Over the course of his long career in law enforcement, Matt Pitcher has put his personal life on hold to go deep undercover to catch the bad guys. Matt did short stints pretending to be someone else when he worked street crimes trying to take down drug dealers. Then came two separate deep cover investigations that required Matt to live for months apart from his wife and newborn son. Matt sits down with our twin detectives to talk about the real world impact of assuming someone else’s identity, the dangerous close calls when he was almost discovered, and why he thinks deep-cover assignments are becoming a thing of the past.Read Transcript
Dan: [00:00:04] In police stations across the country, officers start their shifts in The Briefing Room.
Dave: [00:00:10] It’s a place where law enforcement can speak openly and candidly about safety, training, policy, crime trends, and more.
Dan: [00:00:17] We think it’s time to invite you in.
Dave: [00:00:19] So, pull up a chair.
Dan and Dave: [00:00:21] Welcome to The Briefing Room.
Dave: [00:00:36] Today on The Briefing Room, what’s it like to leave behind the life and home you love and start a new one with the dangerous people who you cannot trust? You might think I’m talking about going to prison, but I’m talking about long-term undercover work. Our guest, Matt Pitcher, can tell you exactly what it’s like. Matt’s extensive career in law enforcement includes lots of UC work as we tend to refer to it. First, as an undercover detective making drug buys and later on two complex cases that took months, and in one case, a year to complete.
[00:01:09] Matt’s talked in depth about his two deep cover cases on our sister show, Small Town Dicks. Today, he’s here to tell us about the personal toll it takes to pause your own life and assume someone else’s identity. Matt, welcome to The Briefing Room.
Matt: [00:01:24] Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Dave: [00:01:26] Listeners, Matt has appeared twice on our other podcast, Small Town Dicks and you can hear his episodes in Season 10 and Season 11. Season 10 is Politically Incorrect. That’s the first case where Matt was living an extravagant lifestyle as a UC. Politically Incorrect, Season 10. And Deep Cover in Season 11 of Small Town Dicks highlights Matt’s efforts to take down an ecoterrorist group in North Carolina.
[00:01:58] I was hoping to talk about what led you into law enforcement, and then if we could segue to the point that you said, “Okay, I think I want more involvement in law enforcement. I want so much that I’m going to kill my current identity and take on someone else’s.” Can you walk us through how you got into this?
Matt: [00:02:18] Law enforcement, in general I think you’re going to hear this from almost every officer you talk to, but there’s always in your mind as either military or law enforcement that that’s always an interest to you. And for me, my brother was in law enforcement and he was in an apartment in Wilmington, North Carolina, actually. He came and would tell me stories about foot chases, and arresting bad guys, helping people, saving people, and didn’t take long for me to say, “Well that’s really cool and something I would enjoy.”
[00:02:57] A sidenote that I don’t really talk about a whole lot. During this time, I was actually out in California for a very brief six-month stint trying to become an actor. I know you guys never hear that from California, but I had lived out in Wilmington, North Carolina, for a little while with my parents and my brother, and there was actually a very large movie studio there. I’d gone there just to be an extra and get paid $50 a day and be in a movie, which I thought would help me get girls. It seemed like a good idea. [Dave laughs] [laughs] So, I did that.
[00:03:30] When I went to sign up to be an extra, the casting associate said, “Hey, have you ever thought about trying acting?” I was like, “Well, no.” [chuckles] She gave me a list and she said, “Well, here’s a bunch of agents that are really good in the area. Why don’t you reach out to them and see what they say?” So, of course, I was like, “Well, why not?” So, I did that, and actually, really enjoyed it. I loved acting. I actually ended up teaching classes a little bit with it for one of the agents I worked with and did some modeling, but also learned real quickly that a 5’8″ model for a male just really doesn’t have it. [laughs]
[00:04:06] So, I did a couple of things there, and then the agent said my best bet would be to go out to LA. They hooked me up with an agent out there. And of all places that I found that I could afford was a falling down motel in Compton. And so, I’m staying there and I still vivid as can be staying at this place. There was an earthquake one night, first one and last one of my life. I had no idea what to do for an earthquake. So, I run outside and then I hear multiple gunshots outside. So, I said, “Well, I’m going to go back inside. We’ll face this.”
[00:04:38] It wasn’t long after that I decided that I wasn’t up to pushing through with acting. My brother kept talking about law enforcement. And so, while I was out there, actually put in an application to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. I wanted bigger city than what Wilmington had to offer, so I decided to reach out and go to Charlotte. And so, at that point, I came back home. As you all know, it takes a while to get through the application process and to do your interviews. And so, I come back and then I get my first interview with a sergeant who is in charge of recruiting.
[00:05:15] He went through the whole thing of, “Well, what do you want to do in the police department?” And I said, “Well, I have three things that very much interest me.” I said, one is SWAT, because every kid in their 20s wants to be a SWAT guy.
