it was still early.
Zucarelli leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes and started rubbing his right hand over his half flexed left bicep. Even half flexed it was twice the size of my both my biceps combined. By the smile on his face, I could tell he was drifting off into his own fantasy land – whatever that was. After about fifteen minutes, I broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Shut up.” Zucarelli abruptly interrupted me and grabbed the radio microphone.
“13-9 to all units, I got headlights coming down 43rd street. Don’t know if it’s our target, stand by.”
“Okay, thanks, all units hold your position and stand by,” Franks responded with those obvious orders.
“Get your boney ass down,” Zucarelli ordered me as if I was some rookie agent.
“Okay, but you being able to describe my ass, got me a little worried.”
Zucarelli smirked and I left it at that. Jokes about my skinny physique were common. As for Zucarelli checking me out, I knew I had nothing to worry about. He was one of the most prolific players I had ever worked with. He wasn’t necessarily discriminating in his choice of women, but he scored a lot.
Killing the engine, hoping the exhaust was not noticed, we sank down in our seats as the headlights slowly approached us, with Zucarelli monitoring its movement via the side view mirror. The headlights passed right by us.
“13-9 to all units, it’s a van, probably our target. One male in the passenger seat. It’s coming down 43rd and will hit the corner, righhht….now. And it’s making a left towards the gas station, someone take the eye.”
“13-2, I got it,” Reardon got on the radio.
“Of course you do,” Zucarelli said under his breath but loud enough for me to hear.
The timing, the van’s slow pace and direction of travel certainly led us to believe that this was the van we were waiting for. We had to move carefully. It would not be the first time everything looked right and we moved in on a car scaring the crap out of some poor bastard minding his own business, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Okay, the van is passing the gas station, stand-by,” Reardon called out to the squad. “I see two Hispanic males in the front seat. This is it.”
After a few moments of radio silence, Reardon was back on, “Looks like he’s squaring the block, checking for a tail. Everybody stay put; let’s not get burned now.”
Zucarelli and I looked at each other, tilting our heads, acknowledging that this operation was falling in to place.
“He’s pulling in; he’s pulling in to the gas station.” The excitement in Reardon’s voice was getting obvious.
“All units, be on the lookout for the car with the money. We have no info on that, but not too many cars should be driving around here at this time of the morning,” Franks followed up on the radio.
The van turning into the gas station was a good sign. If our information was correct, the van was packed with cocaine. The car that was supposed to meet the van was loaded with cash. In most drug buys, the cash and drugs wouldn’t show up in the same place, to avoid a rip-off. This was not a drug buy; this was one drug trafficking cell collecting its own money and replenishing its inventory. If some rogue or crazy drug trafficker tried a rip-off, he knew the consequences. First, his entire family in Colombia would be killed, but only after his wife, daughter and mother were gang raped. Then, in time, he would be hunted down. Throat slit and maybe some other mutilations, his body would be stuffed in a car trunk and then the car would be set on fire. The message was always clear; very little was left to the imagination.
Within a few minutes Reardon was back on the radio.
“13-2 to all units, I got a car coming down 41st moving slowly. Dark blue two door with Jersey tags.”
“Jersey tags again. Why the fuck can’t they stay on their side of the bridge,” I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question.
“Because they’re in Jersey. Why wouldn’t they come over if they had the chance to get out of that rat hole.”
It was a funny thing about FBI agents in New York. They spent all day bitching about the traffic, the high cost of everything and all the other pain-in-the-ass things about living in New York. Most of the agents who worked in Manhattan lived in Jersey and commuted for an hour or two every day. Yet, New York agents were known for their sense of superiority. Why not, we all knew that the biggest and best cases in the FBI were made in New York. Jersey was like our kid sister.
“He’s circling the gas station. Stand-by,” Reardon put out on the radio. “The van just blinked his headlights,” Reardon followed within a minute.
“The car blinked back,” Franks called in within a few seconds, the excitement in his voice now apparent, as everything seemed to be falling into place.
“13-2 to all units, I’ve got the eye and I’ll let you know when the deal goes down.”
“13-1 to all units, everyone hold their position till 13-2 gives us an update. Then stick to the plan. Follow the van or the car according to your assignment. When I give the word, we take ‘em down.”
“Oh shut the fuck up. How many times have we been through this?” Zucarelli mumbled, rhetorically.
We all got sick of Franks giving us detailed instructions, over and over, especially to a task force of experienced FBI agents and New York City Police Detectives. Yet, most of us knew it was necessary; that’s what supervisors were supposed to do. Especially for drug deals – they just had a way of getting all fucked up. No matter how much we planned, the plan never worked.
Our task force, with the moniker C-13, was located in Jackson Heights in Queens. That was the epicenter of cocaine trafficking, rivaled only by Miami. We had a reputation as one of the most active squads in the FBI, making impressive seizures of money and drugs. We were also very good at getting the drug traffickers to flip, in other words cooperate with us by setting up the next person in the drug trafficking chain, if they knew. That’s how big cases were made.
Zucarelli and I sat slumped in our seats quietly waiting for the deal to go down. The men in the van would switch with the men in the car and drive off in separate directions, neither knowing where the other guys were going; and nobody caring. If anyone got arrested and for some reason decided to cooperate, they couldn’t give up the other side of the operation. For most drug deals, by the next day, the van and the car would be abandoned; one would show up in downtown Manhattan and the other would be found by the Brooklyn Bridge. Unsuspecting New York City Police patrolmen would write a ticket and have the vehicles towed to rot away at some impound lot in the Bronx. But not tonight. We were grabbing the drugs and the money. That was a rare opportunity.
“This is taking a little too long ain’t it?” I asked Zucarelli.
“I think so. Whatta they doing? They usually move quickly. That’s what makes a successful drug deal; you get in and get out before anything goes wrong.”
“I know. Let’s find out what’s going on.” I grabbed for the radio.
“Don’t,” Zucarelli told me. “You’re just gonna piss off Franks for asking. He’s always riding your ass for something anyway. Don’t give him any more ammo. Let this play out his way. You know how he gets if he thinks someone is trying to second guess him.”
Letting out a slight sigh, I realized that Zucarelli’s keen insight into office politics saved me from another confrontation with Franks. Reardon got on the radio again.