LET'S GO FOR A RIDE
THE WILD LIFE OF MAINE'S LONGEST-TENURED UNDERCOVER GAME WARDEN
AN INTERVIEW WITH BILL LIVEZEY
What was your motivation for writing Let’s Go For a Ride?
Livezey: “I knew I had some crazy stories to tell. Whenever I’d talk with friends or family members about my experiences as a game warden, they’d all say, “You have to write a book!” So in a way, they put me up to it. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also motivated to set the record straight after the Portland Press Herald published numerous articles about a case I worked in the Allagash that was loaded with false and misleading information. They dangerously and unethically ended my undercover career by outing me as a covert agent.
“In all honesty, I also had misgivings about writing a book because it’s not something that undercover officers typically do. We have an unspoken code not to reveal covert tactics because it could endanger someone else.”
But you obviously wrote the book. Did you break that unspoken code?
Livezey: “I don’t think we broke the code. It’s something we talked about a lot throughout writing the book. I was comfortable sharing the hijinks that went on in many of my cases so long as we didn’t reveal covert tactics.
“But we also wanted to give readers a sense of how I got in with the bad guys, so we drew the line at sharing details of my personal cover story. I typically told suspects that I was an out-of-state hunter from Pennsylvania who worked at Hatfield Meat Products. Both of these things were true in my personal life, so I was able to talk in great detail about them, making my cover story believable. And since my cover story was specific to me, it’s not something that would put other agents in a dangerous or compromising situation.”
How did you decide upon the title, Let’s Go For a Ride?
Livezey:” ‘Let’s go for a ride’ is bad guy code for breaking the law. They never say, “Let’s go night hunting,” or “Let’s deal drugs.” It’s always, “Let’s go for a ride.” As we wrote the book, the phrase kept coming up in story after story. One day we just realized—this has to be the title! Of course, we also loved that it spoke to the reader going on a crazy ride through my career.
The first chapter opens with you witnessing your father die in a standoff with police when you were fifteen years old. How did that impact you?
Livezey: “It was devastating. My dad wasn’t always a bad guy, he was an honest businessman when I was a younger kid, but things changed over time as he fell into a dark spiral of alcohol, drugs, and even murder. But he was still my dad, and after his death, I was angry at the world. I lashed out the only way I knew how—by following in his footsteps. I was the last kid anyone would have pegged for a law enforcement career!
How did you get out of the spiral?
Livezey: “Drug use started taking its toll. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, overwhelmed with anxiety, shaking, feeling like my body was on fire. I knew my life was broken, and one night I found myself praying to God to take away the night sweats. I made a deal that I’d stop doing drugs, and that was the last time I woke up feeling like I was burning alive.
“It wasn’t an overnight transformation, mind you. The Lord had his work cut out for him with me. But I was fortunate to have some good people in my life who supported me. Another turning point was when a high school football teammate invited me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. It was there where I decided once and for all to accept God and turn my life around.”
The book details how your upbringing was both a blessing and a curse for your warden career. Can you explain that?
Livezey: “As you might imagine, admitting in a job interview for the warden service that you’ve done drugs, dealt drugs, and worst of all to them, poached, provides little incentive for them to hire you. So it took several attempts over three or four years for them to see that I’d turned my life around and was committed to becoming a warden.
“Little did my dad know at the time, but introducing me to bar life and the shady world of drug trafficking as a kid provided me with the type of real-world training that the police academy and the warden service could never replicate. Many people who try undercover work ultimately fail—not because they aren’t good wardens or police officers, they are—but because they don’t know how to fit in. For me, it was like I knew the bad guys’ playbook because I’d been on their team.”
Your stories are filled with life-or-death scenarios. One that stands out is the “Over the Line” chapter, where a suspect accused you of being a warden and threatened you with a knife. What were you thinking at that moment?
Livezey: “Working undercover, my worst fear was being discovered. In that situation, I was at a poacher’s cabin in the middle of woods with no backup, surrounded by his friends and family members, all of whom were complicit in the crimes being committed.
“The poacher with the boning knife was the most sadistic person I’d ever worked. He’d intentionally shoot deer in the gut so that he could torture them. With someone like that, you just don’t know what’s going through their head. It didn’t help that he was also extremely drunk and high at the time. So when he started slashing the knife inches in front of me and yelling that I better not be a warden, I’d never been more frightened in my life. But I had to play it cool and pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about. Somehow, I pulled it off.”
You mentioned before that the Portland Press Herald dangerously and unethically outed you as an undercover agent by printing your name and photo in a 2016 article titled “North Woods lawless.” Was it dangerous because of situations like this?
Livezey: “Absolutely. Before threatening me with the boning knife, that poacher sent his nephew to look up my name on Google. Fortunately, he didn’t find anything, but I shudder to think what would have happened if the article came out that day?
“To maintain officer safety, it’s illegal for media outlets to reveal the identity of federal undercover agents, but unfortunately, state agents don’t receive the same protection. The thing is, even if the Portland Press Herald honestly believed their article was legitimate, they could have run it without revealing my identity. In Let’s Go For a Ride, we didn’t use the real names of anyone who broke the law. They could have done the same by using an alias or simply referring to me as the undercover agent, but instead, they decided to compromise my safety and end my undercover career.”
