So you've decided to rat out your underworld buddies. Assuming that they've been involved in anything that would interest law enforcement, you'll have to consider the very real possibility that, for revenge, or just to stop your testimony, your soon-to-be-ex-friends might want to shoot you in the head. Your best option at this point might be to commit suicideon paper. Give up your identity and get a new one, courtesy of the U.S. Government. It's not easy, but it's better than the alternative.
Popularly dubbed the Witness Protection Program, but technically known as Witness Security, the program has relocated and renamed over 15,000 people since it began in 1970. Witness Security is run by the U.S. Marshals Service, the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the country. Started in 1789, the Marshals Service is the no-frills, hands-on end of federal policing. Whereas the FBI mostly does investigations, the Marshals Service is the bunch that usually goes in and does the dirty, dangerous work of dragging the bad guys out of their hideout. ("Unless there are TV cameras around. Then the FBI does it themselves," drawls Marshals' spokesman Dave Turner from his Virginia office.) They also transport prisoners in their own mini airline and, among other tasks, move federal defendants to and from court. On CNN, when you see Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh being hustled in and out of vans by guys in blue windbreakers, you're seeing a gaggle of Marshals Service boys in action.
But back to your ass, which is now on the line.... Do you have what it takes to be a protected witness for the Feds?
First a few preliminaries: Don't even dream of asking for witness protection and relocation if your case isn't big. Really big. If talking to the local cops is going to get the thirteen-year-old crackheads on the corner mad enough to shoot you, well, tough. Unless you can give testimony that is going to put some significant criminal away for a while, no one is going to offer you witness protection, so don't bother asking. But let's assume you do have the infoand you probably do, you scumbag (the vast majority of the people in the program are criminalsinnocent people don't generally get up close and personal with major crimes or gangsters), so how do you actually get into the program?
Usually, the U.S. Attorney, together with the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, will offer it to you, along with full or partial immunity from prosecution for the crimes you're agreeing to talk about in court. If you don't want to be part of the program, no one will force it on you. And if you refuse, you can change your mind later. One relocated witness we talked to, let's call him Hootie, turned down the program twice before giving in. He was living on the West Coast at the time and didn't want to be away from his infant daughter, who was living with his ex-wife. As the case he was connected to began to grow to international proportions, bringing in international arms dealers and the Mobfar beyond what he'd expectedhe grew scared enough to allow himself to be disappeared. And that's exactly what happened. One day he was there, and the next he wasn't. No calls to family or friends. No canceling the newspaper or returning the cable TV box. He was given an envelope of travel money, the name of a local contact, a plane ticket, and he was gone.