Law
5:01 pm
Sun November 24, 2013

A Special Agent's Secret Job: Hit Man

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 7:40 am

GQ Magazine correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas calls him "Special Agent Charles Hunt," but that's not his real name. He's sometimes known as "Thrash" or "Hammer," Laskas says (also not his real name).

That's because Hunt is a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, specializing in deep undercover work. Specifically, he poses as a contract killer.

He's the hit man "who is not really a hit man," Laskas writes in the November issue of GQ.

In her profile of the agent, she reports that the ATF "employs an army of guys like [Special Agent Hunt] whom nobody's ever heard of and nobody is supposed to know about." Their job is to prevent contract killings.

Laskas tells NPR's Arun Rath that watching the special agent adopt the clothes and the mannerisms of a supposed contract killer is "like watching an actor really become someone else."


Interview Highlights

On the agent's daily routine

Every day, pretty much, he's changing into his "dirtbag gear." He said it's "putting on his jewelry." But he works the streets ... finding out who out there needs what. But the word gets out that he'll do anything for a price. Anything. And so when someone needs a hit, they hear about him ... This is a word-of-mouth kind of job.

On the agent's life outside of undercover work

He's just a lovely, lovely man. ... He's sort of soft-spoken, kindhearted family guy. A couple kids, lovely wife. You know, this is his job, to pose as a hit man. He's kind of playing like a little bit of Superman role. He has his disguise and he gets changed into his hit man gear, and he goes out and pretends to be a hit man.

On the personal toll of the job

[This agent] has been through many of these experiences with horrible things — people wanting fingertips, people wanting eyeballs — just really gruesome things. And at one point, he was undercover for months at some Aryan Nation kind of biker home. And he didn't come out of that whole. He came out of that having a hard time remembering who he was. And, in fact, his marriage did not last through that whole period of his life. So I think it does take quite a toll on these people.

On how writing the story changed Laskas' perspective

We kind of live in our sanitized lives. We don't get exposed to violent crime in our daily lives. But maybe it's right underneath our noses and we don't realize it, and there's this army of agents out there kind of keeping things at bay.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now, let me take you to a shady parking lot in Colorado. Two men are meeting.

JEANNE MARIE LASKAS: They're in the parking lot of a Loaf 'n Jug, which is like a - kind of like a convenience store.

RATH: That's our guide for this story.

LASKAS: Jeanne Marie Laskas. I'm a correspondent at GQ Magazine.

RATH: One of the men is named Lucero. He's meeting another guy who's sitting in his parked truck. Here's how Laskas describes that guy.

He's got a lot of tattoos, mean, angry tattoos all over him and lots of big, silver, mean-looking rings, long, skinny beard hanging down his chest. He looks just like what you want a hit man to look like.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: He's a hit man, and that's where this story gets a little graphic.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You still want to do it?

JOHN LUCERO: Oh, yeah. I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You want it done soon?

RATH: That's a recording from the meeting between Lucero and the hit man.

Lucero's kind of nervous because he's never dealt with a hit man before. And he is excited because this hit man is going to solve his problems. He's going to make right, in his mind, the wrong that was done to him by his girlfriend.

Lucero says that when his girlfriend broke up with him, she laughed at him. He wants the hit man to attack her, specifically to slash her face, leave her with a permanent disfigured smile like the Joker, revenge for that laugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

LUCERO: I'm talking about - I want her life a completely living hell to where - what she did to me. Every - I want it to be a vice versed. What she took from me is what I'm going to take back.

RATH: Lucero's short on cash, so the payment will be guns, a shotgun and an AK-47 assault rifle. But the hit man gives Lucero a chance to back out.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you know when you leave here today...

LUCERO: A deal's a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...deal's a deal. It's a done deal, because I'm on it now.

RATH: Lucero is undeterred. The deal is finalized, and Lucero gets ready to step out of the truck.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right.

LUCERO: (Unintelligible) man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right.

LUCERO: So once I leave this door, it's on and you got your deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. So I got the go?

LUCERO: Got the go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. All right, brother.

LUCERO: All right. Careful now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'll try.

LASKAS: When Lucero finally leaves the car, what we come to realize is this hit man is an undercover ATF agent who has only been posing as a hit man all this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: That's why we have those tapes. They were recorded by the hit man, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF says John Lucero received an 11-year prison sentence for the attempted hit. But then there's the other character in this story, the person Jeanne Marie Laskas calls the hit man who is not really a hit man. He's one of many special agents who do this undercover work, stopping murders for hire.

Laskas spent several days meeting with this particular agent. She calls him Charles Hunt. But that's a pseudonym, because this agent spends most of his time living another life.

Every day, pretty much, he's changing into his, you know, dirtbag gear. He said he's putting on his jewelry. But he works the streets finding out who out there needs what. But the word gets out that he'll do anything for a price, anything. This is a word-of-mouth kind of job.

And how would you describe him beyond the sort of hit man caricature that he portrays?

LASKAS: Well, he's just a lovely, lovely man, sort of soft-spoken, kindhearted, family guy, couple kids, lovely wife. He's kind of playing like a little bit of a Superman role. He has his disguise in his trunk, and he gets changed into his hit man gear, and he goes out and pretends to be a hit man.

RATH: You got to think, doesn't it take a toll on somebody that decent to be portraying someone so indecent all the time?

Well, and I think in his case, for a time, it did. You know, he's been through, you know, many of these experiences with horrible things, people wanting fingertips, people wanting eyeballs, I mean, just really gruesome things. And at one point, he was undercover for months at a - some area nation kind of biker home. And he did not come out of that whole. He came out of that having a hard time remembering who he was. And, in fact, his marriage did not last through that whole period of his life. So I think it does take quite a toll on these people.

Jeanne Marie Laskas says it's hard to say just how often contract murders are committed. After all, thousands of murders go unsolved every year. But her meetings with this agent revealed how the world of underground crime sometimes does business in places as banal as a Loaf 'n Jug parking lot.

I guess I didn't realize that. You know, we kind of live on our - in our sanitized lives. You're not - we don't get exposed to violent crime in our daily lives. But maybe it's right underneath our noses and we don't realize it. And there's this army of agents out there kind of keeping things at bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: That's Jeanne Marie Laskas. Her article appears in the latest issue of GQ. It's called "Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.