At the age of 33, he resembles an aging hippie, with his bead necklace and his hair tied in a small ponytail behind his balding head.
But in the late 1960s, while others his age were protesting the Vietnam war, attending rock concerts, or joining communes, John Clausde Bush was one of the most accomplished professional burglars in Maryland.
For a period of months, he also was an informant for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office, and during that time he enjoyed what one judge interpreted as a bizarre blanket immunity from prosecution, bizarre because under the terms of the immunity he could not even be prosecuted for crimes he might commit in the future.
Under that blanket immunity, Bush says he even managed to keep the proceeds of whatever crimes he committed, and Bush and one prosecutor even planned - but never executed - a $1 million robbery of Bowie Race Track as part of a government effort to trap an allegedly crooked policement who worked there part-time as a security guard.
"The public wouldn't want to hear all hte stuff going on," Bush told the prosecutor in a conversation he secretly taped."They'll say I had a license to steal." To his accomplice in another taped conversation, Bush said the prosecutor "has been reading too many James Bond novels."
Today, Bush is a prisoner in a the grimy, fortresslike state pentitentiary in Baltimore, where is is serving a 17-year sentence for a 1974 breaking and extering handgun violation, and assault with intent to murder a police officer in Anne Arundel County. He proffesses to have undergone "a lot of changes" since his most recent imprisonment, asserts he is as much against crime now as he was once for it and hopes to win his freedom on an appeal pending before the courts so that he may help deter others from a life of lawlessness.
The prosecutor, who granted Bush what the judge - borrowing Bush's phrase - strongly suggested was a "license to steal," has himself become a judge. The former No. 2 man in the state's attorney's office is now Prince George's District Court Judge Vincent J. Femia.
Femia, sounding like a retired lawman fondly recalling the bygone days of the wild and woolly West, rememebrs the period of his relationship with Bush as "the good old days, the cops and robbers days . . . It was a fun period . . . Things are entirely different now. It's a whole new ball-game."
Those were the days when Femia and his crime-fighting associates staked out Locations Bush told them would be robbed - and then Bush and his bandits would rob other places miles away, keeping the proceeds. In all, there were 30 fruitless stakeouts, according to Femia.
In return for information - some of which was aacurate - Bush had criminal charges against him dropped in a dozen cases until he eventually wa caught with goods from a robbery committed while Femia was on one of the decoy stakeouts.
Bush successfully moved to have that single indictment dismissed on grounds that Femia had granted him blanket immunity from all prosecutions.
"We got had all round," Femia said in a recent interview.
At the time, the whole thing was too much for the presiding judge J. Dudley Digges, who said in dismissing the indictment: "Well, gentlemen, I am bound to say that in some 30 years of practicing law and as a member of the bench, this is about as bizarre a set of circumstances as has come to my attention."
The highly unusual arrangement was detailed in a closed two-day proceeding in June, 1969, before Digges, then chief judge of the circuit and now on the Maryland Court of Appeals. As part of the proceeding. Digges listened in his chambers to four tape, recordings made by Bush of his telephone conversations with Femia.
Femia objected to the closed hearing which had been sought by Bush and his father on grounds that to proceed otherwise would place their lives in jeopardy. Femia contended then - as he has now in the interview - that he did nothing irregular or untoward in his dealings with Bush.
The relationship between Bush and Femia was raised briefly in the 1970 campaign for Prince George's County state's attorney by Louis J. Martucci, the unsuccessful Republican candidate who lost to Arthur A. Marshall Jr., Femia's superior. At the time, Bush's role as an informant was disclosed but without details. Under a restrictive court order, Martuccis was allowed to read the court transcript and listen to the tapes but told to limit his public comments. He has now made his verbatim notes available to The Washignton Post. Femia has verified the essential accuracy of all quotes contained in this story to the best of his recollection.
As a result of Bush's initial cooperation, Femia told the court then and more recently The Post, a large stolen savings bond ring was broken up and $500,000 recovered. With that, the government dropped other charges against Bush and he was "more or less free," Femia told the court.
Then, Femia noted in the June, 1969. court hearing burglary ring operating Prince George's and oftered to cooperate with prosecutors.
Femia told the court he said to Bush, "Yes, you can work with this gang. You stay right with them. But this we tell you. If you are forced into a position where you have got to (break) into a place, you go to (do it) . . . There is no way you can back out - we understand this - but we must know immediately . . . and if you (do so), you will not be charged with the crime."
This, Femia told the court, "is what we thought he was doing until we found out . . . he was letting us know about certian things . . . There was quite a bit of other things we weren't finding out about."
"He had us sitting in the boondocks watching places and meanwhile he is breaking in some place else," Femia told Judge Digges during in 1969 hearing in which Bush's double-dealing was discussed, "That is what we are upset about."
Digges was incredulous, "You are suggesting, as I understand you," he told Femia, "that you did, in effect, tell him to go ahead with the commission of various crimes that he hadn't even thought up, and then as long as he let you know what happened . . ."
