The gangster's eyes bulge behind a black ski mask. His leather coat is zipped to his neck, and his Padres' hat is cocked to the left.
"Skyline Park, San Diego, Cali-muthafuckin'-fornia, 619, you understand that?" he says into a web cam. "Let me explain one thing to you about this muthafuckin' gangster you're looking at right now. They call me Bugman.' I'm your homeboy. I'm your homeboy. Ya feel me? I'm riding in your back seat. I'm the same nigga you just got off the phone with a few minutes ago . I'm Bugman, the snitch."
These lines opened the first "Bugman" video, which was posted on April 28, 2010, on YouTube (youtube.com/blktee27) and has been followed by six more video casts. On one level, the masked gangster is trying to hock his self-published book, Bugman: To Snitch or Not to Snitch. On another level, he's declared war on gangs, specifically the Skyline Piru and the Lincoln Park Bloods of Southeast San Diego.
Bugman is attempting to shake the foundation of the gangs with a message of paranoia: Anyone can be a snitch because the police and the feds are masters at turning homeboys into informants. Bugman says he knows from experience: In the 1990s, he was a Skyline snitch, participating in controlled buys and providing information that resulted in convictions of about 50 of his friends.
Living now out of state, Bugman uses his mask and anonymity to create a gangster bogeyman.
"When Bugman muthafuckin' come to get you, he got this in his hand, with a muthafuckin' smile on his face" Bugman says, holding up a red bandana in his second video. He's still masked, but now wearing a sleeveless red shirt, a Skyline Piru symbol and direct insult. "You're going to welcome that nigga with open muthafuckin' arms and then, nigga, six months muthafuckin' down the road, the feds is at your muthafuckin' door."
Through his videos and written memoir, Bugman talks about his own experiences as a gangbanger selling crack and how he cut a deal with the FBI in order to escape prosecution. Verifying the existence of confidential informants is extremely difficult, but CityBeat was able to confirm several elements of Bugman's story through court records and calls to the FBI.
Lt. Jorge Duran, head of the San Diego Police Department's gang unit, hadn't heard of Bugman until CityBeat called, but he says confidential informants are "vital" in taking on gangs.
"It's difficult to talk about because we don't want to jeopardize any ongoing investigations involving confidential informants, but the truth of the matter is, it's a tool that we use," Duran says. "When trying to infiltrate these gangs, or any gang, we know they're very closed organizations and they trust very few people, and in order to be successful in targeting them for criminal acts, one of the tools is to recruit confidential informants. It's something we did in the past and it's something we continue to do."
"From the things he's told me and stories he's told me, I can absolutely say he's credible," says Eric King, an ex-gang member and youth mentor who lives in the Skyline neighborhood and has spoken directly with Bugman on the phone.
The question is how Skyline Piru and the Lincoln Park Bloods will react to Bugman. They certainly can't ignore him.
Search for "San Diego Piru" on YouTube, and Bugman's videos are the first results. In just more than a month, his videos have received a total of 4,267 views. Message boards on gangsta-rap sites, like Siccness.net, host ongoing debate over Bugman's identity and whether he's for real.
King, who produces a documentary series called Dead or in Jail and plans to use Bugman in his next film, says people are asking about Bugman on the street.
"I'm working on my third documentary, and I have not nearly gotten a buzz like him," King says.
In an interview with CityBeat, Bugman says that only a gangster can really get through to a gangster.
"Gangsta talk is exactly what I'm doing in those videos," Bugman says. "That nigga, that muthafucka, you stupid nigga' and so on. You gotta come at the dudes like this. You think I be able to get on there with a smiley face and say, You guys need to stop dealing drugs. It's not good for the community'? No, 'cause they're not going to understand."
King sees Bugman's take on gang violence as the freshest angle so far.
"It blew my mind a little bit, but at the same time, I knew exactly what he was doing and what his message was," King says. "This thing is going to take off, plain and simple. I love the uniqueness of his message. He's going to ruffle a lot of feathers, but in order for those feathers to get ruffled, they have to listen to him."
Bugman doesn't mind taking on the top of the gang food chain. In his fifth video, dated May 2, 2010, he taunts Mitchy Slick, the hard-core gangster-turned-rapper recently featured in the History Channel's Gangland documentary on the Lincoln Park Bloods.
"You know who the fuck I'm talking about, Mr. Superstar Rapper of San Diego," Bugman yells in the video. "Fuck you, homey. Flat out, you responsible, nigga, for most of this shit that's going on any-muthafuckin'-way, nigga. So you think, nigga, your little fucked-up response really made me pump butter, nigga? Nigga, my shit don't pump butter, nigga. I'm pumping blood 100 percent, every day."
Those are clearly fighting words, but Bugman stops short of making a direct threat against Slick.
"It ain't even necessary for me, because one day, nigga-bye bye, homeboy!" Bugman says in his open message to Slick. "Believe that. Why? Because one of them niggas in your bunch, nigga, is Bugman."
Loyola Law School professor Alexandra Natapoff, author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice and keeper of the Snitching Blog (snitching.org), says Bugman's claims are dead on.
"I think Bugman is pretty accurate in the sense that he's describing the pervasive infiltration of poor neighborhoods and drug networks by informants," Natapoff says. "Bugman is also an example of the larger dialogue or conversation going on in and around poor urban communities about policing and trust. And while Bugman is an unconventional narrator for this story, it's actually a story we see in the mainstream media all the time."
Natapoff also points to San Diego Search Warrant Project's 2000 report, which found that 67 percent of search warrants issued in San Diego in 1998 were based on information originating with confidential and criminal informants. The study found that, while San Diego law-enforcement officers may have skirted requirements for documenting confidential informants, most cases were followed up with controlled buys-which corresponds with Bugman's version of how things went down.
Natapoff says the widespread use of criminal informants, like Bugman, essentially means that law-enforcement is subsidizing criminals by granting them amnesty and paying them for information.
The court documents CityBeat reviewed indicate Bugman was paid as much as $20,000 for his assistance. He says his only major criminal case was for assaulting a police dog while he was on PCP. The police deals, however, didn't ease Bugman's inner conflict.
"These people I was taking off the street, I cared for at one time," Bugman says, adding that he came close to shooting himself. "They was the homeboys, and it was really affecting me."
But he's adamant that he didn't have a choice and that anyone in his situation would-and frequently do-the same. He points to criminals who are one offense a way from lifetime imprisonment under California's three-strikes law; the fact that they're still gangbanging indicates they're trading information for their freedom.
"I don't care what a man says in the world, that they would never snitch," Bugman says. "That's baloney, and I'm-a tell you why: You can't say that you won't do this until you in that situation, and that situation is not nothing to be playing with. It's real."