3 Tips for Surviving the Witness Protection Program

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Created by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, the Witness Protection Program (WPP) does exactly what the movies say—it hides witnesses from vengeful thugs by giving them new identities (not to mention $60,000 a year in subsistence payments, one reasonable job opportunity, and—of course—psychological counseling). Since its inception, some 17,000 people have participated in the system, and no one who's followed the program guidelines has ever been killed. With that in mind, we've provided this helpful list of "don'ts" guaranteed to make your WPP moving adventures a little more pleasant.

1. Don't Commit Another Crime

Believe it or not, 17 percent of all program participants have committed a known crime while under protection—including the first one. Joseph "The Animal" Barboza became the first person to use the WPP following his testimony against the La Cosa Nostra crime syndicate. Giving him the name "Joe Bentley," the FBI moved him to California and enrolled him in cooking school. But in 1971, he ended up on trial for first-degree murder. The case, and the ensuing conviction, blew Barboza's cover. He was shot shortly after being paroled in 1975.

2. Don't Invite Your "Old Friends" to Visit

Life in a new city can be lonely sometimes, but it's probably best not to call up your old buds. Unfortunately, Brenda Paz, a 17-year-old who'd served as a witness against the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang, did just that. Hiding under a new identity at a St. Paul, Minn., Embassy Suites in 2003, Paz invited two carloads full of MS-13 members to come by and check out the hotel's hot tub. She then returned to her gang's old stomping grounds in northern Virginia. Bad idea. She was dead within days.

3. Shop around for better Programs

Should you find yourself living in the United Kingdom and in need of equivalent government assistance, keep the following in mind: Unlike America's federally organized system, Great Britain's version of the WPP is handled by regional police forces. And apparently, this doesn't always work out for the best. In 2000, Alan Decabral, a witness to a gang murder, was shot in a parking lot after living under Kent police protection for less than a year. Another witness, Thomas McCartney, charged police in Northern Ireland with failing to even give him new identity papers. The bottom line? When shopping around for witness protection programs, you probably want the kind made in the U.S. of A.

PS Those great glasses in the pic are available here.

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July 7, 2008 - 12:24pm
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