Friday, July 04, 2008

Fake FBI agent

When Bill Jakob, a federal officer specialising in drug enforcement, offered his services to a tiny town in Missouri that was struggling with a wave of methamphetamine use, the local officials couldn't believe their luck.

Here was a man who was the image of the tough but reliable FBI agent - stocky build, close-cropped hair, military boots and trousers and a determination to get results. He came sporting a badge, federal ID and a gun at his side.

He said he would not cost the local community of Gerald a penny - he was a gift from the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington to help the town clean up its drug problems. As an added incentive, he arrived in town driving an unmarked police car, equipped with siren and police radio, that he promised to leave behind him when the job was done.

There was only one problem: "Sergeant Bill", as he came quickly to be known by the 1,200 townspeople of Gerald, was not a federal agent, and never had been. He was in fact unemployed, a former truck driver with a criminal record who had fallen into debt and filed for bankruptcy.

But for almost five months from the day he showed up in town in January, he built himself up to be the policing king of Gerald. He led the town's existing five officers in numerous raids against suspected drug users. Wearing a black T-shirt with "Police" emblazoned on it, he took part in the arrest of the local pharmacist and in a series of at least 17 raids. He cut corners, brushing aside demands for an arrest warrant with the boast that as a federal agent he didn't need one.

And the results followed. Mayor Otis Schulte had dubbed Gerald "a meth capital of the United States," but he watched as the problem was brought under control.

But there were doubts too. Linda Trest, a reporter with the local paper, the Gasconade Country Republican - where news coverage normally involves rodeos and school sack races - grew suspicious.

She began making inquiries. Was it true federal agents had no need of search warrants? Had Jakob been security cleared? An hour's research on her computer was enough to throw up the incriminating evidence - of a sex abuse conviction against him when he was 22, his $180,000 debt and bankruptcy, and the fact that he held no police credentials at all.

He did, it transpire, come from Washington - though not DC but Washington, Missouri, just 30 miles away. And his police car was indeed a police car, though he had bought it from a used car dealer.

The town was in shock. "He was everything that you'd think a federal officer would be," said Schulte. "This guy just really screwed this town up."

In the fallout, three of the town's five police officers, including the chief, have been sacked. Seventeen residents have issued federal lawsuits claiming up to $11m (£5.5m) each for violations that included being kicked in the head, threatened at gunpoint, and, in the case of one elderly woman, forced into a psychiatric hospital after refusing to cooperate.

Mike Withington says Jakob raided his house, pounding on his door and throwing him in handcuffs on to his front garden. "[Jakob] was definitely in charge - it was all him," he told the New York Times.

Angry townspeople have organised a petition of 159 names to have the mayor removed, complaining that "this incident has made Gerald the laughing stock of the whole state".

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