This is a subject that I have long wondered about. First let me explain the situation. The Witness Protection Program (WPP) has been around since the early 1970’s, it is administered by the Department of Justice and managed by the US Marshal Service. It is a way to provide safety for those (most often Organized Crime Members) who co-operate with government prosecutions without fear of repercussions’ from those they testify against,
Hollywood, and authors have created their own glamorous version of the program. In John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, brave young lady Derby Shaw is seen entering a private jet with a huge bag full of cash and flying off to some unknown location. While this makes for a great ending to the movie, it is hardly reality.
The facts are somewhat different. Yes a brand new ID is created, a new name, new SSN, and even a small stipend for a short time to cover basic living expenses. However no ‘legend’ is created. What is a ‘legend’ I hear you ask? There is no ‘fictional’ background to go with the new identity. This makes it rather difficult for a reformed mobster to write a resume and find gainful employment. The other issue with the WPP is that once you are in it, you can have almost no contact with family members. Any contact will be through a third party, a US Marshal or FBI ‘handler’.
The WPP is voluntary, and some people stick with it, some do not. I have spoken to both sides in interviews and other communications.
Andrew DiDonato was a member of the Gambino crime family. Chased by both the Gambino family and the FBI for 18 months, he was running out of wriggle room.
Do I die on the street or a shank in jail?
He turned himself in and entered the WPP. Even though he had ‘rolled’ there were debts to be paid. A couple of years in a special WPP jail. No real names were used.
It was time spent in conditions worse than solitary confinement
Once out and armed with his new ID he was relocated to a small city somewhere in the mid-west. Other than being a mobster and robbing the occasional bank, Andrew really had few job skills. He became a baker. After a while he even opened up a small Pizza shop. Life went well until one evening when a customer lipped him off.
I’ll drag you over the counter and stick your head in the f’ing pizza oven!
That was the end of being in the WPP. Andrew moved and reverted to being Andrew.
I do not know the story behind Frank Cullotta, but he also backed out of the WPP. Frank was part of the Chicago Outfit operating out of Las Vegas. In his spare time he ran the rather well known Hole In The Wall Gang, so named because they rarely used doors to gain entry, that would set off alarms. To avoid the alarms the gang would instead simply blow a hole in the buildings wall.
I was curious about the IRS implications. It is one thing issuing a new SSN, name, ID etc, but where do the IRS figure in? While the NSA are the vacuum of raw data, they tend to be pretty quiet on their activities. Most three letter government agencies tend to be somewhat circumspect about discussing how they operate.
I reached out to my contacts on how the WPP and IRS interact.
Well respected author on Mob related subjects Denny Griffin:
As I recall, when someone enters the WPP their previous crimes – including tax issues – are resolved through negotiations that may include jail time and/or fines, or forgiveness. When they receive their new identity all information regarding their former selves is expunged and they began with a clean slate. From there on they work, accrue SS benefits and pay taxes under their new names and SSNs.
Hole in the wall gang leader Frank Cullotta:
I was told that if I ever wanted to abandon his new identity and return to Cullotta, I could do so. Because there would be no record of me (Cullotta) earning money during the WPP period, there would be no tax issue. My biggest concern would be explaining a lack of work/credit history over that time to potential employers and lenders.
Wayne Vinson spent 33 years as a Revenue Officer and while he claims to have had no direct dealings with people in the WPP, did offer this nugget of gold:
I want to say one thing more about the Witness Protection Program. I finally found this on Google: The Justice Dept. (which oversees the WPP) told the IRS to get lost when it was trying to collect Fed. taxes from a person who had entered the WPP. It appears that there are no privileged collectors when it comes to trying to collect money from a person under the protection of WPP.
I would expect that IRS could proceed against assets in the person’s old name. But, the new person is free and clear of all debts, including Fed. taxes.
I guess the path is clear, the best way to avoid the IRS is to join the WPP!
Digging in my sound vault I found this gem on the WPP from Andrew DiDonato. About half way through the interview he makes some comments about the IRS implications.
Wayne Vinson was an IRS agent for 33 years and the author of a real thriller, Tax Collectors and Other Sinners, the story of a psycho killing tax collectors. It is available at amazon.com as an E-book or soft cover.