G-Rock glides unnoticed through the lobby of the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica. A tall and strikingly handsome black man in his midthirties, he is dressed in a silk shirt, designer jeans, and fine Italian loafers and at first glance appears to be just another prosperous Angeleno passing by. The crowd in the Viceroy is young and fashionable, with pretty women drinking cocktails by the pool and Cuba Gooding Jr. dining at a nearby table. As G-Rock comes to a cabana to meet me, there is nothing about his manner or appearance that suggests who he really is.
To some who know him, G-Rock is just a normal guy running a crew of high-end house painters in Beverly Hills, often working on the homes of celebrities. But to most, he is something different: a lifelong member of the Crips, a hard-core OG (original gangster) with a long history of violence who has participated in drive-bys, armed robberies, and grand theft auto. In South Central, he has a reputation for having access to a large cache of guns. In the past year alone, he has been shot at in drive-bys three times, one round missing his head by inches as the spray of fire from the AK-47 killed the young woman standing next to him. There is a hole in the roof on the driver’s side of his car from another drive-by. Even his sharp attire is a product of a criminal enterprise: the $500 shirt he wears comes from a scam he runs with a friend who works in an exclusive mall. G-Rock finds the shirt he likes, tries it on, leaves the right-size shirt for his friend to see, and then buys the stolen item that night for half price.
But I am not here to meet an upscale house painter who is also a feared and respected Crip. I am meeting with G-Rock because of his third self, the identity he is revealing for the first time—the life that will get him killed if he is caught. For a decade, G-Rock has been secretly working for the FBI as a cooperating informant, or CI.
The gang leaders of South Central have long believed they are being betrayed by dozens of snitches—which is true but not the whole truth. There are many small-time bangers who get busted and cut deals with the law. In the criminal culture of gangs in the South Central, being an informant is considered the ultimate betrayal, punishable by death. Stop Snitchin’ is the title of a controversial home movie featuring NBA star Carmelo Anthony and is the catchphrase of a popular T-shirt in the hood (the letters are bullet-ridden).
But no one in South Central suspects there is one Crip who operates in the innermost circle as a professional informant, one Crip who has single-handedly put away more than 130 gangbangers—murderers, rapists, major drug dealers, the most depraved criminals in the nation, their sentences ranging from ten years to death. G-Rock is code-named “the Knife,” and the FBI files detailing his deeds stand more than two feet high. To the very few law-enforcement officials in L.A. who know the Crip’s identity—even his existence—he is one of the most intrepid and devastatingly effective undercovers in history.
G-Rock knows this. He leans forward and smiles. “Donnie Brasco ain’t shit,” he says.
To protect G-Rock’s identity, certain names and details related to events have been altered. If his name were to be revealed, he would be dead—as would the members of his family. The streets of South Central are divided into dozens of territories, each under the rule of one of hundreds of “sets” loosely allied under the colors of Crip blue and purple and Blood red. G-Rock has his own posse of young gangbangers, none with any idea their OG leader is an FBI informant. The Rolling 60s, a Crip area in South Central, was where G-Rock said I should locate his set. G-Rock is an assumed gang nickname. But despite the necessary changes in details, this is a true story, documented in FBI files and news reports and corroborated by extended interviews with law-enforcement officials.
G-Rock lives in a nicely kept bungalow in the suburbs of L.A. with his wife and young son. The only signs of his gangbanging roots are the pit bull in the backyard and a security camera over the front door. During the day, G-Rock says, he lives like an average guy with a nine-to-five job who’s trying to pay off his mortgage. Each morning he rises early and drives his Crip-blue Camry to Beverly Hills.
G-Rock’s life as a CI and a Crip begins at night, when he drives to the area under the control of his set. Each evening, as he pulls into the parking lot in the hood where his homeys hang, G-Rock enters the world he has inhabited since childhood. G-Rock’s group consists of a dozen Crips, ages 19 to 26, who would kill for their leader if asked. G-Rock says if he wanted someone taken care of, all he would need to do is text 911 187—emergency, I need somebody killed—and it would be done. Passing time, G-Rock stands in the lot drinking straight Patrón in a plastic cup, catching up on the day’s events: drive-bys, guns, drugs, women. If a subject potentially useful to the FBI catches G-Rock’s attention, he listens closely.
