The FBI's Most Wanted Agent

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

"The FBI was always Jerry's first love," testified Catherine Sullivan, whom he met at the Bureau, where she worked as a typist.

Sullivan got a criminology degree and then his FBI training in Quantico, Virginia, and became an agent in 1979, the same year he married. Patrick Sullivan said he couldn't believe the FBI actually let his little brother become a "real" agent.

"When I found out he was going to be carrying a gun, I was really shocked," Patrick testified. "I figured that you have [to have] some type of emotionally stable profile in order to successfully be carrying a loaded weapon, and I just knew that Jerry was nowhere close to that.... I figured the Bureau had an extensive screening process and psychological testing."

Jerry Sullivan says the only psychological screening he remembers was a multiple-choice test that was supposed to determine if he was stable or not. Apparently Sullivan passed that test.

After a stint in Los Angeles, where he worked in the fugitives unit, Sullivan was sent up the coast to the FBI's language school in Monterey to study Sicilian. Soon, he'd be watching and listening to the real Don Vito Corleones.

After graduating from the school in March 1982, Sullivan was transferred to the FBI's Fort Lauderdale squad, which was run by the bureau's Miami office. Sullivan described the Fort Lauderdale office to his psychologist, Ryan.

"I was the youngest guy on the squad of about 14 agents. About half were ready to retire, and the other half played golf a minimum of two days a week, including the supervisor," Sullivan said. "The supervisors in Miami wanted to shut down the [Fort Lauderdale office] because they knew what was going on.... I kept my mouth shut because I was the young guy."

Paul Mallett, second-in-command of the Miami FBI office, which is the fifth largest in the country, told New Times that he doesn't have any recollection of the Fort Lauderdale office, which was shut down in 1987, being a "country club" for agents. He did say that "there are always criticisms of recalcitrant agents, lazy agents, agents who spend more time looking for bait and tackle than working cases." When such agents are discovered, he says, they are punished.

While Sullivan worked in Fort Lauderdale, FBI agents in New York and New Jersey were slowly piecing together a massive heroin ring run out of Italian restaurants. Investigators learned that the heroin was coming from the Mafia in Sicily, which also had members working in the United States. The case, dubbed the "Pizza Connection," became one of the greatest successes in FBI history, and it gave big career boosts to two federal prosecutors, Louis Freeh, now director of the FBI, and Rudolph Giuliani, current mayor of New York City.

It involved the largest wiretapping operation in the FBI's history -- one made to order for Sullivan, the language school graduate. He was sent to New Jersey to translate the tapes and was stationed in a van in Menlo Park, New Jersey, near Roma Restaurant, which was a key heroin and money-laundering spot for the Sicilians.

There was a problem, however. Sullivan couldn't understand what the Sicilians were saying. He wasn't the only one. The FBI school had failed to account for Sicilian dialects and accents. During Sullivan's recent sentencing hearings, the FBI conceded that none of the language school graduates could actually translate Sicilian. The FBI had to rely on just two men, both native Sicilians, to decipher thousands of conversations.

Sullivan told psychologists that he feared his inability to translate might cause him to miss something on the tapes that would then endanger another agent. It also made impossible the proper "minimization" of the conversations, which is simply turning off the tape recorder when the targets aren't talking about crime. Of utmost importance is excluding talks between targeted suspects and their attorneys. Listening to such talks constitutes a violation of civil rights. Instead of the tapes being minimized on first listen, as required by law, the monitors simply recorded the entire conversations.

"So now they couldn't afford to pay [the translator] all the time, so we taped all Sicilian conversations, and I would call [the translator] and play the tapes to him over the phone," Sullivan told Ryan. "This case would have been shit-canned if the defense knew about the Bureau's procedures."

Sullivan, in just a few years as an agent, had already been assigned to an FBI office full of goldbricks, graduated a failed FBI language program, and, during a historic FBI case, had participated in haphazard and possibly illegal wiretapping procedures. To Sullivan, who thrived on structure, it was a fearful and stressful environment. The breakdown of structure inside the FBI, argued psychiatrist Richard Seely, helped bring Sullivan's mental problems and addictions to the surface. His "alcohol dependence began to take off," said Seely, who testified for the defense but wasn't paid.

During Pizza Connection, Sullivan stayed mostly in a hotel, spending his nights drinking. He reported that he often drank a case of 24 beers in a night and regularly blacked out. He also made his first illegal sports bets in the hotel bar, losing a total of about $200.

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