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June 2021


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Agents Accuse Ex-FBI Executive Frank Figliuzzi of Fabricating Passage in His Book

By Allan Lengel

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence for the FBI, has made quite a name for himself since leaving the bureau. He is the go-to talking head for NBC and MSNBC on national security matters and in January his book “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence” was published.

The book’s overriding theme: The FBI adheres to the highest standards of integrity and ethics.

Given that endorsement, it’s notable that current and former FBI agents interviewed by are questioning Figliuzzi’s integrity, publicly saying that a passage in his book is a complete fabrication — possibly intended to whitewash a controversial decision Figliuzzi made 22 years ago ordering two agents to be strip-searched because the boxes they were transporting with millions of dollars in seized Miami drug money weren’t sealed according to FBI standards.

The strip-search turned up nothing, not one bill. But Figliuzzi and his boss subsequently were investigated by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for alleged misconduct because they authorized a rare and demeaning strip. Though Figliuzzi wasn’t charged with wrongdoing, the decision was forever known in the bureau as “Stripgate.”

Figliuzzi’s truthfulness is especially relevant these days as he’s publicly attacked Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, accusing the host of either being ignorant or intentionally deceiving the public when he suggested the FBI might have played a role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He also has a podcast, “The Bureau with Frank Figliuzzi,” that is promoted as “exploring the intersection of leadership, values and security.”

Figliuzzi, 58, in his book describes an incident involving FBI agent Stephen Lawrence in 1999 without mentioning his name. Figliuzzi was an assistant special agent in charge in Miami and 36 at the time. Lawrence was a 33-year-old agent.

Figliuzzi notes that Lawrence was guarding millions of dollars in seized drug money in the back of a Brink’s armored truck, and took cash out of boxes, threw it in the air and was “making it rain.”

Alleging in his book that the money was all scattered, Figliuzzi stated that he wanted to make certain Lawrence didn’t pocket any money. So, he pushed for the strip-search to protect the integrity of the raid and investigation.

Lawrence calls Figliuzzi’s account “a complete lie,” insisting the money remained intact in the boxes and was never thrown around.

“He fabricated that part about ‘making it rain’ to justify 22 years later his decision to order a strip search. He realized he made a poor decision but didn’t want it reflected in the book.”

Demanding Action

Lawrence is demanding the publisher correct or a delete the passage. That’s all he wants, though he said he hasn’t ruled out legal action if the matter isn’t corrected.

“I simply want the truth known – not only about me, but more importantly, that special agents of the FBI do not conduct themselves as portrayed by Figliuzzi,” Lawrence says. “Though I’m not mentioned by name, several hundred current and retired FBI employees know I was the agent in the back of the armored truck.”

Two eyewitnesses – one retired FBI agent and one still working for the bureau  – tell that Figliuizzi’s account is fabricated.  His boss at the time, who did not witness the incident, said it would have been so out of character for Lawrence to throw the money around, and  he’s confident it didn’t happen.

One of the eyewitnesses is Brian Jerome, a former FBI agent who was a SWAT team leader who stood outside the truck door when it opened with Lawrence inside.

“I can tell you explicitly, there was no ‘making it rain,’” he said. “There were just boxes, that when we left, we made sure the boxes were as secure as we could make them. If somebody had opened them, we would have known. There was nothing happening to the boxes.”   

Figliuzzi’s Response

When asked to comment, Figliuzzi, who retired from the FBI in 2012, referred to the letter from Lawrence’s attorney and the response letter from the publisher’s lawyer.

But the publisher’s letter raises some untruths.

For example, the letter states that, according to Figliuzzi, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) file contains sworn statements from FBI agents who say they “saw your client and another agent handling the cash.” A current and former agent told they gave statements to OPR backing up Lawrence’s version, and were never asked about money flying around. Also, the second agent, who Figliuzzi refers to — who was also strip- searched — was in the front passenger seat of the Brink’s truck, not in the back with the money, as he states.

Figliuzzi has a podcast called “The Bureau with Frank Figliuzzi”

Beth Neelman Silfin, vice president, deputy counsel for HarperCollins, has offered to remove the phrase “making it rain” in ebooks and future printings to avoid “time consuming, expensive and frivolous litigation.” But she insisted in a March 5 letter to Lawrence’s attorney that the description of the incident is true and her offer to remove the phrase “making it rain” was not to be misconstrued as “an admission of wrongdoing by HarperCollins or Mr. Figliuizzi.” 

NBC News did not respond to an email on Wednesday for comment.