In this way, G-Rock has averaged more than $2,000 a month in earnings over the decade he’s been a CI. The sums he receives for intelligence vary. Finding an out-of-state fugitive hiding in the hood might get him two grand, while helping the FBI land a killer can result in a $10,000 payday. “Everyone in the hood has a hustle,” G-Rock says. “People sell pot or rob or deal crack or sit around and beg for money. As far as the Crips know, I make my money sticking people up. I walk around with cash, and they believe I just scored a big lick from a stickup job. But the money comes from the FBI.”
G-Rock is routinely propositioned by women in the hood, and his collection of “little girls” is large and ever changing. From them he gathers intelligence, on both Crip and Blood sets; women are considered “free agents” in the hood, able to see men from different gangs, thus sources of information that transcend territory.
“I can be a world away, and I still know everything that’s going on in my hood. My little girls chirp me all the time to talk to me. they want to impress me. Same thing with my little homeys. I know where the AK-47’s are stashed. I know if there’s a banger from the East Coast hiding from the law. I know who got shot. I know who did the shooting. I know who’s fucking who—on the street and in bed. One way or another, I hear it all.”
Growing up in the hood, G-Rock came from a deeply religious and relatively stable family, despite the absence of his father. He’s the youngest of three kids; his siblings have left the area and now work in straight jobs. G-Rock was always the exception. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a gangbanger, like so many kids in the hood. At the same time, he also dreamed about becoming a cop. It is the paradox that lies at the heart of his life. Like the other kids, G-Rock threw rocks and bottles at passing LAPD black-and-whites. But he also liked to go up to the squad cars and collect the Dodgers baseball cards they handed out. For G-Rock, the police were the enemy, but they also evoked secret admiration and desire.
“I always had respect for them,” G-Rock told me. “I wanted to be in the car. I wanted to be the one that was making the siren noise and running down the street. One time a lady was robbed right on our porch. I wanted to go outside and help the lady so bad. She was screaming and beating on our door, getting mugged in broad daylight, but my mom wouldn’t let me.”
As a boy, G-Rock displayed a talent for self-preservation and deceit. A cousin of G-Rock’s was the pastor in a local church on the far side of the tracks that divided South Central into Blood and Crip territories. G-Rock had a reversible jacket—Blood-red exterior with a Crip-blue lining—so he could walk between the neighborhoods without getting beat down. At 14, G-Rock was “courted” into the Rolling 60s—jumped by an elder gang member and forced to fight. The extreme crimes L.A. gangs now require to join—often murder, so that the new member can never turn back—weren’t committed to nearly the same extent in the days G-Rock began banging. Fists, not guns, were the weapons of choice, and G-Rock was a fighter, quick to solve problems or settle scores with violence.
When G-Rock graduated from high school, he faced the choice of going into crime or becoming a cop. G-Rock, uniquely, pursued both. “Daytimes, I was studying administration of justice at community college, preparing to take the LAPD exam. Nighttimes, I would go ‘jogging’ with my friends—that’s what we called running around in well-off neighborhoods looking for someone to rob. Doing dirt was quick cash, but it was very risky. There were a lot of times I could have got caught or killed somebody. I almost shot a guy one time, doing a robbery in Fairfax. The guy tried to grab me when I stuck him up. I aimed the gun at him and pulled the trigger, but it didn’t fire. I said that was going to be my last robbery.”
Busted for possession of a weapon when he was 21—a gun he still insists was not his—G-Rock spent three days in jail. The experience taught him that he did not want to be in prison, come what may. He also came to believe, incorrectly, that his misdemeanor conviction disqualified him from becoming a cop. G-Rock quit his studies and took to gangbanging full-time. It was a life that soon disgusted him.
“I was at a party in the hood, and all the guys decided to go into a Blood area and do a drive-by. A Rolling 60s Crip named Little Bee had been killed by an Inglewood Family Blood. That was the reason to shoot up that hood. They wanted me to drive. I couldn’t tell them no. I was forced to do it. I didn’t have OG status then. We go into the Blood neighborhood in a stolen Nissan Maxima, and we see a guy and a girl standing on the front porch. The guy was wearing Blood colors. They told me to circle the block. They was cocking their guns. I circled to come back around. They rolled down the windows and opened fire. The girl covered her face and ran inside the house. The guy tried to escape, but he got hit. He just lay there. I drove off. With the Crips, I was smiling and saying ‘We smoked them for Little Bee.’ But I didn’t want to be a part of that. It haunted me.”