Femia explained that Bush was instructed in a situation where "if he was driving down the street and they decided to break in some place . . . you go along."
"You told him to go along" said Digges.
"Yes, sir," said Femia, "but to tell us what happened . . . But, as it turned out, that wasn't the way it was happening. He was taking them along" instead of the other way around.
"He was telling us part of what happened. He was the one keeping the proceeds. We understood he was going along," Femia said. "As it turns out, he is not going along, he is the one that is apparently instituting these things (crimes) . . ."
Diggs asked who judged whether Bush had to "go along" or not. "The guy with the gun," Femia replied.
"The leader of the gang."
"But what you seem to be saying," Digges said, "is that you promised some type of immunity for a crime that hadn't even been committed . . . Do you think you have got a right to do it?"
"If we don't do this," Femia said, "we'd very rarely be able to set up a holdup or other type of crime. Let's face it, whether people like it or not, law enforcement is done mainly, or 90 per cent, based upon words of informants."
"Well, the thing that just gets me is the propriety of doing what you did," said Digges.
"Well," said Femia, "it's either that or having them occur without us knowing anything about them. They are going to break in, Judge, whether we are part of the gang or not. Whether we have an agent in the gang or not, they are ging to burglarize business places in the country.
"The only was to stop it is to get in and be able to catch them," Femia said, "Admittedly, they were too slick. They are good . . . I have to admire the man. He was an accomplished thief, or is an accimplished thief."
Femia said in the recent Post interview that Bush, by informing, "burned hell out of some of the little guys" but not "the biggies we were after." The alleged leader of the burglary ring was never apprehended, based on Bush's information. Independently, the man was later arrested, released on bond and has not since been seen he said.
In his court testimony, Bush said he never turned any of the robbery proceeds, in any of the cases, over to the prosecutors' office. "It was ours. We took it. He never asked for anything," Bush said.
"You didn't give the merchandise to the police?" Digges said.
"They told me they didn't want it and didn't ask for it." Bush said, "so I kep it because I wasn't making any (other legal) money. I asked them to put me on salary . . . They said they wouldn't, so I just continued on."
Bush's double came to an end in early 1969 when a suspicisous policeman recovered stolen goods from Bush's home.
The goods had been stolen from a Greenbelt pharmacy on January 19, 1969 - the same day that Femia and plice at Bush's insistence, fruitlessly staked out a Capitol Heights location that Bush and his gang supposedly were planning to burglarize. Bush then was charged with the Greenbelt break-in.
Femia continued to talk with Bush over the telephone. Bush was attempting to offer more information and cooperation in an effort to have the Greenbelt charge dropped. It gave Bush an opportunity to tape record his telephone conversations will Femia, and it was these converstions that sub-equently led the judge to throw out the Greenbelt charge.
It was during one of those taped conversations that Femia and Bush discussed the planning for the robbery of the race track. Femia asked Bush if his accomplice might shoot somebody. "Yes, he'll blow them away." Bush replied. Bush said the odds were 50 to 1 in favor of an officer being killed.
"I don't want anyone killed if I can avoid it," Femia said.
"What if we're in the car and he starts shooting?" Bush asked.
"I suggest you shoot him (his accomplice)," Femia said. "You better put one in hime."
Femia suggested the time of the robbery and the getaway signals to be used. Bush's cooperatin in the venture. Femia assured him, "will straighten you out" so far as the Greenbelt pharmacy charges were concerned.
"Give me a bushel of assholes (criminals)," Femia siad in the taped conversation. "I don't care how you get them. I just care about the end results."
"Under our theory," Femia saidin the recent Post interview, "the robbery would go down but they wouldn't have gotten anywhere because we were ready . . . John spun us a tale. The captain in charge of the special police squad said it was all B.S. We knew this guy (the officer allegedly on the take) was honest. We acted to set (the robbery) up on a contingency basis," Femia said the plan was suggested by Bush.
The day of the planned robbery, a police helicopter hovered above and police officers sat and waited. The robbery never happened.
After hearing the testimony and the tapes, Judge Digges said that Bush didn't deserve "any great medals" but "was somewhat justified in concluding that, until the state called a complete halt in no uncertain terms . . . he wasn't going to be prosecuted, that he had immunity from prosecution." The Greenbelt charges were dismissed.
Bush, who told Femia in one taped conversation, "I don't like stealing that much, Vince. There's got to be a reasons for it," now claims to be fully rehabilitated lie has spent his time in prison getting his high school degree and studying law.
Femia became a District Court judge in 1972, after years as chief assistant to State's Attorney Marshall. Last fall, He sought unsuccessfully to be named a judge of the Circuit Court, which handles the more serious criminal and civil cases in Maryland.
"At no time was (Bush) allowed to run free," Femia insists today. The experience with Bush, however, "ended immediately all deals for informants before convictions . . . It changed the philosophy . . ."