March 1, 2023

Undercover FBI, Prisoner Release, Pyromania, and Gun Types

Adam answers questions about a fictional FBI undercover story involving a prisoner release, pyromania, and gun types.

Adam answers questions about a fictional FBI undercover story involving a prisoner release, pyromania, and gun types.

Links mentioned in the episode:

2023 Cops and Writers Interactive Conference:

Crime Fiction Guns course:

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I am Adam Richardson, and this is The Writer's Detective Bureau. Welcome to episode 130 of the Writers Detective Bureau, the podcast dedicated to helping authors and screenwriters write professional quality crime related fiction. This week we are helping one writer with an interesting series of questions about an undercover FBI investigation, getting an inmate out of prison pyromaniac.

And gun types. But before we get into that, I first wanted to say thank you for all the kind words, prayers and condolences I received about the loss of my father-in-law. He was a great man and I am so lucky to have listeners like you. It's crazy to think that a guy sitting alone in his home office talking into this microphone can connect with so many great people around the world.

I am thankful for each and every one of. Thanks for making the Bureau so inclusive and supportive. You guys are awesome. And speaking of you being, And me getting out of this office,  to meet you in person. My good friend Patrick O'Donnell from the Cops and Writers Podcast has invited me to teach at his upcoming 2023 Cops and Writers Interactive conference, which his wife affectionately dubbed cop camp.

I think that name's gonna stick. Registration is $350 or $325 for early bird signups, and it's being held June 1st through the fourth 2023 in Appleton, Wisconsin at the Fox Valley Technical College and Police Academy. The host hotel has a group rate of $99 a night, plus tax and other fees, and that hotel is the double tree by hi.

Appleton located in Appleton, Wisconsin. So Patrick is partnering up with RJ Beam, an instructor at the academy and published author to put on this conference. Um, and as I release this episode on March 1st, 2023, the registration page is not even up yet, but once it's active, you'll be able to find it by going to writer

I told you that the cop camp name's gonna stick . We have an amazing lineup of speakers, um, including Pulitzer Prize nominee Ann E. Schwartz. Uh, so she will be speaking. She's the reporter who broke the Jeffrey Dahmer story and wrote the bestselling book Monster, the True Story of the Jeffrey Dahmer Murders.

We'll also have Honoree Corder in the house. Honoree is a publishing strategist, TEDx and keynote speaker and author of over 50 books. I. You must write a book and you must market your book. I hope you can make it because I would love to meet you in person. All right, let's get to our questions.

So our questions come from Donovan Gomez who writes, I'm publishing a novel about a teenager who was part of a gang in Philadelphia, got away with millions in jewelry, and then used that money to hide in plain sight as a celebrity in California. The FBI began a covert investigation into this teenager, but he killed the undercover agent in charge of trying to befriend him and get evidence through poisoning.

Later in the novel, the partner of the F FBI agent who was killed, is told by the director that as a punishment for his leaving, his partner by himself, he would have to finance his own investigation and catch the teenager without FBI resource. The F B I agent then goes to Pelican Bay Prison and uses the fact that he's an F B I agent as a threat to release an associate of the teenager to help him with his investigation.

As the novel continues, he uses his F B I badge to have local law enforcement from various states help him catch the teenager, since the teenager is running from state to state. Is there any way to make this realistic? The book is practically written and in hindsight I should have done more research, relatively new listener to the podcast, but I love it already and it's been a great help.

Thanks for everything. First of all, welcome to the Bureau Donovan. We are happy to have you, especially with such a fun and high stakes story to tell. But as you've rightly guessed, we aren't totally in the realistic realm, at least not yet. So let's start by looking what goes a bit beyond a typical reader's disbelief level and how we can fix that with some alternatives that will hopefully be just as interesting for the.

To be clear, I don't want to sound like I am picking on Donovan. These are exactly the kinds of high stakes and ticking clocks that these stories in our genre need to have. But the key is to keep them realistic enough to keep the reader engaged. And I applaud you, Donovan, for your willingness to let me dissect this story and hopefully help you make it that much better than it already is.