Most CIs are flipped by law enforcement; they are criminals facing charges who provide information in exchange for leniency. G-Rock was an exception. He volunteered to give the FBI information. His motive in the beginning was revenge. In the spring of 1996, G-Rock and a fellow Rolling 60s Crip called Ice set out to drive from L.A. to Missouri. Ice was a large-scale crack dealer, and G-Rock was his enforcer. The pair had a sideline in selling stolen vehicles. They were driving a brand-new Mercedes soft-top, two-door, hot. A drug dealer in St. Louis was going to buy the car for sixteen grand. Crossing the Nevada desert, Ice couldn’t help opening up on the empty highway, hitting eighty miles an hour. G-Rock, then 22 years old, was eating a burger from Wendy’s, listening to Tupac, waiting for his turn to drive.
“Next thing you know, we get lit up with flashing lights,” G-Rock recalls. “Nevada state police pulled us over. The cop searched the car and quickly figured out it was stolen. He took us to jail in this little town. The judge set bail at $20,000. I didn’t have that kind of money. Ice called his brother in L.A. to get the bail—but only for himself. That pissed me off. I had stole plenty of cards with Ice, but not that particular one. I could see I was going to take the fall. I couldn’t believe the motherfucker. I had his back 100 percent. Then he was going to leave me high and dry in Nevada? I knew I had to change my way of thinking. There was no loyalty. I was thinking, I can show a motherfucker better than I can tell him what I’m going to do to him.”
Kicked loose by the Nevada police, who’d been unable to make a charge stick because G-Rock had only been a passenger, he caught a bus back to L. A. When he got to town, he went to an undercover FBI substation located in an unmarked office above a grocery store in a strip mall at the corner of Avalon and 103rd in Watts. He knew the office housed a CRASH gang unit created in the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots. One of G-Rock’s girlfriends worked there as a clerk.
“I want to talk to an agent,” G-Rock said to the receptionist.
The next day, G-Rock met with Special Agent Tim Flaherty and his partner, Eusebio “Sonny” Benavidez, at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant near LAX. G-Rock sat in a corner booth with his back to the door. Speaking calmly, he told the two agents about Ice’s drug-dealing operation. Ice was already the subject of a federal investigation. G-Rock’s information matched and far exceeded the FBI’s intelligence. Flaherty told G-Rock he could be paid for information, not just about Ice but about any crimes. Not wanting to push too hard, Flaherty gave G-Rock his cell phone number and said to contact him if he had any more detailed information to share.
Flaherty didn’t have to wait long. Two days later, G-Rock called and asked if he was interested in capturing a Rolling 60s fugitive named Capone. Flaherty was. A few weeks earlier, Capone had robbed a bank, taken a teller hostage at gunpoint, forced the teller to drive him to a nearby ATM to empty her personal account—and then made her drop him off back in South Central. Dozens of LAPD officers had gone into the hood that day, but Capone had eluded the dragnet. By chance, G-rock learned that Capone hung out in a particular parking lot every morning. When G-Rock called Flaherty, he was looking at Capone from across the street.
Within an hour, the entire shift of the LAPD’s 77th Street Division was gathered at the station house to plan an arrest; only Flaherty knew of G-Rock’s role in the bust. While the takedown was organized, G-Rock needed to keep Capone in place. G-Rock told Capone he had a relative who had a Tech 9 submachine gun for sale, knowing Capone couldn’t resist such an offer. G-Rock pretended to call his cousin, instead dialing Flaherty.
“This guy is getting ready to leave,” G-Rock said to Flaherty. “He wants to buy the Tech 9. He says we can do it tomorrow.”
“Do what you can to keep him there a little longer,” Flaherty said. “We’re only a few blocks away.”
G-Rock turned to Capone and said, “He’s right up the street. He’ll be here in five minutes.”
Capone waited. G-Rock’s mind was racing. Should he go through with it? Should he back out, warn Capone, run? G-Rock wasn’t worried that Capone would think G-Rock had set him up. Raids were routine in the hood. The pair had been friends since they played together in the sandbox. Capone would never suspect G-Rock. Within minutes there was no turning back, as a dozen police cars descended on the parking lot.
