Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Help Me Howard: Witness Protection
The Witness Protection Program was designed to hide people who testified against dangerous mobsters or other criminals. The witnesses go into the program, and many times, their families have to go into hiding as well. But what happens when you grow up and come out and need help to get your life back? That's what one man asked Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When Keith was in the seventh grade, he came home to a surprise.
Keith Robinson: "There were police officers and FBI at my house. They told me we had to pack. We had to move."
Keith's stepfather had witnessed a murder and had agreed to testify against the killer.
Keith Robinson: "Either he was going to get charged with conspiracy to murder, or if he testified on actually who did the murder, they would put us in the Witness Protection Program."
Keith, his mother and stepfather were shipped to Omaha, Nebraska. His first instructions: pick a new last name.
Keith Robinson: "There was a defensive back for Florida State in the early 80s, and I liked him, so I picked Ross."
The new Keith Ross was then told, "Now, pick a life story."
Keith Robinson: "And stick to it and just repeating it, and just learn how to lie."
Keith was safe, but he says he was always lonely. Unable to confide to his new friends in Nebraska, unable to talk to his old friends in Florida.
Keith Robinson: "You can't see your immediate family at all. You can't go to weddings. You lose touch with everybody."
Keith Ross eventually graduated from high school and went to college, but as an adult, he wanted to be near his real father and South Florida friends. So he told the Marshall's Service he wanted out of the Witness Protection Program and wanted his real name back.
Keith Robinson: "They handed me my original birth certificate, they handed me my original social security card, and they said good luck. They said, never use Keith Ross ever again."
Keith got on with his life, and now, 15 years later, wants to finish his college education. But he can't, because his high school diploma and college credits are under Ross, not his real name, Robinson. So he tried to get in touch with the Witness Protection Program people but could not.
Keith Robinson: "Very, very, very disappointed. They have not helped me out whatsoever."
He went into the Witness Protection Program to save his life. He came out to get on with his life. But without the help of the Marshall's Service, he can't. So Howard, what should he do?
Howard Finkelstein: "It does Keith no good to fight the Witness Protection Program. Every person I could find that sued them lost. If they won't help him convince the college that his records are valid, Keith needs to go to state court and get a judge to rule that he is Keith Ross, and he is Keith Robinson."
When I contacted the Marshall's Service about the Witness Protection Program, it was very unusual. There was no one who could talk about it. But I was given an address in Virginia for Keith to send a letter. Keith did. He says a marshall then met with him, wrote down his requests and said they would be back in touch in six to eight weeks. They left Keith with the impression they could get his educational records in his real name.
Howard Finkelstein: "The Witness Protection Program is an example of the great latitude that the federal government has. They can change your name. They can make you disappear. They can make you reappear. The power of the government is enormous, and that's why every American should always closely monitor their government."
Keith hopes the Marshall's Service can help him get back into college, and if you are wondering, he does think about the crooks who may still be mad at his stepfather for testifying.
Keith Robinson: "It was exciting coming back, and at the same point, scary. A lot of gangster mafia movies. That's always in the back of your head."
Patrick Fraser: "Getting information about the things the Witness Protection Program can and can't do is not easy, but that's a good thing. 'Cause if someone like me could get information, imagine what a crook trying to track down a witness about to testify could do."
Hiding a problem you want to come out? Need some legal protection? Get on our program. We aren't hiding anything. Just hoping to solve things.