And I do have a surprise for you at the end. But let's start with a recap of, um, what Donovan's laid out here and a few key points that I see really need some. So I'll be sure to explain what would really happen in real life, as well as talk about how we can fudge things a little bit where it may not be completely accurate as for real life, but as I've said before, um, real enough to keep the reader engaged and best serve the story, right?

Story comes first, but there are a few things I'm a little worried about that we need to address. For starters, um, while I'm not suggesting you change this vitally important element of your story, but why an undercover investigation? I realize it sets up the whole wanted for killing an FBI agent aspect of the, uh, story.

You know, that's a pretty significant drive to the story, but we legitimately put a lot of thought into the goals of our investigations. , there has to be a very compelling reason to run this investigation using an undercover FBI agent as opposed to relying on surveillance wiretaps. How does an undercover.

Prove that someone stole jewelry in the past and converted it to cash after the fact. Again, I'm not asking this question to pick on Donovan. This is exactly the question that your main character would be asked by their supervisor when they suggest that this case can only be solved by introducing an undercover.

Now that does not mean that they can't do this. In fact, if you can come up with an even bigger reason, uh, like there's an even bigger story for a subsequent novel that is not revealed to your reader yet, that could work. So I'm thinking like this whole undercover case is really about introducing an undercover into this kid's circle because he's actually the teenage son of a major crime boss, and the real goal was to get the uc.

Or the undercover into the organization and solving the jewelry case was just the tip of the iceberg, which isn't actually revealed to the reader until book two. Um, it's just that the killing of the uc throws a wrench in the FBI's plan. So what I'm trying to get here is that it has to be bigger than just a jewelry heist in order to get an FBI agent undercover into this group in reality.

Um, but more importantly, we wanna set you up for book two. We wanna play chess, not checkers, with our plot lines. Um, moving on to another plot line. Financing your own investigation is punishment, especially when it's the murder of an FBI special agent. I certainly see what you want to do. Um, but not only is the loan protagonist out for revenge and often use trope, you're probably going to lose your reader here for two reasons.

Number one. Now, this is a small nitpicky reason, uh, and it's that if the agent died by poisoning. How is the boss of the FBI supervisor able to say it's the result of the partner leaving the undercover alone? It's not like he got shot. Plus, the nature of undercover work tends to be that you are alone and at the mercy of the folks you're embedded with.

The partner, I'm assuming working as a handler has to maintain their distance. It's just the nature of undercover work. And number two, now, this is the much bigger reason. If an FBI undercover special agent is murder, I can tell you that not only would this be an official investigation, it would become a worldwide priority for the entire F B I.

Spoiler alert, for anyone that hasn't seen Narcos, Mexico on Netflix or the 1990 miniseries Drug wars, the came story, which was a Michael Mann production, um, but in our own real federal law enforcement. We have had an undercover federal agent murdered. Kiki Caina was an undercover DEA agent operating in Guadalajara, Mexico, and he was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the then existing Guadalajara drug cartel in February, 1985.

So the DEA search for Kiki for 30 days before his body was dumped along a road in Sinaloa and discovered this was such a major. That the US government went so far as to nearly shut down the border between US and Mexico in order to pressure the Mexican government into helping find their kidnapped DEA agent, I mean, affecting major aspects of trade, because that's how important it was.

I only say this to show how seriously huge the implications could be for the murder of a federal agent. So no, this is not going to be an off-book investigation, um, conducted by an off-duty FBI agent. But not to worry. It's going to make for a great story. Now moving on to the next point. I think I mentioned in a recent podcast episode that in reality the F B I office in one area would send any leads outside of its aor, which is Fed speak for area of responsibility to the local F B I office where that lead was located.

So, Like in our story, if the case starts in Philly, but there's a lead in la in reality, an agent in LA will get tasked with following up on that lead. But feel free to take some artistic license and have your main character do the traveling, because that's what your readers want to see happen. Just know that that doesn't really happen that way.