“It was exciting when they all rolled in with their guns out and shouted, ‘Freeze,’” G-Rock recalls. “Everybody took off running, including me. An older cop chased me. He didn’t know I was the one who gave them Capone. I got away easily. But Tim ran Capone down. Afterwards I was walking around thinking about what I just did. When I found Capone’s sunglasses on the street, it really settled in. I felt low, like a rat. Capone was a bad guy, but he hadn’t done nothing to me. The next day, Tim called me up. He was real happy.”
“Good fucking job,” Flaherty said to G-Rock. “I love foot pursuits. The LAPD were patting me on the back like I was a celebrity. You made the FBI look great.”
The first case was a crucial turning point for G-Rock. “When we met up, Tim could tell I was depressed,” G-Rock says. “He said I had probably saved someone’s life by getting Capone off the street. Capone had already kidnapped a woman and could have killed her. He said Capone was going to get caught someday. I just expedited the process. And I could see his point. Then he paid me—five grand in cash in hundreds. I had never had that much money in my life. I was used to making a few hundred bucks for a lick like a stolen car or a robbery. I checked into a Comfort Inn with a girl and had a good time. I figured it was easy. The only hard thing was the emotional feeling.”
Since that first case, G-Rock’s primary contact with the law has been Flaherty. A square-jawed ex-Navy Seal, Flaherty is the archetypal white-bread FBI agent. The two men appear to be polar opposites, the career criminal and the muscle-bound, by-the-book agent, but a close camaraderie has developed between them. Due to FBI policy regarding sources, Flaherty refuses to comment about G-Rock on the record, but he tells me he has handled G-Rock for nearly a decade and that his information has been invaluable and incredibly accurate. Flaherty says it would be impossible for the bureau to compensate G-Rock properly, considering the value of his work and the risks he takes.
G-Rock has no formal training as a cop, but Flaherty believes he is a natural, with a steel-trap memory and an excellent grasp of how cases are made. G-Rock will do almost anything Flaherty asks him to do, no matter how dangerous, a fact that has put Flaherty under considerable stress over the years. It is not permitted under FBI guidelines for an agent to befriend a cooperator, but Flaherty’s affection and respect for G-Rock are palpable as they banter and bicker about politics and family. And these days, Flaherty’s concern for G-Rock’s life has never been more evident.
“Tim keeps trying to convince me to quit,” G-Rock says. “He threatens to close out my status as a cooperator entirely. He says it’s like gambling in a casino. Eventually, the odds catch up with me. The house always wins. Only on the street, you end up dead.”
The scale of G-Rock’s cooperation defies belief. Ice, the Crip who betrayed G-Rock in the first place, was the subject of a months-long federal investigation. G-Rock wore a wire and kept detailed records of the comings and goings of various crack shipments and dealers. “Ice thought the feds were tapping his phones, but the information was all coming from me. He didn’t know I was ending his world because he tried to fuck with me.” Ice was arrested in 1997 and was sentenced to seventeen years in jail.
Over the years, G-Rock has worked virtually every kind of crime, from the long-term federal conspiracy cases Flaherty developed for the bureau to the daily dirge of drug busts that the LAPD confronts. G-Rock’s cooperation led to the capture of two Crips only minutes after they had committed murder, with G-Rock giving their location away with a call from his cell phone and pretending to be talking about the whereabouts of two “bitches.” Armed robbery, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon—the crimes G-Rock has reported on, and stopped, run the grim gamut.
But G-Rock is so far above suspicion that it is common for the gangbangers he is targeting to complain to him about the encroaching surveillance; they confide in G-Rock and say he is the only person they can trust. G-Rock feels pity for his prey, on occasion. Some of the Crips he puts away are friends, of a kind. But for the most part, G-Rock revels in the job.
“It was my fantasy to be a cop,” G-Rock says. “I didn’t have to study and take the tests. I didn’t have to fill in paperwork. I didn’t have to go through all the bullshit. And I am doing good for the community. I want to make the hood more peaceful, to give the kids a chance to live.”
