The FBI's Most Wanted Agent
Aaron Sanchez, sitting in his office on the second floor of the Miami FBI office, ordered Supervisory Special Agent Jerry Sullivan to show him the money. All $129,324 of it, along with the records detailing where it had been.
Nine months had passed since the cash was seized from a Deerfield Beach check-cashing/loan-sharking joint run by Nicholas "The Little Man" Corozzo, reputed to be John Gotti's heir apparent as boss of the Gambino crime family. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's own rules dictate that confiscated money must be processed into evidence within ten days of the seizure. On the morning of May 30, 1997, as Sanchez, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Miami, peered across his desk at Sullivan, the money still hadn't arrived in the evidence room.
Sullivan, a 25-year FBI veteran who ran the organized crime unit, had been asked repeatedly by fellow agents to produce the money. Over and over again, he lied. Sanchez finally had enough of the subterfuge.
No problem, Sullivan replied. All he needed was an hour to get it.
He drove his government-issued car north to his west Plantation home and filled a bag with clothes, a hair dryer, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. He wrote a note to his wife, Catherine, telling her he loved her and drove off in his own 1990 white Lincoln Town Car. After withdrawing $400 from a nearby bank, he sped onto Alligator Alley, heading west across the Everglades. At some point he stopped and called home, leaving a message for Catherine, telling her again that he loved her. Agents in Miami, meanwhile, were frantically trying to call and page him with no luck. Agents, fearing Sullivan was going to kill himself, began a vast FBI manhunt.
Sullivan drove on toward the Gulf of Mexico and didn't stop until he reached the Marco Island Resort on Florida's southwest coast. The hotel is an unofficial refuge for federal crime-fighters, run by a former FBI agent, and frequented by agents in need of relaxation. Sullivan used his credit card to pay for the room, knowing the bureau would trace it and locate him within 24 hours. They'd find him sooner or later anyway.
The agent sat down at the resort bar and started knocking back beers, breaking his five-year sobriety streak. He knew how to drink. It was one of the things at which he'd become an expert while working undercover for the FBI. That night, he drank a case of beer and a few vodka tonics and waited for his years of thievery and deceit finally to catch up with him.
His treacherous endgame had failed, and now the deconstruction of Sullivan's strange and contradictory life was about to begin.
FBI agents flooded the resort the next day. After arresting Sullivan while he was on his way to buy more booze, agents grilled him in his room. The agents smelled the alcohol on him but didn't think he seemed drunk. Sullivan told them he'd stolen more than just Corozzo's money. He'd taken a grand total of $400,000 from the FBI and used it to gamble with the very same mobsters he was supposed to have been investigating.
Sullivan didn't admit to everything. He'd also lied to a judge to spring a Mafia associate from prison in hopes the well-heeled criminal would return the favor with cash. That and more would come out later. But the FBI had enough to charge him with theft and lying to fellow FBI agents and place him in jail, where he spent two nights before putting up his house to post $100,000 bond.
Sullivan soon became a national disgrace, his crimes of theft and lying to the FBI detailed in newspapers throughout the United States. A team of 19 agents would spend months going through every case he ever worked, every surveillance tape he ever made, every covertly recorded discussion he'd had with organized crime figures, every report and memo he'd ever submitted. The massive investigation was appropriately titled "Operation Lost Count."
Psychologists examined Sullivan's mind and found an alcoholic; a pathological gambler; a man stricken with obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a number of other mental problems about which the FBI apparently knew nothing as he rose through the ranks and conducted countless sensitive investigations.
The unforgiving light of the FBI's Lost Count probe also reflected back upon the bureau itself. Suddenly, as in the undercover work that Sullivan claims hastened his demise, the truth became difficult to discern. This was more than the story of an agent gone bad. It was also the story, untold in the news media, of the FBI's own flaws, of its maddening mistakes, of its losing track not only of $400,000 but of a man once considered a prized agent.
Sullivan's case file, nearly a foot thick, provides clear evidence that the preeminent law-enforcement agency in the United States failed, too.
Jerome Robert Sullivan spent his final Sunday of freedom working around his picturesque gray-brick and stucco house. It was January 3, just five days before he'd begin serving his five-year prison term. The lawn was immaculate, and the air smelled faintly of freshly cut grass.
