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Archive for June, 2021

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 ticklethewire.com 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 ticklethewire.com 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 ticklethewire.com 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 ticklethewire.com 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.”

Rep. Gaetz Tweets That FBI Should Be Defunded While Bureau Investigates Him

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida.

By Steve Neavling

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is being investigated by the FBI over sex trafficking allegations, suggested in a tweet Wednesday that the bureau should be defunded. 

The Florida Republican then deleted the tweet a minute later.  

“If Democrats want to defund the police, they should start with the FBI,” Gaetz wrote.

The tweet was preserved by ProPublica’s Politwoops.

A Gaetz spokesman told Vice that the congressman “felt it appropriate to remove a jocular tweet taken from a speech some time ago.”

The FBI is investigating whether Gaetz paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated federal sex trafficking laws.

Gaetz also criticized the FBI last week, baselessly claiming that “FBI operatives organized and participated in the January 6th Capitol riot.”

Biden Administration Forces Out Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott

Rodney Scott, chief of U.S. Border Patrol.

By Steve Neavling

The Biden administration pushed out Rodney S. Scott, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, after less than two years on the job. 

Scott, a 29-year veteran who enthusiastically supported former President Trump’s hardline policies and border wall, will be replaced on an interim basis with his deputy, Paul Ortiz, The Washington Post reports

Scott was notified in a letter that he could resign, retire or relocate. He has not made an official announcement about his next move.

Scott joined Border Patrol in 1992, serving at the Imperial Beach Station in San Diego, Calif. During his career, he’s held various leadership positions, including chief patrol agent of the El Centro Sector, deputy chief patrol agent at San Diego Sector, patrol agent in charge at the Brown Field Station in San Diego Sector, assistant chief in CBP’s Office of Anti-Terrorism in Washington, D.C., and director/division chief for the Incident Management and Operations Coordination Division at CBP headquarters.

Scott’s departure comes on the heels of a record number of migrants trying to cross the border. 

Ronald Vitiello, former Border Patrol chief, said the change in leadership is likely to cause consternation among border officials and agents. 

“Unfortunately, Border Patrol will go through yet another period guessing who the leadership team will be,” Vitiello said. “That’s unfortunate, and a distraction that’s unnecessary at this time.”

Biden nominated Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Nearly 900 Secret Service Agents Infected with COVID-19 in First Year of Pandemic

By Steve Neavling

Nearly 900 Secret Service employees tested positive for the coronavirus in the first year of the pandemic, representing 11% of the workforce, according to records obtained by a government watchdog group. 

Between March 1, 2020, and March, 9, 2021, 881 active Secret Service employees were infected with COVID-19, far more than previously known, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) revealed.

The list of employees who tested positive were 477 special agents, 249 members of the Uniformed Division, 131 working in administrative, professional and technical positions, 12 investigative protection officers, and 12 technical security investigators. 

More than half of those infected worked in the special agent division, which is tasked with protecting the president, vice president and their families.

President Trump’s administration downplayed the pandemic. When Trump was infected with COVID-19, he was criticized for putting Secret Service agents at risk during a drive in his presidential vehicle to wave at cameras. 

It’s unclear how many infections were the result of the administration’s actions – or lack of actions. 

“Maintaining the health and welfare of its dedicated workforce is a top priority for the Secret Service,” the Secret Service said in a statement to CNN. “The agency also secured the CDC- recommended PPE including masks, shields, gloves, and other equipment and ensured it was distributed to employees around the world.”

Retired FBI Agent Revisits Arrest of ‘Whitey’ Bulger on 10th Anniversary of His Arrest

James “Whitey” Bulger. Photo: The Boston Police Department.

By Steve Neavling

Retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Rich Teahan will never forget the day James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested. 

As head of the Bulger Fugitive Task Force, Teahan spent years trying to track down the notorious Boston mobster, who was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for his alleged involvement in 19 murders. 

”I know it sounds corny. I just jumped in the air. Finally we got this guy and we did it our own way,” Teahan told Boston 25 News for a segment that ran Tuesday, the 10th anniversary of Bulger’s arrest. 