G-Rock’s impact in South Central was so pervasive that by the summer of 2002, an order came from the top: Kill all snitches. A Rolling 60s Crip named Butch had just been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Information provided by another Crip had led to Butch’s conviction, but he had no idea who had turned on him; the FBI’s informant didn’t testify, and his or her identity remained secret. Finding snitches was maddening, usually impossible, breeding a culture of paranoia. But Butch wanted something to be done.
He gave the job of killing informants to a Crip nicknamed Tuc. Glassy-eyed from his cocaine habit and built with jail-yard muscles, Tuc had a teardrop tattoo on his cheek to signify his prior homicide conviction. A known psychopath, Tuc was always armed with a “fully” (fully automatic submachine gun). He wore a bulletproof vest under his clothes and carried a handheld police walkie-talkie to monitor the movements of the LAPD. He had a list in his pocket of the people he was going to kill. Given authority to murder, Tuc interpreted Butch’s mandate broadly. He didn’t need proof that a Crip was a snitch—a rumor was enough, a grudge, a lie.
Recalling the summer of 2002, G-Rock tells me about the terror that ran through the gang. Tuc put the fear of God into everyone, G-Rock says. Hard-core Crips approached LAPD cops on the down low and asked them to do something—anything—to get Tuc off the streets. Flaherty wanted G-Rock to insinuate himself with Tuc and get information that would justify an arrest. As they sat in Flaherty’s FBI-issued Monte Carlo with tinted windows, Flaherty asked G-Rock if he could get close to Tuc. G-Rock shook his head before Flaherty was halfway through the question.
“There was no way I was going to fuck with Tuc,” G-Rock recalls. “I knew Tuc would whack me if he found out I was a CI. Tuc didn’t value life. He didn’t care about going to jail. All he cared about was snorting cocaine. The motherfucker was crazy. You never knew what frame of mind Tuc was in from minute to minute. Being around him was like being caught in the web of a black-widow spider, just waiting to be killed.”
G-Rock was at a party in South Central when Tuc targeted two suspected snitches. The house was packed. Inside and on the street, people were smoking weed, drinking gin and juice; the trunks of cars were popped open with music blasting. Tuc arrived, took out a .45, and sneaked up on a Crip named Big Eyes, who was in front of the house in a blue GTO convertible. Inside, one of Tuc’s sidekicks walked up to a Crip named Baby Boy and shot him in the head. The crowd scattered, both victims dead.
When the LAPD arrived on scene, they discovered there were no witnesses; no one dared talk to them. G-Rock knew the inside story of the double homicide firsthand. “Baby Boy was fucked-up, but at least it made a certain kind of sense. But Big Eyes had done nothing. I knew it for a fact. I was fucking his sister at the time. Big Eyes had come to me earlier that day and said people was saying he was a snitch. They said he had talked to the law about a stash of guns. It was a lie. I was the one who gave away the location of the weapons. I told Big Eyes to leave the hood for a while, but he didn’t listen.”
The next morning, G-Rock met Flaherty at an agreed-upon safe place—Inglewood Cemetery. Flaherty again urged G-Rock to get near Tuc so that they could get him off the streets and develop the double-homicide case—before Tuc killed G-Rock. Again G-Rock refused.
“A few weeks later, I was in the other side of the hood when I saw Tuc walking into an apartment,” G-Rock says. “Tuc was wearing his bulletproof vest and carrying his police scanner. I figured he had to be armed. I took a deep breath and said, ‘Fuck it.’”
G-Rock called out to Tuc, “Hey, Tuc, what’s up?”
Tuc squinted across the street. “Who’s that?”
“Come over here,” Tuc said. “You got a gun? I need some guns.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” G-Rock said.
Before he became a cooperator, G-Rock had introduced Tuc to people who supplied weapons. Acting as a broker now, G-Rock went to a friend’s place in the next building. The friend had a nine-millimeter handgun he was willing to sell. “I took out the clip, because I knew he couldn’t shoot without it. If he tried something, at least I had a chance to get away. It was nerve-racking going back to see Tuc. He was in the kitchen getting high with his homeys. There were guns all over the place. I could tell by the look in his eye it was time for me to get out of there.”
