"First of all, you need to keep this quiet," Danny said. "If you choose to move forward with this, we're going to ask you to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But for now a verbal agreement will do fine. Is that okay? Can you promise not to tell anyone about this conversation?"
"Uh, yeah, sure."
He leaned in closer. "Okay. Good. So this isn't something we advertise, for obvious reasons, but the FBI sometimes hires actors. Our agents can only go undercover so often before they're compromised. And then there are cases like this one, where we need... someone whose dramatic abilities exceed those of your typical FBI agent."
"What's the role?" I asked, wondering if this was part of an elaborate joke.
Danny sat back and nodded at Gilmartin, who opened his briefcase and extracted a mug shot of a middle-aged white man with receded brown hair and a fastidious goatee. His face was fleshy and pallid. His eyes had bruise-dark bags under them. I needed only one glance to see this was one sad character.
Agent Rick Gilmartin cleared his throat and spoke for the first time.
"This is Mitchell Dupree, a former executive for Union South Bank," he said in a nondescript, TV-news-, anywhere-in-America accent. "USB is the fifth-largest bank in America, just behind Citigroup. Dupree worked for the division that dealt with international business in Latin America. To his friends and neighbors, even to his family, he appeared to be very ordinary. But all the while he was leading a double life, working for the New Colima cartel."
"New Colima is the latest bad flavor to come out of Mexico," Danny explained. "Around the time you and I were lining up senior prom dates, they split off from the Sinaloa cartel. Their first big moment was when they killed thirty-eight Zetas and dumped their dismembered bodies in the middle of the Mexican equivalent of I-10 at rush hour. It was like, 'You think these guys are tough? You don't know what tough is.'
"Basically, New Colima is to Mexico what ISIS is to the Middle East. You know how we had Saddam, and we thought he was a pretty bad guy until we got ISIS, which was far worse? It's the same thing here. The US government went all in to break up Sinaloa and arrest El Chapo. All it did was create a power vacuum that New Colima has only been too happy to fill."
Gilmartin took over: "They're militarized to an extent no cartel has ever been, and they've been hugely aggressive when it comes to taking territory, establishing supply lines, bribing officials, and recruiting manpower. Their drug of choice is crystal meth, and they were smart enough to concentrate on markets in Europe and Asia first, so they were able to get strong without the US authorities bothering them too much. Then they made their move here. There are some estimates that a third of all crystal meth in America is produced by New Colima.
"But the drugs are only part of the story," Gilmartin continued. "Money is the gas for a cartel's engine. It's what allows them to buy guns, men, and planes, the things they need to keep growing. The DEA likes to seize a few kilos of product, hold a press conference, and declare it's winning the war on drugs. At the FBI, we realize we're never going to be able to stop the inflow of drugs. This country is just too huge. It makes more sense to go after the money. One of the biggest logistical issues for cartels is that they're in a cash business.
Cash is big and bulky and vulnerable to seizure, especially when you're talking about the huge sums the cartels deal with. In the new global economy, cartels want to be able to move money safely and conveniently with the push of a button. But they need people like Mitchell Dupree to do it for them. Dupree laundered more than a billion dollars of cartel money over the course of about four years or so."
He paused as the waitress came over and placed waters in front of us. At Danny's insistence, I ordered a cheeseburger. The agents stuck with black coffee.
Gilmartin waited until she was gone, then said, "Dupree eventually got sloppy. By the time we caught him, we were able to tie him to an offshore account that had several million dollars in it. We think there might be others, but we never could find them. The US Attorneys Office convicted him for money laundering, racketeering, wire fraud, pretty much everything it could get to stick on him. He's now six months into a nine-year sentence at FCI Morgantown in West Virginia."
"FCI stands for Federal Correctional Institution, but don't let that scare you," Danny interjected. "It's minimum security, mostly white-collar types, strictly nonviolent offenders. The place looks like a college campus—no bars, no razor wire. We're talking about Club Fed here, not some hard-ass place where you have to become someone's bitch if you want to survive."
Gilmartin went on: "For our purposes, Dupree is now a small means to a much bigger end. We have him on wiretaps talking about a trove of documents that he secretly kept as insurance. We believe he's told the cartel that if anything happens to him or his family, he'll release the documents. They could be used to prosecute the entire top echelon of New Colima, including El Vio himself."
"That's the boss of New Colima," Danny said. "It translates loosely as the seer,' because supposedly he's the guy who sees everything. It's kind of an ironic name, because he's only got one good eye. The other is all weird and white. So the seer is actually half-blind."
"When we confronted Dupree about the documents and offered him a deal, he refused to tell us where they were," Gilmartin said. "No matter how much pressure we applied, he kept his mouth shut, which was great for the cartel but very frustrating for us."
Danny's turn: "We looked everywhere for those damn documents. We executed warrants on his home, his office, his social club. We had agents follow him to see if he had a hidden storage unit. We plowed through his financials looking for signs he was renting another office or house. We got nothing."
Back to Gilmartin: "Dupree made an offhand comment on one of the wiretaps about a remote cabin he or someone in his family owns. It's his getaway. But we couldn't find any record of it. We think that's where he stashed the documents. So, really, it's pretty simple. We want you to go into the prison under an alias, posing as an inmate. You'll become friendly with Dupree, earn his trust, and then get him to tell you where that cabin is."
"And how am I going to do that?" I asked.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.