Maybe it was his Runyonesque swagger, or the 6-ft. 6-in., 350-lb. former football linebacker who served as his bodyguard, or his expert craft, which included hiding a key in a potted plant. Whatever the case, Gary Hipple, a U.S. Customs agent based in San Francisco, convinced a group of Chinese arms dealers that he was a Mafia big shot who was in the market to buy guns for drug rings and street gangs. By the time the undercover deal was over, Hipple and his partner, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who also posed as a mobster, had persuaded...

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