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author, journalist, underworld observer
DETROIT-WINDSOR BORDER, 1986
"This is Marvin 'The Weasel' Elkind, he's a well-connected guy."
It was the introduction Marvin wanted; a crook vouching for him as a fellow crook to a third crook a little further up the underworld food chain. From where he had parked his car in downtown Windsor, The Weasel could see the gleaming dark towers of Detroit's Renaissance Center and, if he squinted to the west, the cabled arches of the Ambassador Bridge that spans the river, linking Detroit on the American side to Windsor in Canada. It is the continent's most heavily travelled border point and Marvin knew the seamless link between automotive giants in both cities had long ago been appropriated by gangsters, making the 32-mile length of the river the carotid artery of contraband.
Marvin chomped on the end of a fat Tuero cigar, grown and rolled in Canada using tobacco seeds from Havana, letting him think he was smoking a Cuban without coughing up so many pesos. The cigars became a smoky signature of his presence that constantly floated back and forth from his thin lips to his corpulent, ring-heavy fingers. Marvin was meeting the owners of a chain of strip clubs who also sold drugs. They wanted to expand and that's where Marvin said he could help.
"My Detroit friends want to get into business in Ontario," Marvin told them, giving the businessmen a hard stare to emphasize the dark nature of his proposal. "They're looking for partners who can handle it."
The strip club owners had already checked Marvin out, in the haphazard, oral-history sort of way gangsters do, especially in the days before one could Google a name to see if he had been in the newspapers, testifying at a trial, maybe, or otherwise revealed as a snitch. In this cutthroat world, a personal recommendation was the only sure way of getting behind closed doors, which is where Marvin needed to be. Before the meeting, the businessmen had called friends in both countries asking about The Weasel. They spoke to a major boxing promoter in Detroit who knew all the bandits from ringside; he told them Marvin hung around with serious Mafia guys all the time.
The club owners also talked with career criminals in Toronto who had known Marvin for decades as a street enforcer, loan collector and mob driver. The owners had themselves seen Marvin hanging around one of their clubs with Ernie Kanakis, a big-time gambler rumoured to have killed three Detroit mobsters coming at him with ice picks.
Marvin was given the nod on all fronts as a known hood and connected guy, and the backroom doors were flung open. They always were.
Marvin brought three Detroit friends to his next meeting. The club owners cleared out their VIP room for them. Shockingly young women gyrated amid a river of booze and food as the talk turned to drugs. The deal was looking good for everyone and as Marvin reluctantly got up to leave, one of his American friends, a firmly built Italian man with a thick moustache, gave the Canadian businessmen his phone number in Detroit.
THE MUSTACHIOED AMERICAN looked out across the border from the 26th floor of a skyscraper on Detroit's Michigan Avenue and could just about see-a mile away-the tawdry strip club where he had been with The Weasel. In the daytime, with the bright neon lights dimmed, it looked nowhere near as impressive.
If anyone dialled the number he had given out, the phone that would ring was a few feet away, across his office and locked in the bottom drawer of his desk. Special Agent Rich Mazzari was the only person with a key to that drawer. The phone was a special hotline he used only in undercover operations, secured inside the Detroit field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mazzari didn't want anyone else answering it, jeopardizing his investigations or putting the lives of his agents or prized informants at risk. Informants like The Weasel.
The truth was, despite the furtive checking on Marvin's background by the strip club owners, despite Marvin's fearsome streetwise stare and calm demeanour, Marvin was part of this emerging drug conspiracy not as a criminal, although he sometimes was one, and not as a mobster, although he had been that, and not as a thuggish enforcer, although he did that kind of work as well, but as a paid police informant. A career fink. In fact, because of his unique life and special abilities, one of the best. He achieved secret success solving a staggering number of crimes in several countries by infiltrating criminal gangs and conspiracies, bringing down drug traffickers and con men, foreign agents and spies, Mafia bosses and pornography kingpins, corrupt union fat cats and crooked businessmen. He helped to thwart Third World coups, multimillion-dollar frauds, union corruption, political blackmail and murders. He worked for the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Internal Revenue Service, Scotland Yard, Mexican federal police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, city forces and more. He had infiltrated crime gangs in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, the Netherlands and the Middle East.
In a beautiful hide-in-plain-sight accident, Marvin was known on the street as "The Weasel," but no one could have suspected how masterful a weasel he really was.
Marvin's job-his "government work," as he calls it-was to introduce into this drug conspiracy four people who would not pass such a background check by the crooks: three agents with the FBI and a detective with the OPP. The only way these four were getting past the closed backroom doors was if someone like The Weasel brought them in with him.
This was what Marvin got paid for. This was what he was good at.
This was what he loved.
WHILE MAZZARI WAITED in his Detroit office, Marvin was heading back into the club for another meeting, this time bringing another undercover cop with him.