Dave: [00:05:28] Everyone.
Matt: [00:05:29] Every single one, exactly. And then undercover work, because it sounds cool and get girls. And then the third one was I wanted to be a minister or be in the chaplain program. When I said that one, of course, he had to give me the funny look and he goes, “Well, I’ve heard the first two, but I’ve never heard someone put the three of those together.”[laughter]
Matt: [00:05:50] Even in the academy, I wanted to work drugs. That was definitely a huge interest of mine. I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on where it came about. Actually, I can come close, because I read Billy Queen’s book when he infiltrated the Mongols, and that fascinated me, like, big time. And so, at that point, I was like, “Boy, that’d be the pinnacle of your career to do something like that.”
Dave: [00:06:15] How old are you at this point?
Matt: [00:06:17] 23 years, 24 years.
Dave: [00:06:19] Okay. So, you know everything, but you know nothing?
Matt: [00:06:22] Oh, yeah. Big time. Exactly. I’m, at that point in my career, once I get out of the academy, like, I was lucky. There were one or two districts I wanted to go to. They were David 2, David 3, and that was you got into everything all the time.
Dave: [00:06:35] That’s not the suburbs. That’s where all the action’s happening type place?
Matt: [00:06:39] Yeah, exactly. So, getting to go to David 3 really paved the way for me to go into narcotics. Right out the gate, I started working, making a lot of dope arrests, a lot of narcotics arrests. Now, this would never be allowed today, but after I finished my FTO– [crosstalk]
Dan: [00:06:57] An FTO is a field training officer. That’s your coach while you’re beginning as a cop.
Matt: [00:07:01] Exactly. Probably six months afterwards. They were real big at the time at some kind of projects to try to improve the community. So, I wrote up one where I’d go undercover and just do dime buys and have somebody take them down right after me. For everybody listening, I don’t condone this. It shouldn’t have been done and it should have never ever happened. Dangerous thing I’ve ever done probably.
Dan: [00:07:23] The reason why you’re saying it’s dangerous is because when you’re a customer buying drugs in that situation, you frequently get robbed.
Matt: [00:07:30] Exactly. But it got approved. I had two other guys I went through the academy with that also got to go to David 3 with me and used them as a takedown vehicle. I was in the UC vehicle, and we’d go up and down the streets, and I’d buy little dime bags of crack, and then they’d come up and try and soup them up.
Dave: [00:07:47] What does a UC car look like for you in those days?
Matt: [00:07:51] So, this one was a gold Chrysler 3000. I still remember the first UC car. Yeah, that was an ugly car though. [Dave laughs] It fit the purpose though and it was beat up, which I needed.
Dave: [00:08:03] How long after you’re out of the academy are you on this new team where you guys are able to be creative and proactive? How long after you started are you already into this lifestyle?
Matt: [00:08:16] As soon as I was done with that, I started. If weren’t on a call for service, we were being squirrels.
Dave: [00:08:22] Looking around.
Matt: [00:08:23] Exactly. I’d say about every single night we could get in a foot chase, no problem. We were every night making felony dope arrests.
Dan: [00:08:31] So, at some point, you transitioned from being a patrol officer to you start doing undercover work, UC work. How did that come about?
Matt: [00:08:40] Oddly enough, I was actually doing some UC work while on patrol. My favorite story is, so we had our worst area of public housing called Piedmont Courts, which is now demolished. But it was considered the worst of the worst spot to be. You always had people on the corner there selling dope nonstop, 24/7. So, I had done UC one night and had gone down there and subject that I already knew pretty well from patrol was there on the corner, rolled up, and he’s like, “I know who you are. You’re a cop.”
[00:09:12] The whole time, in my hand, right by the wind I’m holding a $20 bill. Like, “Man, I’m not a cop. I just need to get my fix. I need it.” Holding that $20 bill, waving it back and forth a little bit. So, finally, he’s like, “All right, digs down his pocket and gives me a piece of crack.” Give him the $20 and off he goes. And of course, we arrest him. Takedown team comes in and takes him off and he probably spent six hours in jail before he got out.
[00:09:38] So, the next night, I’m down on patrol in uniform saying hi to him, and he still did not completely put it together. And so, I started with that patrol, and then I started getting really good with using confidential informants, which are people who, for different reasons, give you information that can lead you to a search warrant. They’ll buy drugs for you, so you can get a search warrant.
Dave: [00:10:00] So, Dan had informants. In my caseload, working child abuse, you don’t necessarily have informants in that caseload, but I know Dan did. And to develop informants is pretty tricky, sometimes. Sometimes, it’s because you have leverage on them like, “I’m going to charge you or you can start helping us.” How would you go about developing an informant, and how do you go about vetting them? So, now you can list them as a CI and a search warrant, and they’re credible, all that stuff. Can you walk us through that?