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.
"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.
When he returned to Fort Lauderdale after Pizza Connection in late 1983, the FBI put Sullivan into one of the most unstructured environments imaginable: undercover, infiltrating the Mafia in South Florida.
Billy Breen was a certified lunatic and convicted felon who had, in late 1983, made a career as a professional rat for the FBI. Agents worked with him on a regular basis and occasionally gave him a paycheck, which supplemented his income from illegal rackets. In return Breen, an ex-cop and ex-con who was on permanent psychiatric disability from the government, served as an informant. The FBI's relationship with Breen could be seen as a deal with the devil, but it was also extremely effective. Breen, who died in 1992, had an uncanny knack for getting inside criminal organizations and helped to crack numerous cases and jail hundreds of criminals.
Breen was Sullivan's undercover partner in a case dubbed "Shockwave." Its chief target was Anthony Accetturo, a New Jersey Mob boss then living in Broward County. FBI agents testified during the Sullivan hearings that the bureau believed a restaurateur named Giulio Santillo owed $1 million in gambling debts to Accetturo. The FBI planned to use Santillo to get to Accetturo.
Breen quickly infiltrated Santillo's D.C. restaurants, while Sullivan, posing as a cocaine dealer, was assigned to Tiberio, a Santillo-owned restaurant in Miami. Breen found Sullivan to be an "amiable, hard-bitten Irishman," according to the book The Insider, on which Breen collaborated with author Donald Goddard. Breen introduced Sullivan to a Santillo associate named Valentino Mordini, who also "took an immediate shine to [Sullivan]."
Sullivan, who grew a beard and let his hair grow long, was also introduced to Dario Mistri, a restaurant owner and alleged bookie. According to the FBI, Sullivan began buying small amounts of cocaine from Mistri and Mordini, transactions which were recorded in the case file. The agent also worked at Dario's restaurant and helped run the bookmaking operation. Sullivan was quite successful in "tunneling into the Italian network," Goddard wrote.
"Mordini was now begging Billy and Sullivan to take any quantity of uncut cocaine they wanted," according to the authors. "As much as 500 kilos was mentioned -- with no money up front. [Mordini's] principal source was [Medellin cocaine cartel kingpin] Carlos Lehder Rivas."
While Sullivan seemed to be adept at undercover work, he states he was drinking up to 35 beers a night at the time, and, in addition to taking bets, he was making hundreds of dollars in bets of his own on ball games. He said he bet both his own money and the FBI's money, but records show he was never officially authorized by the FBI to make bets during Shockwave.
"This was my early exposure to gambling," Sullivan told Ryan, adding that he enjoyed the thrill of it. "These guys bet on anything and everything. My drinking also expanded, as I was always out at night and hanging out at all the wrong places for me."
He told psychologist Harley Stock, who testified for the prosecution, that one reason he gambled was that it would be "peculiar" to the crooks he was befriending if he didn't.
The introverted, obedient Sullivan was now a party man.
"All he was interested in was drinking and going out and dancing," says Mordini, who now runs an upscale restaurant in Tampa called Donatello's. "He was drinking like a fish. This guy is one after another. He played big shot with Billy Breen."
Former FBI agent Gregg McCrary, now a consultant hired by Sullivan's attorneys as an expert on the bureau, says he too spent a lot of time in bars undercover.
"It seemed like I was a different person," he recalls. "I'm convinced I don't have the predisposed genetic structure to be an alcoholic, or I would be one after that."
McCrary says the FBI has "pockets" of alcoholism, and it seems Sullivan was in one of those during the Shockwave case. Sullivan told his psychologists that he met his contact agent at a bar where they drank heavily together. One of the contact agent's most important duties, meanwhile, was to make sure his undercover agent wasn't drinking too much. Mallett says that the contact agent on the case never exhibited signs of alcoholism. If they drank together during meetings on the case, it was wrong and shouldn't have happened, he says.
Sullivan recalled one standard "counseling" session during the undercover operation, which involved two other agents and occurred over Heinekens. The two other agents now deny that any alcohol was present during the meeting, says Special Agent Brian Jerome, who investigated Sullivan.
