Drug Arrests Were Real; the Badge Was Fake
Arrests began. Houses were ransacked. People, in handcuffs on their front lawns, named names. To some, like Mayor Otis Schulte, who considers the county around Gerald, population 1,171, “a meth capital of the United States,” the drug scourge seemed to be fading at last.
Those whose homes were searched, though, grumbled about a peculiar change in what they understood — mainly from television — to be the law.
They said the agent, a man some had come to know as “Sergeant Bill,” boasted that he did not need search warrants to enter their homes because he worked for the federal government.
But after a reporter for the local weekly newspaper made a few calls about that claim, Gerald’s antidrug campaign abruptly fell apart after less than five months. Sergeant Bill, it turned out, was no federal agent, but Bill A. Jakob, an unemployed former trucking company owner, a former security guard, a former wedding minister and a former small-town cop from 23 miles down the road.
Mr. Jakob, 36, is now the subject of a criminal investigation by federal authorities, and he is likely to face charges related to impersonating a law enforcement officer, his lawyer said.
The strange adventures of Sergeant Bill have led to the firing of three of the town’s five police officers, left the outcome of a string of drug arrests in doubt, prompted multimillion-dollar federal civil rights lawsuits by at least 17 plaintiffs and stirred up a political battle, including a petition seeking the impeachment of Mr. Schulte, over who is to blame for the mess.
And the questions keep coming. How did Mr. Jakob wander into town and apparently leave the mayor, the aldermen and pretty much everyone else he met thinking that he was a federal agent delivered from Washington to help barrel into peoples’ homes and clean up Gerald’s drug problem? And why would anyone — receiving no pay and with no known connection to little Gerald, 70 miles from St. Louis and not even a county seat — want to carry off such a time-consuming ruse in the first place?
Never a.) underestimate the instinct to respect authority in this culture, and b.) forget that most people in America are good and honest, and assume the person they're talking to is also good and honest.