Matt: [00:10:32] Yeah. So, in Charlotte, basically, and it started the exact same way you say. If I pick someone up for a stem, which is an item that they use to smoke crack cocaine, that’s a charge of drug paraphernalia. It’s a misdemeanor. It’s not really a big charge at all, but most people don’t want to spend any time in jail and will do what they can to get out. So, that was a very common one for me is, what we call, flip somebody that had a stem.
[00:10:56] So, first thing we got to do is make you what you just said reliable. And so, I said, “Give me information. What can you tell me about people in the neighborhood?” And so, they’d name off some drug dealers, people who I already knew were selling dope. So, I was like, “Okay, information they’re giving is credible. They’d go into detail, what the person looks like, what they drive, where they live, that kind of thing to really vet it out.” Then you just say, “All right, come on, I’m going to grab a UC car. I’ll meet you at this location and pick them up,” and then we go do a buy.
[00:11:26] We’ll give them money. It’ll be documented. We’ll have the serial number or whatever. Then we’ll go with them, drop them off somewhere. They go and do a buy, come back to us, give us the dope. And then my thing was three times. They would do three buys for free that don’t count for anything and that I don’t use for charges or anything. It’s basically letting dope walk, but it’s showing me that, “All right, they can do what they say. They’re reliable. Now, I can use them.” Then we send them to a house, same exact procedure. They go into the house, buy the dope from inside the house, come back out, meet with me, and then I’m off to the judge to write up a search warrant.
[00:12:04] So, when I was still in patrol, I was leading the way at being able to get search warrants and work informants. So, I got pulled from patrol and they created a weird position for me, I guess, in a way I was a community coordinator/street crimes officer. Ultimately, my goal was to make informants and go kick indoors or do UC work. So, I got real into that and was doing know every day and loving it.
Dave: [00:12:30] So, right now, your UC work feels kind of transactional that you’re addressing community issues, but you don’t have a target necessarily, like, a person or a group. Is there a time where you’re getting pulled in by command staff saying, “Hey, we want you to divert from what you’re focusing on right now? We actually have a bigger,” I’ll say, “mission.” We don’t really talk in those terms, but “you have a bigger task and a bigger target, and here’s what we want you to do.” Was there a situation like that?
Matt: [00:13:04] So, there are multiple. The first time that I ever had that situation, we had a gang, and they were called the Hidden Valley Kings was the name of the gang, and they became a huge problem in Charlotte. They had tons of guns, removing kilos of cocaine at this point, and well operated. And probably 50 members to 65 members. They were in this one community in David 3, it’s called the Hidden Valley Community. They were just wreaking havoc, everything from robberies to dope dealing and everything else. And so, can your informants, any of them get into it? I did have an awesome informant who was able to do just that. And so, used this person to do numerous buys into them that led the way to actually a big federal roundup on the whole gang.
Dave: [00:14:11] So, we’re here talk about how going deep undercover changes you, and your first big or should I say long case is one we discussed on Small Town Dicks, Season 10, Episode 7. You were doing an undercover drug investigation that involved political corruption. How are you assuming the new identity for that case?
Matt: [00:14:32] So, I had gone just previous to that to looking pretty rough. I had long hair, beard, all that kind of thing. Coming into this case, quickly realized when I met with the stripper and bought the cocaine that it was a different clientele altogether. I knew the people I was looking at were different. These were most well due, well known, very flashy. They wanted to wear nice clothes, look very business professional, and that kind of a thing. So, I switched up my appearance immediately. Went short hair, clean shaved all the time. The only thing I had were earrings in at that point to fit the club going scene. And of course, I had to look like a billionaire too.
Dave: [00:15:16] You got to get flashy, right?
Matt: [00:15:17] Yeah, exactly, which is against– One thing with UC work is you can’t go way off and change who you are. You’ll dime yourself out in a heartbeat. The FBI wanted me to wear this $50,000 watch and you’re insane. There’s no way I’m putting that on and going out. They just wanted to justify their money.
Dave: [00:15:37] [laughs] Right.
Matt: [00:15:38] It wouldn’t have fit who I was and plus I didn’t want to get robbed. So, you try to stay at least somewhat a little bit of you, even though you’re this different person. You can’t just change completely. But this is where things get really difficult with UC work and that’s why I don’t think deep cover has really done anymore. This is what I learned the hard way. I talked about how after reading Billy Queen’s book and all that, this is all I wanted to do. And then I get halfway into the first case and I realize what an idiot I am. You don’t realize it completely, but you cut out your other life. You’re no longer you. You’re this person and you’re this person all the time. So, the things you never thought about were all the friends you have, they’re moving on, they’re doing their own thing.
[00:16:25] At the time of the first case, I had my wife and a newborn who was eight months old when I think I first got involved. And so, we’ve talked about it since then, my family and I. You don’t get it that their life is moving forward. And for you, your personal life, like, who you are for real, just hit a pause button and stops. So, you’re that person that you were just before the case started and that person is gone for the amount of time that you’re undercover.
