J.J. Brennan has seen a few stings in his time with the Metropolitan Police Department—40 years, the past 30 as a sergeant.
“It’s not an unusual thing,” he says of yesterday’s announcement of a long-running sting operation by DC cops and federal agents that bagged drugs, netted dealers, and snared guns. “It’s very common, very good.”
Brennan is with the Narcotics and Special Investigation Division (NSID), which supplied some of the officers who took part in the sting.
“It involved seasoned veterans and young cops,” he says. “You need people who have been around and know the street lingo. You have to be able to communicate with gangsters. It’s part Broadway. You have to put a play together.”
The most notorious actress in DC stings is still Rasheeda Moore, who convinced Marion Barry to have a romantic liaison with her at the Vista Hotel in January 1990. Hoping for some action, Mayor Barry toked on a crack pipe offered by Ms. Moore. FBI agents recorded the moment on video and filmed Barry’s arrest by DC police officer Al Arrington.
A sting is essentially a setup, and Moore has been immortalized in T-shirts that read: “Bitch Set Me Up.”
Before the Barry sting, the most celebrated police production in the nation’s capital debuted in 1977. Police established a small fencing operation in a downtown alley behind L Street near Logan Circle, where burglars could sell goods they had stolen. It began to haul in typewriters and TVs.
Lieutenant Bob Arscott, who was directing the operation, traveled to New York to meet with cops who had run similar stings. They told him to make sure there was room for backup, because a New York cop had recently been killed in a small fencing operation, similar to the one near Logan Circle. Arscott phoned the sting.
“Shut it down!” he said, according to Chuck Conconi, who coauthored The Washington Sting, a book on the caper.
Arscott then moved the fencing operation to a warehouse on New York Avenue, Northeast, near the intersection with Bladensburg Road. It was large enough to station well-armed officers in a room behind the shop, so they could intervene if anyone tried to rob the cops pretending to be criminals.
Detective P.J. Lilly starred as the primary buyer of stolen goods, according to Conconi. “He went by the name Pasquale Larocca and posed as a Mafia member,” the author says. “He looked like Al Pacino in the movie Dog Day Afternoon. He was a brilliant actor.”
Conconi says one fellow came in and asked to become a Mafia hitman. Larocca asked for his credentials, and the would-be assassin listed a few murders. Police then used the job bona fides as probable cause for his arrest. An assistant US attorney offered up secret grand jury testimony in trade for information about the mob. He was arrested and tried, Conconi says.
When it was time to close down the operation, Larocca invited his “customers” to stop by for a final party. “P.J. arrived in a maroon Cadillac,” says Conconi. “When the customers arrived, they were arrested and booked in the back room.”
The sting unveiled this week followed essentially the same routine: DC police detectives set up Manic Enterprises, a fake recording studio in a Northeast row house. Sergeant Dale Sutherland posed as impresario Richie Valdez, protected by entourage of bodyguards, all of whom were cops. Valdez said he was in the market for everything from drugs to guns.
In unveiling the sting, DC police said it was the most successful in recent history, and they might be right. Gangsters fenced guns with silencers, “street sweeper” shotguns, AK-47s. They promised hand grenades and a rocket launcher. Sutherland bought heroin and cocaine. He posed as the man who could help La Familia, a Mexican crime organization, set up a methamphetamine operation in DC. FBI agents recorded every transaction; lawmen arrested suspects along the way
In closing down the operation, police and federal officials said they had made more than 70 arrests, taken $7.2 million in drugs off the market, and bought and captured 161 weapons.
“It’s great to publicize it,” Sergeant Brennan says, “but it hurts us when we do. Bad guys start looking for the next one.”
But there will be a next one.