How People in the Witness Protection Program Do Money

needed it

Families don’t choose where to live as they may have told friends that they’d like to live there, but witnesses may get to choose one of several prepared options. Only around four government officials will know where they choose.

Families also practice their back story, from learning about the part of America that they are now “from” to signing their new name. Witnesses often keep their first name or at least first initial to make the transition easier. One couple told the New York Times that coming up with a new family name “was like naming a baby.”

Priceonomics has a fascinating history of the Witness Protection Program, which came around in the 60′s thanks to the mob and Gerald Shur, an attorney at the Department of Justice.

I think we’re all naturally obsessed with the idea of getting spirited away in the middle of the night, and brought to a Washington suburb, where we get to pick a new name and have a bunch of documents forged on our behalf. All new Google results! A true #burnitdown.

But after you get sent to a new town (not of your choosing!), then what happens?

Relocated families receive a stipend (perhaps a few thousand dollars a month for a family) that is phased out after witnesses have time to look for a job. They also get funding to pay for housing and other basic expenses, but except in the case of witnesses like Fratianno, it is enough for a basic apartment and used car. Since the government refuses to provide a fake credit history, witnesses also struggle to secure products and services when companies demand financial information.

The article also talks about the fact that often, the government is protecting convicted criminals. Obviously sending formerly violent criminals into small towns, and anonymously at that, is a controversial move. But rehabilitation is very high — turns out when you support someone financially, help them find work, and give them an entirely new start, odds are good (82%) they won’t commit another crime. Compare that to “data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that as many as 75% of American prisoners are arrested within 5 years of being released.” Crazy.

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Ahhhh, Witsec is so fascinating to me. I read Gerald Shur’s memoir in high school (I was a really cool kid) and all the money stuff is bananas. Like, your debts are not discharged but re-assigned to your new identity. But you still basically have no credit history so it’s really hard to get credit cards (as mentioned), but also, when the time comes, a new car or student loans for yourself or your kids.

@LookUponMyWorks Wait, so you have no credit history, but you do have debt, so your credit score is like….0?

I’m curious how people find jobs! How do you fake a resume? Same jobs just change the company name or some other details? [should probably read the article, huh?]

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@polka dots vs stripes People working for Witsec serve as former bosses for job references, character references, etc. They also help people in Witsec set up fake resumes, etc, when they are getting them new birth certificates, IDs, drivers licenses. It is really interesting, and as the article states, basically a big social experiment.

@LookUponMyWorks OO not according to the NY Times article the Priceonomics piece kept linking to – (While the marshals will pay for job training, they will not provide phony job resumes or references.) Maybe that’s changed? Or maybe they lied to the NY Times to prevent anyone from getting a full picture? HMM.

Meaghano (#529)

@polka dots vs stripes it sounds like a lot has changed. But man I want to read that book now!!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@polka dots vs stripes Nooo, they definitely do (or did!).

bgprincipessa (#699)

haha waitttt that picture is a spoiler! Fine, it ended 7 years ago, I know it’s past its statute of limitations.

Meaghano (#529)

@bgprincipessa HA best comment ever. I am sorry, I didn’t even think about it.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Meaghano I just saw you tweet about it but I’m private so I couldn’t respond. It’s cool, I’ll get over it. Like I said, past its statute. And it doesn’t seem so unpredictable when I think about it…

Heather F G (#6,074)

@bgprincipessa Oh it’s a very minor spoiler compared to what happens later. If that helps.

tossit (#4,570)

@bgprincipessa hahaha I thought the same thing, but anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet probably won’t even connect the dots.

Allison (#4,509)

@tossit honestly I thought it was Tyra from FNL and then Joey’s sister from the terrible Friends spin off (which I think is the same actress)

bgprincipessa (#699)

@tossit but people like me would, who have only seen the first 2 seasons! Honestly I’m not mad, this kind of thing happens all the time when you’re catching up on shows that are 10 years old. Same thing happened recently re: a death on West Wing.

@Heather F G you’re intriguing me. I have a lot of watching to do still.

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