Dave: [00:16:59] What does this look like? Are you sleeping in your own bed at night or you have an apartment that’s miles away from your house?
Matt: [00:17:05] No. Yeah, you have an apartment. Especially the first case, I was out all night every night anyway, just because of the whole club atmosphere, you don’t get to do much. You catch sleep where you can in between things.
Dave: [00:17:16] That’s the kind of stuff that leads to divorce.
Matt: [00:17:18] Exactly. Thank God and luckily, my wife is incredibly strong. I broke rules that you’re not supposed to break with my wife. She knew what I was doing. She knew stuff about the case that technically she shouldn’t. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family any more than I already was for the case, so I did break details that I wasn’t supposed to. I think that at least helped her some mentally to know a little bit of what was going on instead of being completely in the dark. I have a good friend who infiltrated the outlaws.
Dan: [00:17:58] The outlaws are the oldest motorcycle gang in the United States and I believe they’re headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. They were founded in Illinois.
Matt: [00:18:07] Yeah. My friend, he was working with FBI with that, and he followed it basically by the book and didn’t tell his wife anything. He was still getting to come home a little. Obviously, outlaws go to strip clubs and everything else. So, there were several times he’d come home and he would smell like a strip club, as you can imagine what that smells like. Following the rules and not saying where he was or anything like that, it ended up costing him his marriage, something he really regretted. So, that was part of my decision as to why I played it the way I did.
Dave: [00:18:42] So, you have this major disruption in your personal life, and when the case is over, you’re doing a different kind of undercover work that might be less disruptive, but it’s still dangerous with these targeted transactions to takedown drug dealers.
Matt: [00:18:55] Correct. Yeah, that’s a perfect way to put it.
Dave: [00:18:58] So, two big operations in addition to a life on patrol and detective work, where you’re doing this kind of transactionally, taking out drug dealers, targeted, focused investigations on probably geographical areas in cities?
Matt: [00:19:14] Correct. So, the way that it typically works started arresting people for street level drugs and doing undercover for street level drugs, when I was on patrol and then moved over to a street crimes position. And then from there, I got into Vice and Narcotics. Now, I didn’t even understand completely about undercover and Vice and all that when you go to it. We all think of the same thing. We think of narcotics transactions, murder for hires, and prostitution. That’s what you think of when you think of UC work. But the reality is it’s everything under the sun.
[00:19:49] Unfortunately, everything from having to investigate other officers that may be doing something illegal. Like, unfortunately, you have officers that are selling drugs sometimes and everything across the line and so your job is to investigate all of it. It’s kind of funny. I always say the undercover unit or the vice unit is the black sheep of every single department. These are the ones that every agency knows they need them. Not a single agency wants to admit they have them kind of thing, or even recognize them, just because we do, for lack of better words, the dirty work and we look dirty most of the time. There’s only, like I said, that one case where I actually got to be clean, but the rest of the time, I looked pretty grungy most of it.
Dave: [00:20:38] Are you carrying a weapon on this? Is it play it by ear-type thing or are you always armed?
Matt: [00:20:44] So, when you’re doing street level buys, you’re always armed. And then there’s a golden rule to undercover work, and that rule goes to crap when you talk about deep cover, because the golden rule is with undercover work that you always keep it business. If you want to stay alive doing undercover work, business only, it cannot become personal. If it becomes personal, then emotions get involved, and that’s when you get killed. That’s when the person wants to take revenge kind of thing. Unfortunately, deep cover work, if you keep it business, you’re not going to achieve your objectives. You just can’t. That’s life.
[00:21:22] A lot of times when it’s narcotics that you don’t really know the person, you’re not building a friendship, it’s business only, you can stay armed, no problem. I’ve even had a couple of cases where they’ve seen my gun on my side or anything like that, and basically, I’m like, “Well, hell yeah, I have a gun. You don’t.” So, you can play it off pretty easily. Both deep cover cases, I could not carry a gun and I was searched pretty much, especially in the beginning you’re searched every single night. So, with the political corruption case, we spent most of our time in strip clubs, and they used the girls, check them, make sure they didn’t have anything and just the way it went.
[00:21:59] One of the scariest times on the second case was when I had to go shoot with my crazy best friend in that whole thing and sitting there. He’s got the guns and I’ve got nothing. And hate to say, but he was actually a good shot.
Dave: [00:22:13] That’s from the second episode you did with us on Small Town Dicks in Season 11. That episode is Deep Cover. You are in mortal danger.
Matt: [00:22:24] Yeah.
Dan: [00:22:24] So, he’s telling you, “Hey, go put these targets up.”
