Where Do People Go When They Disappear Into Federal Witness Protection?

You’ll be safe if you follow the program's rules, but forget about living in your dream vacation spot.

witness protection
Gerald Shur, the retired founder and longtime head of the Federal Witness Protection Program, poses for a portrait at an undisclosed suburban location. (Photo by Greg Whitesell/Getty Images)
By Chase Hill / February 17, 2019 5:00 am

If you’re enter into the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program you could end up in Hawaii or Missouri—but you’ll go where you blend in best, not where you think you’ll have the easiest life.

“If you’re relocating [a witness] from New York City, you wouldn’t send them to a town in Texas with a population of 70 people,” Gerald Shur, a former Justice Department attorney who founded the Witness Protection Program in 1971, told Popular Mechanics. “You’d try to relocate them to a place where they’d be comfortable, where you can get them employment and take care of their health needs. And of course the first thing is safety.”

Once an individual has assumed a new identity and is relocated, their main point of contact will be special U.S. Marshal called a “Witness Inspector.” The inspector helps provide a credible backstory that could include names, employment history and credit scores establishing the new identity.

“No Witness Security Program participant, following the program guidelines, had been harmed or killed,” the U.S. Marshals Service told Popular Mechanics.

Of the folks who enter into the program, 95 percent are criminals; only 10% of those individuals re-offend.

Though the majority stay in the program once relocated, Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame was notoriously booted from the program after seven years of hiding. He moved to West Haven, Connecticut to open a restaurant, which, to no one’s surprise, burned down immediately.

And if you’re looking for an extended vacation spot, don’t even bother asking: “Every place [a witness] gave me, that’s where I wasn’t sending them,” Shur confessed.

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