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The Gumshoe: 3.2 Million Dollars

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]S[/su_dropcap]OMETIMES your life experience can be surreal, especially when you carry a badge.  In this case, I was a “rookie” DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) Agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office back in the early 80’s and I was further assigned to one of several “Enforcement Groups” that consisted of a Group Supervisor (Boss) and a team of about eight to ten “field” agents.

“Me” being the new guy on the team meant that I did quite a lot of “go-fer” work for the much senior field agents to assist them on their assigned criminal investigations.  This meant I would travel all over the Los Angeles basin to pick-up phone records; business records; police reports; airport pick-ups of senior DEA officials and other sundry laundry-list “go-fer” duties.

Okay, between these minor assignments, they also used me on surveillances (static and mobile in our assigned “G” rides and I even had the fun opportunity to serve as an observer in the DEA helicopter); as well as in backing-up fellow (and sister) agents on “drug meets” with upper-level drug distributors at very nice bistros on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills on the government’s dime – not too shabby!

Anyway, back to my story (and I am sticking to it!). I was assigned to assist in the execution of a search warrant on a “stash” house up in the Glendale area of Los Angeles.  A “stash” house is normally located in a very quiet residential area (not to attract attention by the bad guys) and this house will either contain “money” or “drugs”.  In either case, there will be records or account ledgers and some low-level “house-sitters” that are employed by one of the drug cartels.

Much to my chagrin and utter amazement, my group supervisor gave me the task of taking charge of three very large green canvas duffel bags that we had found in the attic of this “stash” house.  These bags were pretty darn heavy I’ll have you know, and each of them contained U.S. currency with pictures of Andrew Jackson and Benjamin Franklin and even a few Alexander Hamilton’s.

“Taking charge” of these three duffel bags meant I had to keep them in my control over the next several days until I could personally (and without any other agent’s assistance) conduct individual counts on them, each resulting in exactly matching the total amount held in each of the three bags. When this was accomplished I would then contact the Bank of America to send over an armor car service to the Los Angeles DEA Headquarters to make a cash pick-up with documented receipts from me to them.

In the interim I kept the duffel bags in my very plain silver Chevy “Celebrity” 4-door trunk since I had to transport them to my office each day to use the money counters in a very large conference room and then haul the bags back to my “G-ride” (that’s slang for government issued car) and take it to my home and lock the car inside my residential garage.

You would think that this is really easy,” just count the money Special Agent Pitocco and get it to the bank”.  Well, those pesky drug dealers had ripped and dirty currency in the different denominations (which would jam the money counters) and, they too, were even duped with some “counterfeit 20’s” along with some Canadian currency and even some notes from jolly-old England!  This really slowed down my money counters to be sure!  It was really difficult to finally get three exact amounts consecutively.

To add to my misery, the two major Columbian drug cartels at the time (Medellin and Cali) were offering 1 million “bounty” on any DEA agent that could be kidnapped and put into their evil-bloody-nefarious hands.  This consideration alone, caused me a wee bit of concern since I had to leave the DEA headquarters (same garage exit) every night in my silver G-ride and conduct my own counter-surveillance evasive driving through the street and freeways of greater Los Angeles to make sure, as they say, “my tail was clean” before I could do my normal one hour commute back to my home in Orange County.

Now, don’t think for one minute how me having possession of three very heavy duffel bags of cash in my trunk didn’t add to my consternation since I would be a prime target for being car-jacked and ripped-off by the friends of the guys who we (the DEA) had “ripped-off” in the first place from their stash-house-cash.

Did I mention to you that the only armament that I was issued was a 6-shot .357 magnum revolver with one speed-loader?  No shotgun, no carbine and no level three ballistic vest!  I guessed at the time, I could be considered the “throw-away agent” in training.  God really looked after me.

Well, since I am writing this yarn, you probably already guessed that I did survive this assignment to live another day (well at least up to the present time).  I learned that one million dollars in twenties weighs exactly 100 pounds and I had over 300 hundred pounds plus which totaled about 3.2 million dollars.

I remember the first evening I drove home and quickly locked the car in my garage after scanning my neighborhood for “threats”.   I had my wife accompany me to the garage and I opened my G-ride’s trunk and reached into one of the duffel bags and pulled out several thousand dollars in cash.  I told her that I was “this big” (I was not referring to my man gland) I was letting her know that this mere handful was what I made in one year (before taxes) as a lowly GS-7 government employee!

I also told her how much I was honored and surprised that my group supervisor had trusted me with this much cash (without any exact count beforehand since the “stash” house did not have any ledgers).  I could have easily kept several thousand as a personal bonus or consolation prize.

Normally, the palms of my hands “sweat” when I have over $20.00 in cash in my wallet and so during those few days in La-La-Land as a DEA (Don’t Expect Anything) man, I do believe my butt was constantly in a state of “pucker” and it was not just my palms that perspired!

I later found out from my group supervisor that he trusted me implicitly because he knew I was a former honest street cop and that three of my fellow agents in our enforcement group were under super-secret internal investigation for drug theft!

Just like one of my long departed uncles’ use to say:  “Danny, you know, you know, you NEVER know!”  I think I now understand what he was trying to explain to me.

That’s all for now folks from The Gumshoe.  Be safe, be well, people love you!

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Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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