Matt: [00:22:27] Yeah, exactly. And you’re walking down range to put up targets and say, “I’m really making this too easy for him.” [laughs]
Dave: [00:22:34] You think about that, just the, “Oh, shit, this could be it. Right here.” Just the anxiety of walking down with your back to somebody, like, “So, we ended up at a gun range today and it’s way off the beaten path, awesome.”
Matt: [00:22:49] Yeah. And this was his farm, acres and acres and acres.
Dan: [00:22:53] Being at the range when you’re in law enforcement, there are some very clear rules that, if you violate them, you could probably get fired. You just won’t work in law enforcement anymore. So, cops inherently, anytime we’re around a range, we’re very careful and we’re very measured. Everything is deliberate. You think about it’s not like you ask your buddy there, “Hey, have you had firearm safety courses and training?” That’s just not a question that’s going to be asked. So, I’ve been around my buddies who don’t have firearm training and I’m so conscious of what they’re doing with a gun. That’s got to be a concern too. Like, “Hey, is he an idiot and I’m just going to catch around, just because he’s screwing around?”
Matt: [00:23:39] Obviously, and this guy in particular is so crazy as it is and does stupid things on a daily basis. You don’t know is he high right now or is he of sound mind? Yeah, it’s not comforting.
Dave: [00:23:53] I think, for listeners, when I think about UC work, I’m thinking, “What do you do in the situation where it’s starting to get a little hairy or somebody’s starting to question whether or not you’re legit?” Do you have some situations like that that you can recall right off the top of your head?
Matt: [00:24:09] [laughs] More than I would like.
Dave: [00:24:12] Walk us through those.
Matt: [00:24:14] The one that I thought was probably going to get me killed one time. I was at a party in Charlotte, and this was a who’s who party. You had celebrities at the party on down. I had come to the party with a drug dealer. I’m not positive how much dope he brought to this party, but it was a very significant amount.
Dave: [00:24:32] Significant means something to me and Dan, what is significant in this lifestyle with this group? What is a significant amount of, I’m guessing it was cocaine?
Matt: [00:24:42] So, yeah, upwards of a kilo of cocaine, as well as Adderall, because that was real big with the club goers at that time, especially the girls. So, he came with a ton of both. So, I went to high school up in Pennsylvania. There was a girl from my high school that actually found her way down to Charlotte and had a quasi-celebrity status because she had been on one of the reality TV shows. And so, I had a feeling she could be at the party. I knew she was in Charlotte, but I hadn’t seen her since I was in 9th grade. Well, there’s no way she’ll remember me. So, I’m like, “All right, I know there’s going to be a bunch of people.” I talked myself into it that, “All right. There’ll be enough people there. I can play this. This won’t be an issue.”
[00:25:21] There were there were about at least 200 people at this party. I mean, it was a big party, huge house. So, at one point, my drug dealer buddy is in the media room, and I’m out by the kitchen area. And all of a sudden, I hear my real name. Somebody yelled Matt, Matt. I was like, “No, this isn’t happening.” You know how you can do that peripheral side glance and get somewhat visual to know, sure enough it was her. So, not immediately turn and walk away, but just that gradual so it doesn’t look like it caught you or anything like that and go back and I was like, “All right. I’ll just hang out in the media room with him and everything will be fine” [unintelligible 00:25:58] because he was in the very back of it. Like, it was a huge auditorium-type thing with elevated scenes. Like, there’s no way she’s going to come all the way back. She probably doesn’t even know who he is.
[00:26:07] So, I go back and sit with him within two minutes and she walks with two of her friends, and they literally sit down right in front of us in this big auditorium. So, at this point, I’m like, “I’m screwed.” And now, all of a sudden, being in the back of the auditorium seems like a really bad idea, because I actually looked and I knew– You go down the auditorium to the front or media room, whatever you want to call it, and right to the left, there’s a door, that’s a sliding open door, that leads back to the woods. And I was like, “Well, that’s escape plan. This goes wrong and that’s where I’m running.” And so, I hear him whispering in front of us.
[00:26:39] Then finally the one friend reaches back and starts whispering to him. So, I’m starting to stretch out at this point, and I hear him say, “How would I know with a few bad words. Why don’t you just ask him?” So, then, sure enough, one of the friends asked me, “Where are you from?” Now we have a different problem, because you always want to keep your cover story somewhat close to your real life to keep as many mistakes from happening as possible. So, my cover story is I grew up in Pennsylvania. I’m like, “Oh, crap.” But I always used that I was from an orphanage, just because it’s very hard to get information on orphans obviously, it’s protected information. So, that makes it harder for them to find me.
[00:27:17] So, she reads back, “Pennsylvania? Where at in Pennsylvania?” It’s like, “Oh.” So, I tell her where at in this orphanage, and that was a little ways away from my house, but I knew it from growing up from being at some camps and stuff there. So, she turned around and said, “Okay.” And then I see all three of them on Facebook. And funny enough, within 24 hours of that, you wouldn’t believe what friend request I got.
