| Last updated
Undercover agents in the movies usually get a few hours' notice that they're going into a lavish party hosted by a drug kingpin. Someone at HQ gives them the name and their support team hands over some documents for his new identity as well as some sick gadgets. They get in without a hitch and get that confidential or crucial information to the case.
It should be no surprise that this is very far from the truth.
Marc Ruskin was an undercover agent with the FBI from the 1990s until 2012, and says it's nowhere near as simple as that. He's infiltrated gangs and normal professions to get the dirt on whatever they were doing wrong. Some of it was as dark as it gets, and other missions focused on white collar crime.
Mr Ruskin has worked his way into a Jewish right wing extremist group, the Genovese organised crime family and Sicilian Mafia, an oxycodone distribution ring, the Bing Gong Yong Malaysian Chinese heroin gang, a global luxury car theft, exportation and distribution organisation and infiltrated Wall Street.
Marc using one of his aliases. Credit: Supplied
But that passion to do undercover work started when he was much younger, telling LADbible: "I was always looking for something off the beaten trail. While I was working in Washington, I met a near retirement age special agent from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as it was called back then.
"I was impressed by him and the life that he led and that kind of gave me an interest in federal law enforcement as a possible avenue."
In his two decades doing undercover work, he used about 12 different identities, and was sometimes juggling three at one time due to different cases overlapping. Despite becoming so many different people over the years, his favourite by far was a man he called Alex Perez. Marc had a ponytail and would sport some bling to create this character.
The undercover agent would use Alex Perez for a few cases including RUN DMV, which looked into a fraudulent document ring and SUNBLOCK, the Chinese heroin gang.
"I was using [Alex Perez] because that was when my undercover career was really blossoming," says Marc. "We were kind of wheeling and dealing all over the place and it was a really fun time. Eventually I had to start using other names because Alex had been a little over exposed, so I had to start coming up with other stuff before that name started getting repeated a little too much."
In his book The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI, he says it wasn't just a case of coming up with a name, a date of birth and a few easy facts about the character. Marc would sometimes spend months developing an alias and would usually do it on his own.
He tells us: "If people look at it and start checking it out, everything has to be real and has to be long-term complex and verifiable. There has to be traces of you or your fictitious name that could corroborate all that.
"When you're studying the people that you're going to be dealing with, I would have to tailor the persona to be someone that they're going to want to be involved with and deal with. I had to find people who would agree to say that I lived in that place, in that state, for that amount of time, and I had to find people who were willing to say that I was their employer. If the identities had been handed to me like they do in the movies, it would be a lot harder to keep track of them.
"But because I put so much time into creating each one for each case, it wasn't that difficult to keep them separate. I was so intimately familiar with every detail for each one, that it was second nature."
There was an incident which Marc describes as 'amusing' in the 90s when he was working two cases as once and using two different identities. But because resources were tight at the FBI, he only had one pager. He was beeped from an unknown number and asked to call, and the person on the other end of the phone asked who he was. But because Marc didn't know he was speaking to, he didn't know whether to be Alex Perez or was Sal Morelli. Thankfully, after a lot of awkwardness, Marc asked, 'Who are you looking for,' and the bloke replied, 'I'm a friend of Als'.
Mr Ruskin would sometimes be embedded with these groups for months, and subsequently he became a part of these criminal's lives. Two moments stick out for him when he realised he might have got too close to his subjects.
Marc says: "When I was working the RUN DMV case, one guy invited me to his wedding. I didn't go because I feel like it would be rubbing salt in the wound. I knew one day he would be getting arrested, and I didn't want him to look back on his wedding and thinking to himself, 'that prick was a guest at my wedding'.
"There was another guy, whose son was like 10-years-old and one day he shows me he had carved 'AP' for Alex Perez onto his skateboard and when I went home that night I felt terrible thinking to myself 'this guy's dad is going to be arrested soon' and his 'uncle Alex' is going to be the one who was going to be the intermediary."
Marc infiltrated the Mt Vernon Police Department, resulting in the arrest of three officers. Credit: Supplied
But despite infiltrating some pretty hectic groups like the Mafia or the Chinese heroin gang, Marc says the worst people he ever dealt with were on Wall Street. He says: "Even the ones who weren't crooked, for the large part there were a lot of heartless, immoral people.
"It seems to me on Wall Street, cash was king, the dollar was supreme, and an overwhelming percentage of the traders would sell their own grandmother if it meant making a profit. There were just a lot of nasty people and a lot of them were very vulgar with only the dollar sign as the motivator.
"I've dealt with drug dealers and other sordid criminals who were more humane than a lot of brokers were. At least the drug dealers and the other guys were people who were still loyal to their friends and took care of their families, which these guys just didn't have."
Marc says these days it's much harder to be an undercover agent with the advent of the internet and social media. When he was getting started in the 90s, he would be able to create these identities and have people vouch for him.
But now, it looks suspicious if this fake identity has only had a Facebook page or Instagram account for a few months. While those things aren't essential, they tend to rouse suspicion. Marc would usually use social media pages from countries outside the US, which made it harder for his subjects to trace and verify.
He says there about usually only 100 active undercover FBI agents at a time, which is nothing compared to the roughly 11,000 regular agents within the bureau.
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read