The FBI's Most Wanted Agent

When Jerry Sullivan was arrested for criminal behavior, he chose to blame an unexpected source: the FBI

About six feet tall and slight of build, the 44-year-old Sullivan stood in his driveway by his Town Car, wearing a white T-shirt and faded jeans. A pinch of tobacco was tucked in his lower lip. His graying hair was cut cleanly and his red and nicked chin looked just-shaved, making it hard to imagine him as the scraggly undercover agent who'd been embraced by criminal types, one of whom he had himself become. His demeanor was polite and wooden, but his blue eyes, large and set back in his squarish face, looked pained, betraying his emotions -- it seemed that tears might start falling at any time, without further provocation. They didn't. Sullivan wept often, both before and after his arrest, just not in public.

"I've been cleaning up the yard all afternoon," he says before stepping back and carefully spitting some tobacco juice straight down to the ground. "I'm leaving on Friday."

Sullivan says his house, which he bought for $184,000 in 1990, will have to be sold. As part of his sentence, he must pay $190,500 to the federal government in restitution for his crimes. After the arrest he was reduced to working in a convenience store. He says he doesn't know exactly how Catherine and his three young sons will cope while he's in a federal prison in Georgia.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold justifiably threw the book at Sullivan, giving him the maximum sentence. Gold obviously wasn't swayed by the argument put forth by Sullivan's attorneys and psychologists that he'd committed his crimes because he was mentally ill.

In hearings prior to the November 23 sentencing, the prosecution countered that Sullivan's crimes were simply part of his cunning "exit strategy" from the FBI, a plan to hit it big in gambling, pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars, and replace the stolen money before anyone realized it was missing. Sullivan freely admits this is true. Even if his crimes were fueled by his disorders, they were also clearly driven by greed. But his psychologists argued that such a plan -- and the wild risks Sullivan took in trying to carry it out -- was itself evidence of a distorted mind.

Distorted mind? More a mastermind, countered the government.
"That he committed these crimes while successfully accomplishing the complex and demanding tasks of [the FBI] and while successfully maintaining his duties as husband, father, and head of a household, is nothing short of amazing for persons of superior intellect and mental capacity," wrote prosecutor Andrew Oosterbaan. "Defendant's FBI supervisors and his family saw nary a clue of his criminal episodes during this period. Indeed, [Sullivan] was promoted and served as a Supervisory Special Agent at the very time he tells this court he was incapable of making reasoned judgments."

The record shows that Sullivan left behind many clues, a number of them long before he finally stole the $400,000. Trained FBI agents just failed to see the indications, and when they did, they failed to act.

Standing in his yard on that Sunday, Sullivan, who declined to be interviewed at length, says his psychologist, W. Grady L. Ryan, saved his life.

"I'm a compulsive person," Sullivan says. "That's the way I am. Whatever I do, I do it all the way. I was a workaholic, I was an alcoholic -- I'm chemically unbalanced. I'm on medication right now and that's the only thing that keeps me walking the straight line."

That job of keeping him on that line used to be taken care of by the Plantation police chief who also happened to be his domineering father. Sullivan, whose family moved to Broward County when he was six years old, hero-worshiped his Irish-Catholic father and always did as he was told, his two brothers testified. Never got into trouble, never rebelled. Under this hyperobedient veneer, however, lurked a very odd little boy.

"He was very quiet growing up, very emotionally fragile is the way I explain it," testified his brother Patrick. "He would get very angry and hold it inside and then all of a sudden start crying and you wouldn't know why, and it wasn't a crybaby cry, it was like an anger."

He was obsessive-compulsive even as a child. When touched, he'd spastically brush himself off, "kind of go nuts... like a fit," Patrick testified.

While other kids were out playing, Jerry would vacuum carpets in his house several times a day. Having a neat lawn wasn't something that began when he was adult: As a child he cut the lawn often, and he'd go over it several times, in different directions.

"Jerry would go over and over it again until it looked like a baseball diamond, and God forbid if there was one blade of grass sticking up," said his oldest brother, Michael, himself a onetime cop and former FBI agent.

The quiet, introverted boy graduated from Plantation High in 1972, and soon he was introduced to the two entities that would dominate the next 25 years of his life: the FBI and the Mafia. When The Godfather hit movie screens that year, Jerry became obsessed with it and managed to record some of the movie's scenes and soundtrack. He listened to the poorly made tapes so often that relatives began calling him the family's "token Italian." As his obsession with a Hollywood version of the Mob was absorbing him, Sullivan, with the help of his father, joined the FBI as a clerk.

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