It was billed as a mob extravaganza, but the party "Pasquale Larocca" threw turned out to be a bust. Since he began business as a high-class fence, "Larocca" has been telling all of the "customers" who brought him credit cards, checks, guns, toys and sundry other stolen merchandise that he would be holding a big bash in a while, and inviting them all to meet his "Don" from New York. Twenty thousand dollars, he has promised, was to be spent on drink, drugs and women.
On February 28, 1978, "Pasquale" dressed for the party, knowing inside him that his would be his last day. He donned a burgundy-tinted shirt (with darker tones on the ruffled cuffs and front), black pants and a luxuriant crushed velvet jacket with brocaded floral design and black lapels. Stepping into the burgundy Cadillac Coupe de Ville he had borrowed for the affair, "Pasquale" drove to the old warehouse where he was to perform his last official act. As he welcomed those customers who had sold him some $5.2 million worth of goods for about $475,000, FBI and police offiand selling stolen goods.
When the last arrest was made, the party was over for 200 local dealers in stolen goods. For "Larocca" it was exit the capo, enter the cop. Once more he was Pat Lilly, an officer of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.
Now, in the mevitable postpublicity hardcover follow-up, readers who crave more detail about one of law enforcement's finer hours, can immerse themselves to heart's content. Working (the dustjacket tells us) with the cooperation of police and FBI, and full access to videotapes which were made of all the purchases, Charles Conconi and Toni House have written "The Washington Sting."
It is a book that reads like a novel, but not always a good one. The first 50 pages are a rather lengthy exercise in stagesetting. Though it is interesting to learn in detail how much Bob Arscott needed to prove himself as project supervisor of the Sting, and how energetic and hostile Pat Lilly was, it isn't until the authors demonstrate the danger participants in this operation faced that the book becomes really compelling.
In an early fact-gathering trip, Arscott heard a tape of a robbery at a New York version of the Sting ruse. It was punctuated by screams, shots, curses and "terrible, chilling moaning and crying." He then learned that an officer had been paralyzed in the attack. Immediately the first Washington effort was suspended until further security could be arranged. The threat of violence remained. Shortly before "Pasquale's" party, a rumor surfaced that a gang was planning a machinegun robbery of the Sting warehouse.
The officers also had to worry continually about detection either by the customers or other police units. With subterfuge the key to their success, any rumors that they were "the law" could shut the operation down, or increase the danger of attack. One person did recognize Lilly. I leave it to the reader to see how the officer extricated himself rom that uncomfortable situation.
House and Conconi do make their characters come alive. Lilly, for example, is transformed when he plays Larocca, seeming to enjoy his fake role better than his real-life one.
The criminals, though seldom sketched with such detail, often add comic relief. It is a surprise, and something of a comfort, to find that they can be less sinister, and more stupid than they appear to be on television (where they elude the finest of video's detectives for 29 out of every 30 minutes). Love, strip-teases, confessions to fictional crimes, and even suggestions of official corruption all keep the book from being merely the recounting of endless tales of buying and selling stolen goods.
Some 50 Sting operations were begun after the Washington venture's success. Perhaps thieves throughout the country will read this book, or hear about its contents, and wonder whether the next fence they try to sell to might not be another "Pasquale Larocca," just marking time and waiting to deliver his "sting." For the rest of us, "The Washington Sting" provides a story of criminological creativity laced with drama and some good laughs.