Bulger was captured after Teahan’s task force created a publicity campaign that focused not only Bulger, but his girlfriend Catherine Greig. 

Bulger and Greig were arrested at a California apartment following a tip. 

”The tip basically said, ‘The people living at the Princess Eugenia Apartments, in Unit 303, Charlie and Carol Gasko, are actually Jim Bulger and Catherine Greig,” Teahan said.

Bulger was eventually sentenced to two life sentences before he was beat to death inside his prison cell in 2018. 

CBP Seizes 85 Counterfeit Guitars Worth More Than $250,000

Counterfeit guitars seized by CBP. Photo: CBP.

By Steve Neavling

At first sight, it was an impressive collection of guitars. 

But a closer look revealed that the 85 guitars, including a Les Paul purportedly autographed by Slash from Guns N’ Roses, were clever counterfeits. 

The shipment from China was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Washington Dulles International Airport earlier this month, the agency announced Monday.  

Experts at CBP’s Centers of Excellence and Expertise worked with trademark holders to confirm the guitars were fakes. 

The collection included 72 Gibsons, along with models from CF Martin, Fender, Kramer and Taylor. Some bore counterfeited autographs from other renowned guitars such as Les Paul and AC/DC’s Angus Young. 

If the guitars were authentic, they would have had a manufacturer’s retail price of more than $250,000.  

It was the second significant seizure of counterfeit guitars at Dulles Airport this year. 

If not detected, the guitars would have gone to 31 states. 

“The international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods threatens the competitiveness of American businesses and the livelihoods of U.S. workers while funding criminal activity,”  Keith Fleming, CBP’s acting director of field operations in Baltimore, said in a news release. “More importantly, counterfeit goods pose a serious health and safety risk to American consumers. Customs and Border Protection, along with our law enforcement and consumer safety partners, remain committed to making it difficult and costly for unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of unsuspecting American consumers.”

CBP seized an average of $3.6 million worth of counterfeit products per day last year. 

Brian T. Gilhooly Named Special Agent in Charge of Mission Services Branch of FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office

Los Angeles Field Office, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

Brian T. Gilhooly has been appointed special agent in charge of the Mission Services Branch of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. 

Gilhooly, who most recently served as a deputy assistant director in the Counterterrorism Division at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., joined the FBI as a special agent in 2002. He worked worked in the San Francisco Field Office and served on the Safe Street Violent Gang Task Force and the SWAT Team. 

In 2009, Gilhooly became supervisory special agent in the Safe Streets Gang Unit in the Criminal Investigative Division at headquarters, serving as a program manager for the western region. 

In 2011, Gilhooly joined the San Diego Field Office and served as a field supervisor on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In 2016, he was promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the San Diego Intelligence Branch, which included the intelligence programs, as well as foreign language, IT, security, and other programs.  

In 2018, Gilhooly was promoted to section chief in the Counterterrorism Division. His section focused on the overseas terrorism threat, including prevention, investigation, and response to terrorism threats worldwide. It also included the Counterterrorism Fly Team and the Military Commissions Prosecution Unit. 

In 2019, Gilhooly was named deputy assistant director of the Counterterrorism Operations Branch in the Counterterrorism Division.   

Gilhooly received a bachelor’s degree in oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy.  He also served as a Navy SEAL officer in the Middle East and Pacific.  

Black Secret Service Agent Told Trump It Was ‘Offensive’ to Hold Rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth

President Trump at Indiana rally.

By Steve Neavling

A Black Secret Service agent called out former President Trump for scheduling a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth last year. 

The exchange was detailed in an upcoming book from Michael C. Bender, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Politico reports.

Theagent told Trump that it was “offensive” to hold a political rally on the holiday, which commemorates the day when slaves in Texas learned about the end of slavery.  

According to the book, Trump asked the agent about Juneteenth. 

“Yes, I know what it is,” the agent told Trump.

Later that day, Trump announced on Twitter that he was changing the date of the rally.