Hot August Day 

It all began on a hot August day in 1999. FBI agents raided a home in Miami as part of an obstruction of justice probe into a violent Cuban-American drug smuggling empire that was suspected of jury tampering, bribery and murdering witnesses.  Agents were also executing search warrants and making arrests in other areas of Miami-Dade that day as part of the probe.

At the one home in Miami,  Lawrence, who had been with the bureau for three years, climbed a ladder and crawled into the attic where he came across about nine boxes, some covered in Christmas wrapping. He opened them, only to discover about $9 million in cash.

He notified the search team leader and the boxes were removed to a hallway in the house. The FBI Miami Field Office then dispatched a Brink’s armored truck to transport the cash.

To maintain a chain of custody, Lawrence hopped in the back of the truck with the boxes of money, along with an armored truck guard. There was no air conditioning in the back, Lawrence recalled, and it was extremely hot. In front, an armored truck guard drove, and an FBI agent sat in the passenger seat.

After about a half hour drive, they pulled up to the Miami Field Office at 16320 N.W. 2nd Ave. in North Miami Beach. Lawrence says the guard he was with, slipped out a side door while he remained with the money. A few minutes later, the back door finally opened, with FBI agents, including Figluizzi, standing nearby.  The money was intact in the boxes, and none had spilled over, he said.

So, he says he was shocked and upset when he first read a book review in the Washington Post that mentioned “making it rain,” and then the actual passage in Figliuzzi’s book:

Inside the back of the truck on this sweltering sauna of a Miami day, were two very proud and perspiring agents who had just found the most money they had ever seen in their relatively young lives. In fact, they were so happy and eager to show their bosses the fruits of their labor that they were “making it rain” inside that truck. Loose bills were cascading from the agent’s hands in a shower onto the floor of the vehicle.

“Everything was still closed,” Lawrence said of the boxes. “Everything was in the same condition they were in when they were loaded into the back of the truck.”

Agents said Figliuzzi ordered the strip search because he was bothered by the improper sealing of the boxes.  The securing of the boxes was the responsibility of supervisors, not Lawrence, they say.

Lawrence’s Lawyer Writes HarperCollins

Lawrence’s attorney, Neville L. Johnson of Beverly Hills, wrote a letter dated Feb. 17 to HarperCollins demanding a retraction. He also noted that the strip search “performed at the behest of Mr. Figliuzzi violated FBI policy. Mr. Lawrence was not provided with a standard FBI ‘consent to search form,’ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not notified, as required by FBI’s legal manual. He was not patted down nor asked to turn out his pockets, but rather he and his fellow agent (who was in the passenger seat of the truck) were taken into a gym locker room and instructed to take off all their clothes in front of two other agents and two supervisors.”

“It was humiliating,” says Lawrence. “I’m a third-year agent having to strip in front of two supervisors and two other agents, who I saw in the office on a regular basis.”

Besides the former agent Jerome, who says no money was thrown in the air, another agent currently with the bureau also backed up Lawrence’s version of the incident.

The agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells he helped escort the armored truck back to the field office, and was standing in the back when the rear door opened.

“I remember it being God-awful hot. We’re standing around with the door still shut. And we open the door. There was no money on the floor. He wasn’t playing with it. It just didn’t happen. He was relieved to get out because it was too hot.”

‘No Mishandling’

A third agent, Mario Tariche, who still works in the Miami Field Office, was the case agent in the investigation. On that day, he said, he was in the command post in the Miami FBI Field Office helping coordinate multiple arrests and search warrants in the  Miami-Dade area.

While he was not behind the truck when the door opened, he came out of the office later and saw the vehicle.  

“There was no mishandling of the money,” he says. “The only thing that was done incorrectly was, the agents didn’t seal the boxes properly. That had nothing to do with Lawrence. They just told him to jump in the back of the truck.”

As the case agent, he said, he would have been notified if Lawrence had done something improper with the money. “It would have been a big deal if the money had been mishandled improperly, which it was not.”

Ross Gaffney, Lawrence’s supervisor in Miami in 1999, did not witness the incident in question, but said Figliuzzi’s version of “making it rain” doesn’t make any sense.

“This idea of (Lawrence) childishly throwing money up in the air is so out of character from what I knew of him working with me. It makes it all the more not believable the incident occurred.”

Lawrence said the whole experience has been distressing.

“I’ve been fighting for six months to get the truth out. After a 25-year career in the bureau, for him to disparage my reputation and try to cast agents in that light is simply offensive and unconscionable, especially for a retired executive of the FBI.”

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