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A Byte Out of History - The 1976 PFF Stings

A Byte Out of History
The 1976 Stings: The Case of the Unsatisfied Customers

07/31/06

sketch of the PFF fencing operation used in courtA company named PFF, Inc. opened its warehouse for business in northeast Washington in October 1975. The non-descript office equipment supplier quickly had a steady stream of customers coming through its doors.

Not long after, the brains behind PFF opened a second company, the H & H Trucking Service—a subsidiary of GYA, Inc.—on 12th street, a bit northwest of their first venture. Soon it, too, had its share of customers.

Even though both businesses prospered, neither one lasted long. PFF closed its doors within four months. GYA shut down the following July. PFF, at least, decided to throw a party on its last night to recognize dozens of its best clients.

Did the owners of PFF and GYA squander their profits? Did rampant inflation run them out of business?

No, they had a different bottom line. PFF, Inc. actually stood for Police-FBI Fence, Incognito. And GYA? “Got Ya Again.”

To law enforcement officials, the operations were known as Sting I and Sting II. Working undercover, agents of the FBI and detectives of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had created the businesses as fronts to receive stolen merchandise, especially government business machines. (To prevent entrapment, we didn’t encourage anyone to commit a crime and turned away dozens of offers to steal for us).

More than a million dollars worth of merchandise came pouring in: television sets, vehicles of all kinds (cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles), guns, typewriters, stereo equipment, even stolen checks and a bearskin rug. All bought at bargain prices.

The undercover agents and detectives were so convincing that the criminals thought they were mobsters...and so these officers started playing the part, even talking about working for a New York “don.”

When PFF decided to end the charade, it sent out party invitations to more than a hundred “customers.” Almost 60 of them showed up that late February night for the festivities, only to be led away in handcuffs. Four months later—on July 6, 1976, thirty years ago this month—the FBI and D.C. police did it again, even though the first sting had been well publicized. This time, they used fake raffle tickets to lure criminals back to the GYA garage.

By the time it was all over, the FBI and MPD had collectively arrested nearly 300 criminals and recovered $3.4 million in property.

The cost of the operation? Nominal. The effect? Priceless. It’s not every day that you can get hundreds of thieves and other assorted criminals off the streets so quickly and easily. And it just goes to show: sometimes the customer ISN’T right.

Resources: FBI History | More Bytes Out of History