Dave: [00:27:38] Shocker.
Matt: [00:27:39] Yeah, exactly. And so, even as soon as I was clear from that room, I actually sent out a message. Because I didn’t have pictures of me on Facebook at that time, but we all know how it goes. You have friends who will tag you in a picture, nonstop. So, I left there and said, “If you’ve tagged me in a photo, if you have a photo of me, it needs to be deleted from Facebook immediately and off,” and left it at that.
Dave: [00:28:01] Trying to explain the importance of that to friends who are outside of law enforcement, it’s a difficult conversation because they just don’t understand.
Matt: [00:28:11] Exactly. So, that got all the pictures off. So, as far as I know, she never completely put it together. I’m pretty sure she had thoughts, but couldn’t figure it out.
Dan: [00:28:24] Meanwhile, one of the subjects, one of the targets is sitting next to you and what are they saying? Do they approach you? Do they ask you questions?
Matt: [00:28:33] So, I’ve lost a lot of respect for this guy, because he should have had me. This is the second time with this individual that it had actually happened. I had a cop call me out in a bar with this guy. I’m hanging out with him, and a cop comes up, grabs me on the shoulder, “Matt, what’s going on, Matt?” I was basically, “I’m not Matt. Who the–? Are you–?” And he goes, “CMPD.” And at this point, I’m like, “Oh.” Lucky, I didn’t punch him.
Dan: [00:28:58] Yeah.
Matt: [00:28:58] I was like, “I had no idea.” And my drug dealer buddy actually steps up and says, “Dude, will you leave him alone? He doesn’t know who you are.” I was like, “Oh, so, that’s twice the same guy and he didn’t nail me on either one.”
Dave: [00:29:10] I’m putting myself in your shoes here in these situations, and I just know for me, my anxiety [chuckles] would be through the roof. I’d be a mess. I couldn’t act my way out of a wet paper bag. Most people would have issues in a situation like that. To remain calm, at least outwardly appearing calm, how do you address that? How do you mitigate that in the future? How do you go to sleep that night? Truly, like, how did you sleep that night?
Matt: [00:29:42] Actually, I don’t think I did. But I got really good at– That anxiety bottling it up for that time period and then bursting later on is the way that went. After this particular incident, I waited till I was in a clear spot, and called Blake and went on a tangent for probably about 20 minutes of just screaming.
Dan: [00:30:08] So, Blake being Matt’s handler, he’s basically Matt’s contact with law enforcement. Matt is checking in with Blake periodically to let him know how the investigation is going and that Matt’s okay.
Matt: [00:30:21] Yeah. And then it’s funny, because you get off the phone or whatever. There are two times that I can specifically remember this, where you’re like, “Wow, that wasn’t even me talking.” I usually don’t get really angry or anything like that. Just you’re already under a lot of stress and you don’t even realize at times.
Dave: [00:30:38] All that frustration, anxiety, and stress all comes out in a big word salad?
Matt: [00:30:44] Yeah, pretty much. Exactly.
Matt: [00:31:02] So, I think deep cover may actually be a thing of the past, because I don’t know how– To the point of embedding yourself with different groups, I think social media has killed that. I don’t know how you could possibly– You can’t justify not having any pictures on social media anymore, even from a kid-type thing. When I am 46 years old, if you’re younger than that, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be on social media at some point.
Dan: [00:31:31] The digital permanence of everything. Even youth teams that you’re a part of, they have Facebook pages that they post photos to.
Matt: [00:31:40] 100%.
Dan: [00:31:42] Even though you may be conscious of it, it doesn’t matter. The people who are around you will post photos of you online. There’s nothing you can do.
Matt: [00:31:51] Exactly. What nobody realizes is, is with the facial recognition software that these companies like Meta has and all these other ones, they can take that picture of you when you’re 13 and a picture of you when you’re 35, and it will put them together. It’ll show the match.
Dan: [00:32:06] The book you speak of with Billy Queen, it’s Under and Alone. When he infiltrates the Mongols, I’ve read that book as well and it was fascinating to me. Just the lengths that he went to try to cover his identity, because this organization that he’s trying to infiltrate, they run credit checks on him.
Matt: [00:32:29] 100%.
Dan: [00:32:30] So, the organizations that you were targeting during your career, did they have similar countermeasures?
Matt: [00:32:38] Yeah. So, actually, the first one, which was [unintelligible 00:32:42] people, criminal enterprises. They went to a club one night and they said, “Hey, we need your driver’s license and credit card,” after I’m already sitting down in the club. “Yeah, we need both of them.” You don’t have a choice. It’s not one of those things like, “Well, I’m not giving this to you.” Hand it over and at the end of the night, I’m like, “Hey, I need those back.” “Oh, no, we’re going to give those to you tomorrow. We’re going to hold on to those.” And then, of course, FBI has all their systems that. It flags, “Okay. Yeah, they checked this, this, and this,” so you can see what they were checking. But yeah, they definitely run through it. The second case was worse than the first. The second case, they had a private detective or private investigator that would follow you around.