As the drinking increased, so did Sullivan's conflicts between his two families, the Mafia and the FBI. He personally came to like Mordini and Mistri, did consider them friends, and feared he was entrapping and betraying them. It's called overidentification with targets, and it's a common malady for undercover agents.
"You don't do anything but hang out with these guys," McCrary says. "You get twisted."
At times Sullivan had a "loss of identity, forgetting who he was," psychiatrist Richard Seely testified for the defense, saying Sullivan "was caught, in my estimation, between two families that he idealized in different ways."
Sullivan met Accetturo only once, at the Mob boss' birthday party at Tiberio. Sullivan's testimony about the meeting during an unrelated 1998 trial in New Jersey was captured in a book entitled The Boys From New Jersey, by Robert Rudolph. Sullivan told the jury that he kissed Accetturo's hand out of respect. On cross-examination, Accetturo's lawyer asked Sullivan to demonstrate the kiss, which gave the proceedings a humorous twist. Sullivan, playing the part of Accetturo, "resembled that of a royal princess waiting to be acknowledged," wrote Rudolph. It was humiliating for Sullivan, as the scene was "less like a scene from The Godfather, and more like an episode of The Three Stooges Meet the Mafia," Rudolph surmised.
Seely testified that the Shockwave case drove Sullivan into serious mental illness:
"Here he had no supervising entity and probably, as he first began with [Mordini and Mistri], felt that he could join them easily because he was an alcoholic at that point and this assignment involved drinking.... He was enabled to become a pathological gambler. But most importantly, his obsessive-compulsive traits evolved at that point into a borderline personality disorder."
That disorder is marked by instability of character, dramatic shifts in perception of others, impulsivity, paranoia, and a frantic fear of abandonment. But if Sullivan was unstable, nobody at the FBI seemed to notice.
The FBI did know, however, about the psychological dangers of undercover work. McCrary testified that a 1978 FBI report "said that undercover had sort of a corrosive effect on the values of agents... that there may be some agents who are more vulnerable to this and that it needed to be looked at more carefully, because if we put the wrong agents in an unsuitable role, it seemed to be that there is a high probability that we would have personal and professional tragedy."
Yet in 1984 the FBI still had no comprehensive program set up to help agents cope with undercover work. The FBI now has what is called an Undercover Safeguard Unit, and agents today are sent to Quantico for evaluation by professionals and require certification to begin such work.
"Undercover work is a total mind-fuck -- you get crazy as a loon," says former FBI agent John Hanlon, who now prosecutes public-corruption cases in Broward County. Hanlon says he's seen undercover agents not only go crazy but also become corrupt. Sullivan, whom he knew and liked, is another name on the list.
"It's very tense, very, very tense work," he says. "You're all by yourself. The whole case depends on you. At any time you can be discovered, and that is dangerous."
Shockwave, according to Breen, became extremely dangerous. Breen's book -- which Sullivan says is accurate -- tells the story of how the FBI, through lack of communication and questionable decisions, nearly got Sullivan killed.
First the FBI refused to finance a large cocaine buy -- even though Sullivan's assigned role was as a cocaine dealer.
"With the Bureau unwilling to finance a major buy and the undercover operation still turning up new targets, all Breen and Sullivan could do was stall, although this made an already difficult and dangerous game a little short of suicidal," Goddard wrote.
Then the Washington office, after a falling-out with Breen, suddenly pulled the plug on Breen's FBI phone line, which forwarded his calls and helped maintain his cover. So when mobsters called his line, he'd suddenly disappeared. With the phone line gone, Goddard wrote that Breen's "cover story was as good as blown. So was Jerry Sullivan's -- and he was lucky to survive." According to Breen the Washington office never notified Fort Lauderdale that the line had been disconnected. Instead Sullivan found out something was wrong from Richard Del Gaudio -- a reputed mobster and alleged enforcer for Accetturo. Del Gaudio, according to Breen, poked his finger into Sullivan's chest and said, "Asshole, you'll take us up to D.C. and we'll fix Breen's head."