OPP Detective-Constable Al Robinson was Marvin's police handler. He was known by all of his friends as Robbie, but to the criminals Marvin introduced him to he was Colonel Al Gibson, a former air force officer who had left the military under a cloud of disgrace. The military co-operated in the subterfuge and created false records for a discharged Col. Col. Gibson in case someone with deep contacts checked on him. Robbie had two wallets, one with his real ID and a second for Col. Gibson. He even had a tattoo on his right forearm, an image of a heart hugged by a flowing ribbon inscribed with the word "Mother." Cheaply inked when he was a teenager in homage to his dead mom, it had blurred with age. In the 1980s, the tattooed arm alone deflected suspicion he might be a cop. None the wiser, the crooks all called him "The Colonel."
As they headed into the strip club together, passing several well-muscled and unsmiling bouncers who eyed them as they entered, The Weasel and The Colonel were walking into another wild adventure.
"They're expecting us," Marvin said to the bartender, raising his grating voice above the thumping music that, along with amphetamines and cigarettes, kept the dancers moving. "Tell them The Weasel and The Colonel are here."
"I'll pass it on," the barman said.
Inside the back office, one of the club operators wanted to talk to his new Detroit partners before heading out to see Marvin. He searched through the papers in his wallet for the phone number.
Across the river, Mazzari looked at his watch. He knew Marvin and Robbie were going back into the club and he might get a phone call from the club owners. He unlocked the drawer containing his hidden hotline. Then nature called. Unsure of how long he might have to wait, Mazzari dashed to the bathroom so he would be ready for round-the-clock action once things got started.
Just after the agent ran out of his office, the phone started ringing. And just as it rang, a fellow agent walking past heard the mysterious sound and traced it to the jangling phone in the open drawer. The perplexed young agent liked to be helpful. So he answered it.
"Hello, FBI Detroit."
At the other end of the phone, there was a stunned, confused silence. Meanwhile, not knowing of the slip-up, Marvin and Robbie stood waiting expectantly at the bar.
The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob
By Adrian Humphreys
(Wiley; November 2011; hardcover)
In the world of organized crime the bosses grab the headlines, as the names Capone, Gotti, Bonnano, Cotroni and Rizzuto attest. But a crime family has many working parts and the young mobster known as The Weasel was the epitome of a crucial, invisible cog — the soldier, the muscle, the driver, the gopher.
Written by best-selling author Adrian Humphreys, The Weasel reveals the incredible story of Marvin Elkind — a.k.a. The Weasel — a chauffeur and strong-arm goon for mob bosses who became a secret undercover weapon for police agencies around the world.
By a quirk of fate, Elkind was placed in the foster home of a tough gangster family in Toronto, immersing him from the age of nine in a daring world of con men, bootleggers, loan sharks, bank robbers, leg breakers and Mafia bosses. During a Golden Age of underworld life in New York, Detroit and across Canada, he found himself working beside a surprising cast of colourful characters. He befriended gangsters by smuggling bottles of Scotch to their tables as a waiter at New York's famed Copacabana. He was pushed to be Jimmy Hoffa's driver; then, he chauffeured Montreal mob boss Vic Cotroni before returning to Toronto to work for a corrupt union boss in a search for a sense of belonging.
"Everybody got to know me. I became a part of the furniture," says Elkind.
But his disenchantment with the broken promises of mob life brought him into another fraternity, one offering the same adrenaline, danger and dark comedy he craved. After a startling confrontation, he was embraced by a rogue in uniform, a cop with an insatiable appetite for justice.
"I started small in the mob and stayed small," says Elkind. "My problem was that I typecast myself. I never wanted to be a boss but I wanted to do something more. I wanted it very badly. When they said no, I accepted it too easily. They looked at me as the same muscle I was when I was a kid. It showed the lack of respect the mob had for me."
After embarking on an astounding journey as a career informant, The Weasel learned he was a far better fink than he ever was a crook. With his impeccable gangland pedigree, enormous girth, cold stare and sausage-like fingers adorned with chunky rings, no one questioned his loyalty. The backroom doors were flung open and The Weasel slipped in, usually bringing undercover cops with him.
For case after case over 25 years, The Weasel worked for the FBI, U.S. Customs, Scotland Yard, RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, Mexico's Federales and other law enforcement agencies on three continents, trapping and betraying mobsters, mercenaries, spies, traffickers, gangsters, union fat cats and corrupt politicians.
With unflinching honesty, The Weasel and the undercover officers he worked with revealed their successes and failures to award-winning crime reporter Adrian Humphreys. The Weasel is the riveting chronicle of a unique and engaging figure living a most dangerous and rare experience.
It is a story that was never supposed to be told.
"Marvin wasn't a hardened criminal. He was just associated with hardened criminals," says Andy Rayne, a retired RCMP officer who worked undercover with Elkind. "He wasn't one of the bad guys. We could trust him. He wasn't like other informants we worked with. We trusted him and he was part of the team. The golden rule, they always tell us, is don't befriend an informant. Well, I'm sorry, we kind of all became friends with Marvin."
"The big concern with Marvin was that he was going to be found dead," says Jack McCombs, a retired OPP officer. "You try to keep a distance, but Marvin had such a personality that, deep down, you just couldn't dislike him."
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