Dave: [00:33:25] Based on your experience, Matt, what are the personality traits and what type of cop can work UC type of cases? What are the basic needs and they can be intangibles?
Matt: [00:33:38] So, the number one that you’re always going to hear everybody say and I’m going to call BS on right out the gate is you have to be an extrovert. I tend not to be an extrovert. I go more introverted a lot of times. The number one thing that you have to be able to do, and if you can’t do this, do not, do not, do not get into UC work is listen. If you cannot listen, some people have a very hard time, like, nothing against them, but that is not their forte. If you can’t listen in UC work, you’re rolling the dice every single time that you are going to get in a bad situation, because being able to listen to people probably saved me more times than not, because you’ll read the situation. You’ll know when maybe I do need to look for a way to slide off on this one.
[00:34:25] When I say listen, it’s not just what they’re saying. Obviously, you have to hear every word they’re saying, but you got to listen to their body language too. There were a couple of times where just even doing street level buys that I knew I was getting ready to get robbed. You could tell by the way they were talking, going a little bit faster, that kind of thing, that I just was able to bail out and take off to avoid it. I’d say number one is being able to listen.
Dave: [00:34:46] It is uncanny. The little flags that we see and I learned it from Dan and his senior officers, I remember being on a call with Dan and another guy, and they both looked at him and said, “Now would be the time.” The guy looked at him kind of confused like, “What are you talking about now would be the time?” They’re like, “You’re about to run. Now would be the time, because there’re a couple more officers coming into the area right now.” And the guy looked at him like, “Oh, you’re right,” and took off running. I was a brand-new baby cop. Looking back, I’m like, “Oh, it was obvious.” He’s doing the little drop step, opening up, checking out each area. He’s looking past us when he’s talking to us, clenching the fists. You can tell there’s about to be an event.
[00:35:31] They just called him on it and I think it was like, “We’re daring you, dude. We know what you’re thinking.” When you deal with enough of those as a cop, you don’t need the event to happen to know what’s about to happen. So, truly, we profile body language. I can tell when someone’s wanted, they put the hood over their head and they turn the other way and they do an about face and walk the opposite direction you’re driving.
Dan: [00:36:01] I could always tell when people were going to run, when I contacted them on the street, I knew it was coming, because they’re looking for their escape route, they blade their stance, where you start to recognize little things like you’re saying, you listen to their body language. That’s fascinating.
Matt: [00:36:19] Yeah. Same thing as an interview. When you’re getting to where you want that guy to say something, all of a sudden, he goes way back and you’re like, “Oh, crap, I’m starting to lose him a little bit.” And you rework things to try to bring him back in, but it’s that same thing.
Dave: [00:36:50] When you finally put a case together and it’s time to return home and you haven’t been home for days or weeks or months potentially, and you look, in one case, very scraggly and unkempt. What’s it like to walk in the front door back home?
Matt: [00:37:09] Rough.
Dave: [00:37:10] Do you give them a heads up or you just show up unannounced?
Matt: [00:37:13] No, I just showed up actually on the second case. First case? Yeah, I think so. The hardest and at least I learned this after the first one, the hardest part was I get home, and I remember I talked about hitting that pause button. So, now I’m hitting play again. I thought, everybody else in that house hit the pause button too. I can hit play and everything is right back to way it was, where the reality of the situation is my wife had to figure out how to basically be a single mom with a newborn and a full-time job. Believe it or not, as cops, we don’t make enough money for the most part where she could just stay at home and be a stay-at-home mom. I know that’s crazy to think about, but anyway.
[00:37:54] So, she actually was hitting a very busy time at work when I finished the first case and I come back thinking, “Well, now is going to be a great time for a vacation for all of us. Relax a little bit, my head can get clear and all that.”
Dave: [00:38:10] Great time for you.
Matt: [00:38:11] Yeah, exactly. And when she tells me, “Well, no, that’s not happening.” I’m like, “What do you mean that’s not happening?” [laughs] “You just had the last two and a half years off of.” “Oh, wait, that’s not the case.” [laughs]
Dave: [00:38:21] Right.
Matt: [00:38:22] So, the first case with her, once I got past that, that was good. I had a lot of trouble in the first case with friends. I pretty much lost all of them, all my cop friends, to the point where they knew I was working with FBI. There were a lot of rumors. I know the FBI purposely put out a couple of rumors, so that nobody knew where I was or what I was doing. But then everybody comes back and they’re iffy on you. That was a very hard experience. I had a very, very, very good friend who– We were even roommates at one time, but we haven’t had a relationship since. I haven’t really even talked since then.
Dave: [00:39:13] On this first case, what was the longest time you were away from your wife? How many days?