"Sullivan managed to fob Del Gaudio off, but it was all over," Goddard wrote. "In the middle of a brilliantly daring undercover run, he and Billy had been brought down by a twitch of petulance in Washington -- and without an arrest to show for it."
Both Mordini and Mistri, who say the FBI's allegations against them are untrue, were later convicted of minor gambling charges in an unrelated state investigation. Santillo, who also maintains his innocence and says he never bet with Accetturo, is now retired on Miami Beach. He was never charged with a crime and says that the FBI "exaggerates everything. They turn a dollar into a million dollars and small talk into big talk."
The FBI's Mallett says virtually the same thing about Breen, eventually deeming him "out of control" and forbidding him to work with the FBI. Breen obviously embellished the facts of the investigation to sell books, Mallett says, adding that Sullivan was never in any real danger and that if he had been, he never documented the threatening meeting he had with Del Gaudio, who was charged two years ago in the 1984 killing of a federal informant and is awaiting trial.
Having to deal with men like Del Gaudio took its toll on the unstable Sullivan, his psychologist testified. He was deeply paranoid and had dreams of killers stalking him. One psychiatrist, Richard Seely, testified that Sullivan even developed posttraumatic stress disorder from his time undercover.
The agent wouldn't go undercover for another nine years, but it didn't keep him from cracking up, especially after a friend of his was killed when a residential street in Dade County suddenly turned into a deadly battle zone.
On April 11, 1986, two FBI agents were killed, five were injured, and two bank robbers fatally shot during a gun battle near Sunniland Shopping Center in Dade County. It was one of the bloodiest days in FBI history. Agent Ben Grogan, one of those gunned down, was a good friend of Sullivan, who was transferred to the Miami office after Shockwave. Hanlon was one of the injured: He was shot several times and helplessly watched Grogan die.
Sullivan wasn't there when Grogan died. He didn't hear the gunshots, much less feel them ripping through his skin. But the killing of 53-year-old Grogan had a terrible impact on him. Reminiscent of his crying spells as a youth, Sullivan got into a habit of getting drunk at home until he began crying about Grogan. Then he'd get into his car in his closed garage and repeatedly play an audiotape of a telephone call then-President Reagan made to Grogan's wife. Sullivan also taped a television movie based on the shootout and, in a state of depression, watched it over and over again before his wife finally threw the tape away. At about this time, his brother nicknamed him "One More," because he never seemed to stop drinking.
Finally, in 1992, Catherine called Michael Smith, her husband's FBI supervisor and close friend, and told him Sullivan was an alcoholic and desperately needed help. Sullivan was placed in a rehabilitation program and stopped drinking. His new compulsion was FBI work.
"I went back to work and busted my ass and eventually received exceptional performance ratings," Sullivan told Ryan. "They told me I was working too hard."
A year after he returned from rehab, an informant told Sullivan about a bookmaking group in Hallandale that he said also ran rackets involving corrupt police and drug trafficking in Chicago and the Dominican Republic. The informant told Sullivan that the group, allegedly led by Gambino crime-family associate Auggie Corrao, was betting with Illinois congressman Dan Rostenkowski.
Sullivan did something he never should have done, something his supervisor, Smith, knew was dangerous and never authorized -- yet, curiously, didn't stop.
Sullivan went undercover again.
"Following Sullivan's intervention for alcohol abuse in '92, and the fact that Smith and Sullivan have known each other for quite some time, it was Smith's intent as a supervisor not to allow Jerry to participate in undercover activity," testified Agent Alexis Vazquez, who investigated Sullivan after the arrest. "... It was my understanding from our interview of Smith that he was basically admonishing Sullivan from participating in undercover activity."
The FBI has a policy that forbids alcoholics to do undercover work, but Sullivan pushed on in the investigation anyway, continuing unimpeded in his undercover role, as he played the part of "Jerry Cunningham," a "two-bit thief." And he was allowed to do so virtually without supervision. He started gambling, and "I knew right away that I was hooked," Sullivan told Ryan. "I wasn't drinking, but I was getting the same type of euphoria from betting sports."
