Lights, Camera, Action? FBI Agent Stars as Movie Mogul
BOSTON (AP) _ To prepare for his role, Garland Schweickhardt, like any good actor, immersed himself in the world of his character.
He studied film production at UCLA. He hung out with Hollywood hotshots at the Polo Lounge. He learned how to throw around terms like ″second-unit shoot″ and ″externals.″
For five years, Schweickhardt - a 29-year FBI agent - circulated phony scripts and entertained business contacts on a yacht as the star of Dramex, an FBI sting aimed at rooting out mob influence in the film industry.
Many thousands of dollars later, the production was something less than a smash.
Dramex, short for Drama Expose, netted only James Moar and William Winn, two former officials of a Teamsters local in Boston, and three reputed mobsters. All were accused of accepting at least $65,000 from Schweickhardt to ensure labor peace on film productions in New England using cheap, non-union labor.
″Champagne″ Dennis Lepore pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe and is serving an 18-month sentence. Frank Salemme Jr., son of ″Cadillac″ Frank Salemme, had his trial on the same charge postponed indefinitely because he is ill. Tommy Hillary is in the federal witness protection program and will testify against Moar and Winn, who went on trial in Boston in mid-October.
Schweickhardt is back in the limelight at Moar and Winn’s federal trial, detailing the sting from the witness stand.
Before Dramex, he had a dress rehearsal.
In 1985, the FBI tried to crack what Los Angeles police call the Mickey Mouse Mafia, or the movie industry mob, said Richard A. Stavin, a former federal prosecutor who was the supervising attorney during the early stages of Dramex.
Schweickhardt went undercover, but he wasn’t quite savvy enough to the biz.
He bribed and arrested a Teamster, only to find that the union local in question hauled fruit and vegetables and had nothing to do with the movie industry. Nevertheless, the feds decided to take the sting nationwide.
This time, Schweickhardt got some acting lessons.
After two weeks at FBI ″undercover school,″ Schweickhardt studied film production for 12 weeks at the University of California at Los Angeles. He hung out with industry veterans who taught him the lingo. He rented an office on Wilshire Boulevard.
He was outfitted with just about everything but Armani suits. (And his non- designer wear had to be a size larger than usual so he could conceal surveillance equipment underneath.)
Wearing a wire and armed with four scripts, Schweickhardt traveled the country setting up faux productions and trying to bribe reputed gangsters and union leaders in cities such as Dallas, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Providence, R.I., and Boston.
In Boston, Schweickhardt testified, he schmoozed with Moar and Winn over power breakfasts at expensive hotels and paid them $65,000 to permit non-union labor on a film called ″The Knockover,″ about a fight between a city that wants to tear down a historic building and a restoration group that wants to save it.
Schweickhardt also peddled a script for ″The Convention,″ a mystery set in Las Vegas, and chatted about possible starring roles for Angie Dickinson and Roy Scheider.
He also shopped around ″Love at Second Bite,″ a sequel to ″Love at First Bite,″ an actual vampire spoof that starred George Hamilton.
Schweickhardt hired location scouts, production managers, scriptwriters and directors.
The government won’t say how much it spent on the investigation. Some within the FBI have questioned whether the expense was worth it and whether Schweickhardt got a little too carried away with the role, Stavin said.
″There were other agents within the bureau who certainly may have been jealous of the more glamorous assignment,″ Stavin said.
On the witness stand, Schweickhardt was back in character as a federal agent. When grilled by a defense attorney about his film company’s ″investors,″ Schweickhardt replied: ″We didn’t have any investors. We were the government.″