Fourteen years ago, Charles Falco was facing a jail sentence of more than 20 years for manufacturing and distributing stimulant drug methamphetamine, when the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in California asked him if he wanted to be an undercover informant instead of going to prison. He said yes.
Right before infiltrating the gangs, he had actually heard about the grisly killing of a man whom gang members suspected of working undercover for the police.
"I heard that they beat him unconscious, duct-taped his eyes, mouth, feet and hands, dumped him in a hole they had dug in the desert, and shot him in the head," he tells Life! in a phone interview.
For seven years, the American infiltrated three of the deadliest biker gangs in the United States - the Vagos, Mongols and Outlaws - and helped in 62 arrests for crimes such as assault and murder.
His time in the Vagos biker gang is brought to life in docudrama series Gangland Undercover, based on his book Vagos, Mongols, And Outlaws: My Infiltration Of America's Deadliest Biker Gangs. In the show, which airs here on the History Channel (StarHub TV Channel 401), he is played by American actor Damon Runyan and appears at the start of each episode in a silhouetted interview to protect his identity.
Now, the reformed drug smuggler in his early 40s has attained a master's degree in criminal justice, and has guest-lectured at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for an anthropology class on the United States' gangs.
Charles Falco is also not his real name, and several online sources say that the man, who has a wife and a toddler son, used to be known as Ashley Wyatt.
1. Have you received threats from the gangs after this show aired?
The word on the street is that the gangs are really upset about the show and book, and will attack me if they find me. But I want society to know the truth about the bullies they are, and that there's no romantic notion about them being rebels without a cause. My family lives under new identities for protection.
2. What are your thoughts on the show?
I was blown away by how accurately the actors portrayed the emotions that run high in biker gangs.
3. What were some of the times when you feared for your life while in the gangs?
I had been instructed to record the contents of the Vagos' weekly meetings, held at secluded places.
They're very suspicious of people, so they would do body searches - even strip-searches. Some of the most frightening times were when my voice recorder was almost found. There was no doubt in my mind that they'd bury me in the desert upon discovering it. I put it in my wallet, in my hat or even underwear, as that was the least likely place they would look.
4. Did you develop a bond with the people you were supposed to help the police arrest?
I think it's impossible not to. Although I tried to keep my distance, there were some guys that reminded me of myself.
However, deep down, I knew that being jailed was best for them. If not, they would probably die of drug overdoses or be killed on the streets. Also, more guys dropped out of gangs because they got sick of going to prison than any other reason.
5. How did you fall into drug smuggling?
I grew up around drug dealers and gang members. Having been a good drug dealer, I caught the eyes of some very powerful Eastern European mobsters, who recruited me. However, I eventually hit rock bottom after getting addicted to the drugs I was dealing in. That happens to every drug dealer, no matter how high up they are on the totem pole.
6. Why did you have to serve time in San Bernadino's Murder Unit?
In California, the law states that you can be charged if you're together with gang members who'd killed someone, even if you did not participate.
Once, six gang members beat up two college guys and the police, who happened to be staking out bars then, came in and arrested us all.
I didn't want to tell the prosecutor that I was working undercover, as such information could be leaked.
That jail is nicknamed Gladiator School, as the prisoners there are very violent. I was there for two months - six days of which were spent in solitary confinement.
7. What was a typical day for you like in the biker gangs?
It was a lot of organised crime - we'd do things like deciding on how to stop other biker gangs from invading our territory, go on stakeouts, collect debts and strategise how to increase our drug sales.
Probably once a week, the gang would get into a fist fight at a bar or hack a civilian to death for disrespecting them. It's lots of repeated stuff, and a few seconds of massive terror in the middle.
It was really tiring when I was part of the Vagos, as I was holding a physically intensive day job at a factory and then going out to bars with the gang till about 3am.
Later, I asked that the authorities pay me enough so that I wouldn't have to work when I infiltrated the Mongols and Outlaws.
8. How would you like to be remembered?
As having done more positive works for society than damage to it. I hope people truly believe that I redeemed myself and made a difference.
Gangland Undercover airs on History Channel (StarHub TV Channel 401), on Friday at 11pm.
This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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