Even over the phone, it’s clear the term “under” is not apropos for Jack Garcia. He’s not understated. He’s not at all underwhelming.
But undercover, that fits the 26-year federal agent just fine.
“Undercovers are born,” says Garcia, who spent 24 of 26 years in the FBI as an undercover agent, most famously embedding himself in the Gambino crime family as jewel thief and drug overlord “Jack Falcone.” “It’s something you cannot teach.”
Garcia hosts a lecture Wednesday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. as part of the Mob Museum’s “Inside Stories” series. Admission is $35 and includes a reception of hors d’oeuvres and one cocktail (tickets are available by calling 702-724-8641 or clicking on the Mob Museum website).
Garcia worked more than 100 assignments, which resulted in the arrests and convictions of 39 reputed Mafia figures. He is author of the bestselling book “Making Jack Falcone,” a chronicle of his life as an undercover agent.
The happily verbose former G-man expounded on his career during a recent phone conversation. A sampling of the pearls of wisdom imparted:
It takes a certain personality type to be an undercover agent: “You basically have to have the gift of gab, which I have. You have to be able to be like a chameleon, be social and be able to talk to people,” Garcia says. “You have to be quick on your feet, and I attribute a lot of that to having grown up in the Bronx. If you are one of those guys who are introverted, you don’t have a shot as an undercover.”
Be wary of “going native.”: “Everybody has heard the horror stories throughout the country of guys where, after they leave the operation, they start hanging out with the same guys in the same haunts they did when they were working,” Garcia says. “You could develop Stockholm Syndrome, or totally find yourself working with a particular group and become part of that group. … You could be a college graduate and coming from a great family, but you might be exposed to the Mob or exposed to different elements and assume that identity, and you’re suddenly compromising your ethics, your life and winding up in jail.”
This isn’t TV or the movies: “When you’re out there, it’s not like ‘The Sopranos,’ ” Garcia says. “It’s only one take. If you slip up, it could be the end for you.”
Luck can play a role: “It’s kind of weird, but I’ve done over 100 undercover operations in 24 years, and I have never been patted down for a wire. Never,” Garcia says. “I thank God for protecting me, throughout all of it. That’s the only explanation I have.”
There is no foolproof manner in which to escape danger if you are suspected of working undercover: “If I’m recognized, the obvious way out is, when the doors close and the guns or ice picks come out, I can say, ‘Wait a minute, guys, I’m a federal agent. I’ve got the guys outside, and if anything happens to me, you’re all done.’ Maybe they would think twice about whacking me,” Garcia says. “But because of the way I look and act, they might say, ‘You’re not a fed or anything of the sort’ and whack me right there. So it’s a double-edged sword.”
Some people are inexplicably fawning when in the presence of Mob figures: “There are people who are Mafia groupies, people who love the Mob,” Garcia says. “I saw these guys, and I would sit there and scratch my head over lunch and dinner watching these people. I mean, respectable businessmen would want to shake the hand of Greg De Palma, who was captain of the Gambino crime family, and was looking at him in awe. All I could think was, ‘Run for the hills! This guy is going to pick your pockets! Don’t you understand that?’ But some people just have this desire to hobnob with mobsters and criminals, and by virtue of their association with them, they will garner respect and fear. But it doesn’t work that way because law enforcement wins.”