Matt: [00:39:19] It would have been months. It would have been over a month.
Dave: [00:39:24] I’m just trying to give myself and the listeners like, “We’re not talking he went away for a week.” We’re talking months, where it’s just like, “I’ll talk to you when I talk to you.”
Matt: [00:39:34] Yeah, and it can get very hard. The first case was better than the second case. Second case, it was basically a year. And 95% of the communication being text messages and very brief text messages at that. I can tell you the real conversations that we’ve had. One, she called me when my kid– Well, my kid has always been extremely well behaved, everything like that. He was at daycare and he was just acting very moody, very down, that kind of thing. They confronted him on it, of course, and he’s like, “I miss my daddy.” My wife debated whether she was even going to tell me or not but was more worried how upset I’d be to find out about it later.
[00:40:20] So, I was actually driving to an environmental meeting, and she called me and tells me, and I ended up pulling over and bawling my eyes out for a few minutes. I almost dropped the case at that point. She’s actually part of the reason I stayed in is because it was though, well, if the bombing does happen, how are you going to handle it emotionally if you leave, which, thank God, she got me through it.
Dave: [00:40:50] Matt, this bombing you’re discussing is, this group is discussing planning a bomb to be majorly disruptive at a huge political event.
Matt: [00:41:01] Yeah. And the hard part was I pulled over, I bawled, and then you sit there. I’ve got to go back to being the other person then, that was hard. And then during that case also, my mom had uterine cancer. And so, now, my wife had to deal with that and the kid. I tried to get clearance to see my mom at the hospital and was denied. It felt too big of a risk. I finished that case, and I come home, and I was mentally not there. I was pretty gone after that case. I was drained. I came home. I hadn’t showered in over a month when I came home, because everybody else stank, and I wasn’t going to be any different. If I had to smell them, they were going to smell me, [Dave laughs] kind of the way I looked at it.
[00:41:54] So, I got home and showered forever, shaved, and then immediately got sick. I felt awful. I think my body just was shutting down at that point. The agency was trying to do the right thing, and I think they did the best of their ability. I didn’t go back to work for over a month. They wanted me to take time and adjust. We were at least that time able to take a vacation too. So, that was kind of nice. But I saw a psychologist afterwards and I definitely struggled for a while after that case. And then I think another hard part is, you get so wrapped up in everything and you have adrenaline dumping the entire time.
[00:42:40] I came back to work and the one thing I fought with for the remainder of my career was getting the same sense of fulfillment almost as what I got during that and just could not get back to that level.
Dan: [00:42:53] A lot of people talk about over time as one of the benefits of being a cop. Well, when you’re working undercover, 24 hours a day, you’re on duty, you’re working. Are there any considerations regarding compensation when you’re working a UC case?
Matt: [00:43:08] I did get some. The second case, not very much. I think my per hour would have come out to around 3 cents to 5 cents an hour is what I was making.
Dave: [00:43:17] My last question. Was it all worth it?
Matt: [00:43:22] Prior to the case, that’s all I ever want to do. I’m finished with the case. Well, I’m never doing that again to, you know a year later, “Hey, here I am. I’m going to do it again.” If I am completely honest with myself, I loved the work. The actual undercover part itself for me was the best part of the job 100%. The pain it put my family through, the mental stuff it did to me once I was out make it where it’s not desirable in that sense, but I’m extremely proud of the work I did in both cases. The second case, I can say for 100%, had I not done the work, we would have had a bombing in Charlotte. And so, being able to say that gives know a lot of comfort.
Dave: [00:44:09] Matt, first of all, thank you for the time and really appreciate you getting into more details about what it takes to work undercover.
Matt: [00:44:22] Well, I appreciate it very much.
Dan: [00:44:24] Thank you, Matt. Really appreciate it.
[00:44:28] On the next episode of The Briefing Room.
Female Speaker: [00:44:30] In policing, you have to invest in the bank of public trust because you’re going to withdraw from it from time to time. You’re going to have incidents, whether they’re completely justified or whether it’s just a cop acting like an asshole. Sometimes, a cop acts like an asshole and yells at somebody and gets reprimanded, but it’s all over the news. Those incidents, you’re going to have to explain, you’re going to have to be forthcoming, but you’re not going to win people over. Then you have to do that work every day.
Dave: [00:44:57] That’s next week on The Briefing Room.[music]
Yeardley: [00:45:01] The Briefing Room is produced by Jessica Halstead and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Executive producers are Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Logan also composed the theme music. Soren Begin is our senior audio editor, Monika Scott runs our social media, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
[00:45:26] Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing transcripts. To read those transcripts or to hear past episodes, please go to our website at thebriefingroompod.com. The Briefing Room is an Audio 99 production. And I cannot go without saying thank you to you, all of you are fans, you are the best fans in the pod universe. And I can say with complete confidence, nobody is better than you.
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