He was a perfectionist of the highest order. Several classmates recall his almost-perfect handwriting as well as a quiet self-assuredness that was echoed in his senior quotation in the yearbook: "Self-confidence is the first prerequisite to all great undertakings."

Years after the government considered him too old for dangerous field work, that childhood dream lived on.

After graduating in 1966, he first headed to New York University and then to City College of New York. He finished with a degree in sociology and in 1972 began work for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Six years later, his dream finally came true. The FBI's New York office brought him in as an agent, and his sharp mind and ability to cultivate loyalty led him to become one of the top experts on the five families of organized crime. Because he was easygoing and able to talk to anyone, he played the good cop in interrogations. Extracting information from sources became his specialty.

The last known photograph of Levinson, who disappeared off the coast of Iran in 2007; it was sent to the family in 2011.
The last known photograph of Levinson, who disappeared off the coast of Iran in 2007; it was sent to the family in 2011.

"He would debrief you without you even knowing that was happening," an agency friend recalls. "You just thought you were having a conversation with Uncle Bob."

In 1973, he met Christine Levinson at the original TGI Fridays, in Times Square. He quickly nabbed her number and began dating the diminutive woman whom friends remember would be swallowed by the hulking Levinson's embrace. They married 11 months later. Christine's mom, Grace, was understandably startled, but Bob won her over too by bringing a bouquet of daisies to their first meeting.

Although Levinson knew how to flatter almost anyone, he wasn't always popular in the fiercely competitive FBI ranks. In 1987, he helped tie up one of his biggest cases, a sting on a firm called Shiavone Construction that was supposed to subcontract work to companies owned by minorities but really funneled it through a front for the Genovese crime family.

The problem for Levinson, some colleagues say, was that Shiavone was owned by none other than Ronald Reagan's secretary of labor, Ray Donovan. Levinson fought hard to prove that the politico had pocketed $7.4 million of public funds meant to construct a new subway line. He was crushed when the politician was ultimately acquitted. (Levinson may well have been right: In 2005, after Donovan sold his half of the construction company to a Spanish conglomerate, it was revealed in an affidavit that the company had ties to the Mob, according to federal court documents unsealed last year.)

Levinson, many colleagues say, was punished for swinging at the politician and missing. Acquaintances say his involvement in the case led directly to his transfer to Florida — they thought that he wouldn't like it and that maybe he would quit. "He stood up to the rest of the FBI when they were lying," a friend from the Department of Justice recalls. "Some people in the bureau never got over that."

A surprising thing happened to the tightly wound G-man once he landed in South Florida — he liked it. Among his favorite subtropical things: listening to Jimmy Buffett, eating at Miami Subs, and banging on pots and pans on New Year's. He bought a place up north in Coral Springs. It was far from the Miami office where he'd be working, but he thought it was important to keep work and home life separate.

He employed the same hard-nosed passion he'd used to crack the Italian Mafia to become an expert on FARC. Instead of corrupt construction firms, he worked on cases targeting Colombian cocaine cartels. Those who knew him at the time remember "a crackerjack FBI agent" and a "Jewish James Bond" who became expert at wringing confessions from suspects.

He didn't know when to turn off his work persona, though, and wasn't good at letting things go. One former agent remembers the time they went to debrief a source at an isolated prison in Arizona. After taking care of business, they returned to their rental car and found that a hit-and-run driver had dinged the side. After noticing the green paint transfer on the bumper, Levinson located the offending car, called for its registration number, and found out the hit-and-run was perpetrated by the new warden. After confronting him, Levinson was able to get the man to fess up.

But the mustached agent could be goofy too: On Thursdays, he and his partner would wear matching pink shirts to the office à la Miami Vice.

His first daughter, Susan, was born in 1977. Six more children — Stephanie, Sarah, Dan, David, Sam, and finally Doug — would follow. Growing up, the kids remember that their dad's favorite movie was The FBI Story and that no Sunday was complete without their all watching Meet the Press. Dan Levinson remembers a "boring guy who would fall asleep on the couch" and says he never realized that his dad's job was interesting until Levinson's Career Day appearances at Riverside Elementary wowed the other kids.

Later, when Dan got older, Levinson would show him and his other sons his favorite Mafia movies — flicks like Blow, Goodfellas, and Casino. He was a walking Rolodex on organized crime. He could rattle off the real-life analogs to the fictional movies as they watched. In 2001, he was even asked to be a consultant for The Score, a Robert De Niro movie about diamond thieves, which is just about the coolest thing a dad could have happen to him in the eyes of an adolescent boy.

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