The presence of the weapons on Tuc’s premises was enough for the LAPD to obtain a search warrant. At dawn the next morning, a SWAT team hit Tuc’s hideout in force with flash bangs and battering rams. Six guns were discovered—including the one Tuc had obtained from G-Rock’s friend. The weapons charges provided law enforcement the time to build cases based on G-Rock’s intimate knowledge of the double homicide.
“Tuc is on death row right now, and he’s still got no idea how he was caught,” G-Rock says. “Tuc would never suspect me. The Crips think they know what I’m all about—that I’m a hard-core OG. They have no idea.”
FBI guidelines outline strict policy regarding cooperators. If a CI engages in any unauthorized criminal activity, the rules state, the CI will be charged and the FBI cannot continue to use that cooperator. Every year, Flaherty reads the guidelines aloud to G-Rock. But like most everything in G-Rock’s life, his relationship with the FBI is based on half-truths and elisions.
“It’s impossible to follow the guidelines all the time,” G-Rock says. “Certain situations, I need a firearm. I get deep into stuff with people who don’t like me. They are jealous of me because I have a certain amount of wealth. I am getting the money from the FBI, but they don’t know that. The guidelines say I can’t get involved in criminal activity, but in reality how can I have access to guns, drugs, murderers, if I’m not involved or at least acting like it? It doesn’t make sense. There is a lot of shit I don’t tell Tim. There are a lot of things he shouldn’t know about me.”
G-Rock was always able to deftly walk this delicate line between the two worlds without incident—until the night last year that G-Rock’s cousin Tyrell went to a titty bar on Crenshaw. Tyrell had nothing to do with gangs, but as he walked out of the strip club at midnight an SUV packed with kids from the Inglewood Family Bloods pulled up. The doors flung open, and a group of boys opened up on Tyrell, mistaking him for a Rolling 60s Crip. Tyrell was killed, and he was shot so many times his arm nearly fell off.
Word reached G-Rock at two in the morning. He immediately began his own investigation. He talked to his sources, scouring South Central for word on who was responsible. G-Rock was not going to hand over the killers to Flaherty; he was going to take matters into his own hands.
“I prayed to be the one who caught them so I could kill them. I felt like all the deeds I did to stop violence were for no reason. I was putting away a lot of Crips, and it just made my hood vulnerable. I kept thinking about the quote from the Bible, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ I was real close to Tyrell. He never even threw a gang sign, and he gets shot? It was exactly what I was trying to stop by being a CI. But the gangbanger part of me wanted to shoot up the streets—to get my boys to drive over to Bloods territory and light the motherfuckers up. I wondered if I was getting soft since I became a CI. I felt like the Devil was on one shoulder and an angel was on the other. Violence is a vicious cycle, and it never stops. Part of me didn’t care. I just wanted revenge. Another part of me didn’t want to become the thing I hate so much—the same monster.”
Last fall three gang members were arrested for the murder of G-Rock’s cousin. G-Rock was spared the decision, or chance, to confront the central contradiction of his life. As of this writing, operation The Knife continues. The last time I speak with G-Rock, he is working an attempted-murder drive-by that took place in the Imperial Courts hood in Crip territory. The shooter is a Crip named Cisco. G-Rock tells me that he received a call from Cisco three weeks earlier asking to borrow money. G-Rock went to Cisco’s wife’s house in the Valley and gave him a hundred bucks. G-Rock thus learned Cisco’s location and the model and license plate of Cisco’s wife’s Accord. But G-Rock didn’t report the encounter immediately.
“I wait until I’m absolutely sure there is no way Cisco can tie anything back to me,” he says. “Then I go ahead and tell my crackers where Cisco is at. He is one of the worst. He’s a child predator, going after underage girls. He’s an OG who sends kids out on drive-bys. He’s killing the community. He’s got to go—and that’s what’s happening this morning.
“But South Central ain’t getting better. If anything, it’s getting worse. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing any good. It’s like pissing in the ocean. Every time I get one guy, there’s another to take his place. But being a CI is an addiction. I’m making money, but I’m really trying to save innocent people. I think of it like Superman. I catch a killer or stop a drive-by or get guns and drugs out of the hood. People be standing around when a guy like Cisco or Tuc gets busted. They’re relieved. No one knows it was me that did it. I walk away with my secret.”
Reprinted by permission of the author, whose book "The Octopus" is available on GuyLawson.com