Behind the Scenes of Former L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca’s Corruption

Mr. Hoover, in a Newsweek profile of Mr. Van Buren, opened up to a reporter about Mr. Kupchak and the others who worked as informers. Mr. Hoover told The New York Times that Mr. Kupchak and the others were not criminals. “It’s like your father or uncle,” Mr. Hoover said. “They wouldn’t hurt a fly. They are guilty of one thing: To do a job for their country, and to do a job without knowing they are doing it.” Mr. Hoover asserted that people who cooperated with the F.B.I. “are not snitches. They are good people, honest people.” Mr. Van Buren, who was only a year older than Mr. Kupchak, was sufficiently enthralled by the F.B.I. by that time that, Mr. Hoover recalled, “I’ll never forget when Al fired one at the prison wall and high fived me to let me know.”

The good guy version of Mr. Kupchak gets a little more detail in The Beginning and the End, which will be published on June 4. It details his work with J. Edgar Hoover during the violent race riots in Watts in 1965 and 1965’s Operation Deep Freeze. After Operation Deep Freeze’s end, where police used a drug-sniffing dog to sniff through an apartment, the street came to resemble a wasteland. Mr. Kupchak recalls with a shudder how “I could smell bodies and shit coming out the wall”. “The FBI bureau sergeant that arranged my trial was blunt,” Mr. Kupchak writes. “‘You violated a sacred trust,’ he told me. The words cut me to the quick.”

The lesson seems to be twofold. Mr. Hoover commanded huge respect among police in Los Angeles, but also great distrust. The F.B.I. had incredible access to a police force that could be used as tools. But the same leash applied to police officers — cops were at the top of the heap. As Mr. Kupchak learns more about why Mr. Hoover was so contemptuous of Mr. Kupchak, you can’t help but wonder what his father was thinking of when he passed along his Oscar-nominated son.

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