The FBI's dossier on Chávez was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which contains provisions that allowed the FBI to withhold portions of the documents from public view. Indeed, many parts—and in some cases, entire pages—have been excised from the files. Nevertheless, the collection provides a compelling window into the efforts of the farmworker movement, as well as the values and methods of the FBI itself.
In March and April 1974, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) circulated documents related to burglaries and possible extortion of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in California. On March 21, 1974, UFW chief counsel Jerry Cohen received a telephone call from someone claiming to be Fred Schwartz. Later identified as Jerome Ducote, Schwartz offered information taken from the offices of the UFW and associated groups during 16 break-ins between 1966 and 1970 if the UFW paid $35,000. Schwartz claimed the robberies were directed by three major California growers. Cohen met with Schwartz on March 25 in Bakersfield, California, and on March 31, which was monitored by the FBI.
According to a March 28, 1974, memo by Assistant Attorney General J. Stanley Pottinger, Cohen had reported the incidents to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. In response, Pottinger requested a limited FBI investigation to determine whether the incidents constituted a conspiracy against the rights of the UFW under labor law statutes and directed the FBI to conduct surveillance of future meetings between Cohen and Schwartz.
A communiqué dated March 28 from the FBI field office in Sacramento provided additional details on Schwartz, the groups targeted for robberies, and the persons behind the robberies, which included local growers and a California state legislator.
In an April 1 teletype and subsequent documents, the Sacramento field office reported Schwartz's true identity as Jerome Joseph Ducote and provided further information on Ducote from government records and FBI surveillance. Ducote had been gathering information on the UFW on behalf of growers and had contacted Cohen because he and another individual needed money for bail bonds in relation to fraud charges. According to the documents, Cohen had refused to pay and advised Ducote to contact the FBI.