So for that one, uh, we can check that one off as no problem. Same thing to a certain extent for the trip to Pelican Bay, for those unfamiliar with Pelican Bay. It is a California state prison in Crescent City, California, which is along the California coast about 10 miles south of the Oregon border, so way far north, and it is a maximum security prison.

Most of the maximum security prisoners there are in general pop or general population, but the worst of the worst are housed in the shoe, which is an acronym, S H U, or Security Housing Unit, which contains over 1000 individual cells home to the worst of the worst. If Hannibal Lecter were incarcerated in a California state prison, he'd be in the shoe at Pelican Bay to get one of these inmates housed in the shoe release.

Would require far more than flashing an FBI badge. But it is doable, likely in the form of a court order signed by a judge. And that release would be for a very specific purpose, like testifying in a murder trial. I realize we're doing it to try to find our teenager. Um, but there would have to be a pretty specific goal, um, pretty specific operations plan, and, um, a pretty convincing reason for a judge to sign off on.

Having been involved in the transport of high risk prisoners from prison to court myself, I can tell you that moving someone like that would involve a multi-vehicle convoy packed full of SWAT Ninja Turtles, not a loan F B I agent, but I'm sure you can come up with a believable way for your character to manage this.

But before you have the inmate in a transport slip out the bathroom window of a motel in the middle of. How many times have we seen that? Just know that any overnight stay during travel would involve that inmate being booked into a local jail overnight, not getting a room at the local motor lodge. Okay.

What's next? Um, Donovan wrote as the novel continues, he uses his F B I badge to try to have local law enforcement from various states help him catch the teenager, since the teenager is running from state to. Yep. Uh, assuming there's a warrant for the rest of the teenager, which would very likely be the case, then yeah, the local cops would definitely help look for the teenager.

Uh, let's see. Donovan did send me a few additional questions, a second email, uh, as well, which were, uh, the first one was the first additional question I should say. What would classify someone as a pyromania? Well, according to Web md, pyromania is a type of impulse control disorder that is characterized by being unable to resist starting fires.

People with Pyromania know that setting fires is harmful, but setting fires is the only way they can relieve their built up tension, anxiety, or arousal. Now that's the medical term or definition I should say, of Pyromania. We in law enforcement, actually refer to them as arsonists or serial arsonists because someone with pyromania has a higher likelihood of reoffending, much like a child molester.

The courts can require a convicted arsonist to register as a. Arsonist no different than a convicted child molester is required to register as a sex offender. In fact, there are three types of criminal registrants, sex registrants, arson registrants, and narcotic registrants. If you've been court ordered to register, your name and registration status will pop up anytime a police officer runs your name in the system and by system, I put that in quotes.

I'm really talking. And lets the national law enforcement telecommunication system, like on a traffic stop, when a driver's license status is checked, we run the name and date of birth of the driver. And that is also checked against those sex arson and narcotics registries. Um, the domestic violence restraining order system, the warrant system, the probation and parole status, and even the terrorist screening center.

So if you're a registered arsonist and you get pulled over for speeding. Odds are the officer stopping. You will find out that you're a registered arsonist pretty quickly. Now, a single arson conviction may not require someone to register as an arsonist, but a second arson conviction probably would. All right, the next.

Extra question, who would respond to someone who's committed various fires in state and local areas? Uh, if a single arsonist appeared to be operating as a serial arsonist on a spree, I'd expect the investigators in each area where a fire was started would start working together in some sort of ad hoc.

Team. Now whether that is an investigator from the police department that works arsons, sometimes we have trained arson investigators in a homicide unit. Um, or it could be a firefighter, uh, that is then also a sworn law enforcement officer that is an arson investigator. So it really depends on the agency that you're writing.

But figure out who handles arson investigations for that area. It could be the fire department that has sworn cops. Um, basically they're firefighters that attend a modified police academy in order to get sworn as an arson investigator. Or it may be a detective from a police department that then goes to a specific type of fire investigation training to become an arson invest.

All right. Supplemental question number three. How do modern criminals commit gun running, and how do police catch. Gun running is usually a matter of transporting weapons or weapon parts from one area of the country to another. Usually through the theft of guns or through the purchase of guns. Uh, through a straw purchaser, a straw purchase is when you get a third party, usually someone with a clean criminal record to purchase the gun on someone else's.