Let’s talk about the article. The allegation that upset most people was that you entrapped the Allagash suspects by being the first to kill a deer. You maintain that this allegation was deliberately misleading. How is that so?
Livezey: “You have to look carefully at how that allegation was worded. The reporter was specifically referring to night hunting episodes late in the case where I was alone with one of the suspects. It completely ignores the fact that his friends illegally killed deer earlier in the case when he and I were both present. So this notion that he only killed a deer illegally because he saw me do it first was absurd. If anything, he was trying to prove to me that he was as big of a poacher as his other buddies.
“What’s more, we’d previously gone night hunting together several other times when he’d shot and wounded five or six deer. Those deer likely died eventually, but because we couldn’t prove it, the reporter got away with stating that I was the first to kill a deer on these specific night hunting excursions.
“What typically happens in these cases is there comes the point where the suspects realize that they’re committing all these crimes in my presence, but I haven’t really participated. So they test me. That’s what happened in this circumstance—the suspect declared that I was going to do the shooting that night. The deer that I shot was one he’d wounded a couple of nights earlier. It was going to die anyway; I ended its suffering.
“Had I not shot the deer, it would have jeopardized the case and my safety. For this reason, it’s legal for undercover agents to violate the laws we’re trying to protect.”
What about the allegation that you were frequently intoxicated and supplying the suspects with alcohol to entice them to break the law?
Livezey: “First off, anyone who knows me in my personal life knows that I don’t drink or do drugs. I gave all of that up long before I became a warden. But I had to pretend to drink in these cases to fit in with the bad guys. I’d take a few sips here and there, but I’d dump the majority of it out whenever I went to the bathroom. I was always afraid someone would notice me doing this, and ironically, during the cases, many of the bad guys accused me of not drinking enough.
“The details matter in undercover cases. One slip of the tongue can quickly derail a case. I needed to stay sober to ensure that I didn’t say or do anything that could put me in a compromising situation.
“But this allegation is another example of how the Portland Press Herald reporter opportunistically misrepresented the facts. These guys would load a cooler or two of beer into the back of their Suburban whenever they went road hunting. I typically finagled it so I was sitting in the third row, which enabled me to observe their behavior without getting involved in the actual shooting.
“But it also meant that when they yelled for a beer, I was the one to grab it from the cooler and pass it up. This seating arrangement was used to insinuate that I was passing out beers to get them drunk, but I didn’t buy the beer or fill the coolers. I just happened to be the guy sitting closest to it. If I’d sat in front, they would have been doing the same thing.
“Those guys continued drinking well into the night, so when I showed up, I often brought Yuengling, a Pennsylvania beer, to reinforce my cover and fit in. As far as they were concerned, this beer was for me, but if someone of legal age asked to try one, I’d oblige. Again, I was trying to fit in—nobody likes the guy who always shows up and drinks their beer.”
Let’s switch gears for one final question. At the end of the book, you reveal that you never really enjoyed working undercover. Why would you do it for twenty years if you didn’t enjoy it?
Livezey: “I guess you could say I had a love-hate relationship with working undercover. I loved being a game warden, serving the public, and trying to preserve Maine’s wildlife for future generations. As an undercover warden, the impact I had far exceeded what I was able to accomplish as a uniformed officer, so I stuck with it.
“But working undercover was far from glamorous. The vast majority of the time, I was hanging out with suspects, pretending to drink as they got drunk and abused drugs, just waiting for one of them to say, ‘Let’s go for a ride.’ And as you’ll see in the book, their living conditions were typically disgusting. It wasn’t exactly what I would consider a good time.
“The other part that’s harder for me to explain is how psychologically taxing it is to work undercover. Maine is one giant small town, so even when I wasn’t undercover, I was always looking over my shoulder to make sure someone didn’t recognize me. I still have nightmares about being discovered.
“Betraying the poachers also messed with my psyche. While some of the people I worked were rotten to the core, others were good people doing bad things. Looking at the trajectory of my life, I could have ended up in their shoes. From that perspective, I was empathetic. And while they committed the crimes and deserved the punishment, it was hard to continuously break bread at their dinner table and play with their kids, knowing that I would ultimately betray them.”
BILL LIVEZEY retired from the Maine Warden Service as an investigator in July of 2020 after a thirty-year career. Having served twenty years in the elite Special Investigations Unit, Bill is the longest-tenured undercover operative in the history of the Maine Warden Service. A graduate of Unity College, his dedication to protecting people and defending wildlife earned him recognition as Warden of the Year in 2004, along with six Exemplary Service Awards and one Meritorious Service Award from the Maine Warden Service; recognition from The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in 1995; and the “Living Legend Award” as an Officer of the Month from the National Fallen Officers Memorial in 2005. Bill and his wife Gail reside in Sherman, Maine.
LET'S GO FOR A RIDE
The release date for Let's Go For a Ride is June 1, 2022. Preorder now from your favorite local bookstore, online retailer, or via the Amazon link below.
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