Matt Apuzzo: ‘Tickling the Wire,’ Knocking on Doors, Getting the Story on Government Wrongdoing


In a federal lawsuit pending in North Carolina, farmers have accused the A.T.F. of embezzling millions of dollars in a cigarette smuggling operation.

Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times. In this podcast, Times investigative reporter Matt Apuzzo gives readers insight into how he reported a story about how the A.T.F. filled a secret bank account with millions from shadowy cigarette sales.

Working in an office suite behind a Burger King in Virginia, government agents allegedly swindle American farmers out of $24 million in a cigarette smuggling scam? Sounds like a B-movie.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Matt Apuzzo, however, wrote an investigative report last week about a real-life, shadowy operation that gave rise to a federal racketeering suit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives whose agents, the farmers say, cheated them out of millions.

In this podcast, Matt talks about his story and provides behind-the-scenes insight into how he reported it.

He explains how he first got wind of a possible swindle. From the start, he says, “I was pretty sure there was something crazy going on and was not daunted when he found, soon after he began investigating, that a federal judge had” ordered all of the records connected to the case to be sealed.

Few things excite a reporter more than a cache of sealed documents. Apuzzo promptly downloaded more than 800 documents, thousands of pages of which were sealed or redacted. Then followed a number of evenings when Apuzzo sat, over-caffeinated at his kitchen counter, shuffling through papers, taking notes and trying to make connections between various references contained in the documents.

“It was like making a jigsaw puzzle…

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