Essentially skirting the background check for the real purchaser. A straw purchase is a crime in itself in most states, uh, to my knowledge at least. And you have to swear under penalty of perjury in the purchase paperwork that you're buying the gun for yourself. Now, granted, I'm in California, which is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to gun buying, so I'm sure there are other states where loopholes allow for straw purchasing, but legally doing a straw purchase in one state in order to bring it across state lines.

Like into California in, in effect, skirting background checks would be an example of gun running. Um, the way to catch them would be, uh, starting with whomever turns up with the gun and working your way backward to where it was purchased. The A t F does have the ability to run a serial number and determine where it was originally sold, um, and then hopefully through some sort of, uh, paper.

you'd be able to figure out where the gun kind of started its life and then, um, kinda work your way through to where it ended up as far as the cops, um, encountering this gun out on the street. And then obviously just your typical detective work of talking to people, talking to the person that had the gun and figuring out where they got it from and, um, running an investigation.

Supplemental. Question number four, what would a coroner do if they found unknown substances in their body and then in parenthesis sci-fi? They'd likely note the substance as being an unknown substance in their report. Either that or they just wouldn't be aware that the substance was even present as the toxicology, assuming we're talking about in the bloodstream, wouldn't register.

Now, I will admit that the finer scientific points of toxicology are outside my expertise, but my basic understanding is that there's a panel of substances, like metabolites of known drugs or poisons that are routinely checked for, and the lab result will just show positive or negative for the presence of those things listed in that testing panel.

Now, if we're talking about a swab of a specific thing found on the body, like the Predator's fluorescent green blood, And the lab can't identify what the heck the green glowing stuff is. It's likely just going to be noted in the lab report as an unknown. . And finally, supplemental question number five.

Can officers be trained on stronger and more powerful guns, parenthesis, Glock versus AK 47? Well, Glocks are handguns, which typically fire common handgun ammunition, which depending on the model of handgun, might be 9 mm, .40 caliber or .45 ACP. Um, whereas an AK 47 is an assault rifle, typically chambered in 7.62 mm.

US law enforcement officers typically carry rifles that are chambered in 5.56 NATO or .223, like the AR 15 or M4 variants of rifles. Um, but what we can carry really comes down to department policy. If you're on the SWAT team, um, like if you're a sniper or you're on an entry team, you may have access to different weapons than say your typical detective or patrol officer.

I know I just threw a whole slew of numbers at you with little explanation as to what they mean, but I have a resource for you that will demystify all of that. And that's my Crime Fiction Guns Online course. It's specifically designed for, you guessed it, crime fiction writers that have zero experience with guns or ammo.

Most writers outside of the US don't have the ability to walk into a gun store or shooting range and ask questions, and frankly, many of the writers in the US have little desire to do. So I created this $69 course to explain everything you need to know to write about guns believably, and not make any rookie mistakes in how you describe things in your writing without having to listen to political opinions or the macho chest pounding of want.

Tobe, middle-aged mutant ninja seals. As a bit of a surprise to thank Donovan for being brave enough to let me pick apart his story like I did, Donovan, you're getting a free sign up for the Crime Fiction Guns course on me, so thank you for sending in your questions. But if the rest of you would like to get lifetime access to my Crime Fiction Guns course for just $69 us, go to

I'll also link to the course in the show notes, which you can find by going to writers Thank you, Donovan, for sending me your questions. This podcast needs your writing questions, and you could submit them just like Donovan did by going to writers And I'd also like to thank my Patreon patrons for sponsoring this episode, especially my Gold Shield patrons, Debra Dunbar from

CC Jameson from Larry Darter. Natalie Barelli Craig Kingsman of Marco Carocari of Rob Kearns of Robert Mendenhall of Kayleigh and Mark Jacobs for their support along with my silver cuff link in Coffee Club patrons.

You guys are awesome. Uh, and you can find links to all of these patrons supporting this episode by going to the show notes at /130. Thanks again for listening. Have a great week and write well..