In April 1994 he requested $1000 in FBI funds to gamble with two Mob associates. Smith, despite his supposed concerns, approved it. Had someone been monitoring Sullivan's investigation, the fiasco that culminated in Sullivan's arrest might have been avoided entirely. Sullivan was sloppy -- his own undercover recordings with bookies showed that he was making bets long before he requested official permission to gamble. But nobody at the FBI ever listened to his tapes. Supervisors never made Sullivan transcribe them, although doing so was one of his duties.
"There is a high likelihood that someone would find out that Jerry Sullivan had been gambling before he was authorized to do so, right?" Sullivan attorney Mark Schnapp asked Vazquez in court.
"If those tapes had been reviewed, yes."
"Now, wouldn't Mr. Smith, who was so concerned about Agent Sullivan being in an undercover capacity at all, wouldn't he have listened to the tapes?"
The FBI's Brian Jerome says Sullivan largely did his uncover on his own -- without permission or knowledge of Smith or the rest of the FBI. But neither he nor anyone else at the FBI can adequately explain why, then, Smith had approved the gambling. Sullivan says that the undercover work he did on the Corrao case was known and approved by his supervisors.
Ryan, the psychologist, wrote in court reports that the FBI should have been monitoring Sullivan much more closely after his alcoholism was made known. Psychologists who deal with addicts know that they often trade one addiction for another, and the lack of followup for Sullivan constituted a "vast deficit in the procedures," Ryan wrote.
The Corrao case was closed in June 1994 after Rostenkowski was indicted on unrelated federal charges. Like Shockwave it ended with no arrest. The drug dealing and police corruption weren't fully investigated. Vazquez said a review of the case showed Sullivan put only "minimal effort" into it. Again, the FBI says, Sullivan had done a lousy job on an investigation. But it didn't keep him from getting another "exceptional" rating or from getting promoted, on April 16, 1995, to supervisor of the task force called HIDTA, the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Investigative funds were put under his control, and he got his own safe for the money. Suddenly the rabid gambler had access to hundreds of thousands of federal dollars.
The details of Sullivan's gambling and ensuing crimes come through the court file in bits and pieces. One thing is clear: He was betting, and stealing, at a wild pace once he became a supervisor.
According to FBI reports, his gambling quickly led him to fall $100,000 in the hole. His life was threatened and, apparently because Sullivan believed the Mob would think twice before killing a federal agent, he admitted to his bookie that he was with the FBI. The Lucchese crime family at some point had a meeting about Sullivan in New York, Sullivan told the FBI, and it was decided that Sullivan would pay $400 a week on the debts.
Sullivan installed a separate phone line in his house so he could bet offshore with 900-number lines. He ran up as much as $4000 a month in phone bills just to make his bets. Wagering hundreds of dollars every night, he also bet thousands on the Florida Lottery.
"I knew I was losing.... I always thought I could win it back," Sullivan told psychologists. "I didn't feel I did anything wrong because I planned to put the money back."
His first major theft of FBI money occurred while he was supervising a major investigation called "Cali Watch," which involved the infamous cocaine cartel. Instead of using $200,000 in money from the FBI headquarters in D.C. for the investigation, Sullivan put the cash -- in tens and twenties -- in his safe and was soon skimming from it as needed for his gambling and debts. Cali Watch, meanwhile, ended, and Washington asked repeatedly for the money. Sullivan, meanwhile, kept coming up with excuses to delay it, and he was successful in those postponements for more than a year. He managed to keep an FBI auditor named Peter Gordon at bay with various excuses. Another agent also got curious about the money, but Sullivan would "always tell him the money was there and that there was no need to count the funds," according to FBI reports.
"All his excuses were plausible," Mallett asserts.
Sullivan also stole another $100,000 in cash that was obtained from an informant, who'd gotten the money from a cocaine-trafficking ring that needed its money laundered. The FBI didn't know that money was stolen until after the investigation ended.
On August 12, 1996, Sullivan was given the job of supervising the organized crime squad. By that time only $60,000 was left of the $200,000. Sullivan told investigators that he simply put the cash in a blue bag when nobody was around and took it with him to his new office.
