Tony Mason and his fellow undercover police partner were gleaning information from a female gang member when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper almost blew their cover.
"We were sitting there and this guy looks at me, recognizes me and just yells out my name," Mason said, laughing at the recollection."We recovered by telling her this (expletive) cop had been after me for a while. She bought it."
But Mason, a three-year Metro Gang Unit member and now a community-oriented police officer with Midvale, said it was no joke at the time.
Having a blown cover, or "being made," could have jeopardized months of covert work in securing intelligence information and disarming area gang members of caches full of stolen goods.
The event also proved to be the most tense moment Mason had during two six-month undercover operations, in 1993 and 1994.
"Considering who we were sitting with - the main female connection to the gang community who knew everyone, who had the phone numbers, who set up the meetings and whatnot - that was probably the scariest time I had. She could have made one call, and we would have been marked men."
But the work wasn't always dealing with anxiety or the fear of being sniffed out as a cop.
"Actually, it was the funnest six months of my life," he said.
If you call dealing with deadly gang members on a daily basis a diversion.
"We learned a lot and ended up dismantling the leadership of seven gangs," he said. "The biggest success was that we broke down the trust among members in the gang community."
He said after the first sting, gang members in the county no longer trusted one another to buy and sell myriad goods - including drugs - or to align themselves to commit other crimes.
Along with Mason, officers from West Jordan, West Valley City, Murray and the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office participated in the summer months of 1993.
They set up a false storefront in Midvale that was designed to take in broken items, repair the goods and resell them.
"We called it DGI, for `Damaged Goods Incorporated,' " he said. "But to us it meant `Do Gangs In.' The priority was to infiltrate the gangs."
Which they did.
Dave Marchant, now a sergeant with Murray police, played a key role as a Hispanic gang member in the set-up.
"He shaved his head and has a dark complexion anyway, so he looked the part," Mason said. "And he spoke perfect Spanish and knew the lingo. The information showed us a lot about how they operate."
What they found out most is that "bangers" are greedy. They do not like to share.
"That's what limits their real organization," Mason said. "Unlike organized crime, like the mafia, the gangs don't really go after it like a business. But their color is green, no matter what anyone says."
Mason played the role of "enforcer" who oversaw hundreds of transactions, from stolen electronic equipment and firearms to "hot" vehicles and shipments of dope.
Word of the front to distribute illicit goods spread quickly.
With surveillance provided by federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents, the officers monitored the activity from a "cover pad" across the street as hidden cameras inside the store were always "on the air," Mason said.
"That came in handy when our shop got burglarized," he said. "Of course, whoever did this didn't know the cameras were always running, let alone there, so we got all of it on tape."
Another interesting time was when Mason had a service weapon and two-way radio stolen from his own car by crooks.
"But we had the last laugh as this guy walks into DGI and sells us the gun he had just ripped off from my car," Mason said.
Once the sting was coming to a close, the "roundup" began.
Mason said more than 100 officers from across the county participated in serving dozens of arrest warrants. In the end, some 100 felonies had been filed, and 36 people were behind bars.
"All because a bunch of cops posed as members of a California gang," Mason said. "It also helped in saying we were ex-cons. They were really clueless."
Another operation involved Mason and other officers slumming the area bars, strip joints (his wife didn't like that) and nightclubs in search of drug traffickers.
"We'd go and get into a game of pool, and just wait for the right person to walk up and ask what we'd like," he said.
At times, the line between business and personal feelings became a little blurred.
"Every once in a while, you'd meet someone really nice and think, `Man, this guy is pretty cool. I hope I don't have to bust him.' "
But a job had to be done, and as a result, some 30 people were arrested with about 100 felony charges.
Not that it was all that simple.
At one time, Mason and Marchant, now looking like "maggot scum," went to buy a stolen Jeep from a car thief.
"We had made the deal, and then this guy got real creepy and nervous," he said. "He just kept saying, `What if this is, like, one of those stings?' We had to convince him we weren't cops, but you should have seen his face at round-up time.
"This is what undercover is really like," he said. "You have to get down and dirty and get involved. It was fun, and I learned a lot, but I won't do it again.
"There's danger involved, and I've got a family," he said. "Besides, I'm getting too old."