Seventeen days after his transfer to organized crime, agents seized the nearly $130,000 from Corozzo's safe in Deerfield Beach. The cash went into Sullivan's safe and was soon going to pay for bets and debts. Sullivan lied repeatedly during the next nine months about the money, once telling an inquiring agent that he'd put the money in a safe controlled by the head of the Miami office. After getting caught in a lie on May 15, 1997, Sullivan promised his superiors that he'd enter the money into evidence "as soon as possible."
Just five days later, Sullivan told a federal judge that Danny Laratro, who was serving a five-year prison term for his role in a Mob-related marijuana-smuggling scheme, was giving him information on mobsters infiltrating the garbage-hauling business in South Florida.
Based on Sullivan's testimony, Judge Stanley Marcus shaved 20 months off Laratro's sentence. Sullivan was lying again.
Laratro didn't pass along any information. Sullivan had gotten it from another agent. Sullivan did Laratro, a wealthy garbage hauler, the favor in hopes that Laratro would reward him with money.
Sullivan's involvement with Laratro provides a glimpse into his work with his other "family." During the late '80s, Sullivan used to visit Danny Laratro's father, Lucchese crime family capo Joseph "Joey Narrows" Laratro, in the family's $500,000 Hallandale home.
Sullivan, who was apparently trying to pry information from Joseph Laratro for cases, called the meetings "updates," says Joey Laratro, son of Danny, grandson of Joey Narrows. "He'd come and knock on the door, and they'd just talk about things."
The grandson said the fallen FBI agent still has a good name in the Laratro household. Joey Narrows used to tell relatives: "If this guy [Sullivan] ever comes to the house to arrest me, don't get mad at him. He's a good man. He's a class act. He's just doing his job."
Sullivan's job was about to end. Around the time he sprang Laratro, he also entered the remaining Corozzo money in evidence, just $30,064 of the original $129,324. On May 30, Sullivan was called into Sanchez's office, prompting Sullivan's solitary drive to Marco Island, and the long and terrible marriage between Sullivan and the FBI was finally over.
Paul Mallett sits in his office in the FBI building, along with Miami FBI chief Hector Pesquera, special agents Brian Jerome and Mike Fabregas, and an FBI lawyer. They've come together -- for the first time publicly -- to try to explain their side of what Mallett calls the "Sullivan betrayal." It just so happens that the morning they came together, last Friday, was the very morning Sullivan turned himself in to U.S. Marshals and was transported to Georgia to serve his time.
Mallett, a gray-haired FBI long-timer, says he's been criticized by FBI higher-ups about his own role in the Sullivan affair but declines to get specific about it. He says numerous FBI agents have been criticized or disciplined for their shortcomings in regard to Sullivan. He won't say specifically whether or not Smith was punished.
The Sullivan case has, in fact, led to numerous nationwide policy changes in the FBI. Accounting policies have become more stringent, Mallett says. "The procedures were flawed," he acknowledges. "Changes have been made.... We now do our financial dealings with a degree of thoroughness we didn't have before."
Sullivan is simply a criminal to him now. He says he believes that the former agent did have psychological problems but doesn't excuse him and is angry that Sullivan didn't just admit "that he's a dumb shit, and say, 'I lied and I stole and now I have to pay for it.'"
Mallett points out that Sullivan never complained about undercover work and that nobody forced him to go undercover in the first place. The former agent McCrary, however, says FBI agents, no matter how bad the circumstances, rarely ever complain. Agents "have a tendency to want to project a certain image of being sort of invulnerable to the normal stresses," he says. To protect that perception, they develop "image armor" that keeps agents from from asking for help. They act as if they are impervious to human frailties.
Mallett says it was a human trait that was the FBI's greatest weakness in the Sullivan case: too much trust. They depended on Jerry Sullivan, and now they're paying for it. "He's tarnished every badge in this building," he says.
But isn't saying there was too much trust just a euphemism for the fact that there was a breakdown in supervision? Mallett concedes that there's not much difference between the two. It's the final admission of the day. Mallett and the others have image armor, too.
And they may need to keep it on for a while. Sullivan told his psychologist that he's thinking of writing a book about all the "illegal activities" he saw as an agent. And he's not talking about his own or the mobsters'. He's talking about the FBI's. And he has five years in front of him with nothing else to do.
Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com
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