Agent of Deception

Jerry Sullivan's descent into gambling, alcoholism, and crime began and ended with the FBI.

"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. After his 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 last November 23, giving him near the maximum sentence and ordering repayment of $190,500. Gold obviously wasn't swayed by Sullivan's attorney's argument that the agent had committed his crimes because he was mentally ill.

In hearings prior to 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, were 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," 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 stole the $400,000. Trained FBI agents failed to see the indications. Even when they noticed these hints, the agents failed to act.

Standing in his yard on that Sunday, Sullivan 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."

The job of keeping him on that line was once attended to by a Plantation police chief who also happened to be his domineering father. Sullivan, whose family moved to South Florida from Massachusetts when he was six years old, worshipped 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," professed 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."

Even as a child Sullivan was obsessive-compulsive. 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 an 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. He recorded some of the film's scenes and its 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," declared Catherine Sullivan, whom he met at the bureau, where she worked as a typist.

Sullivan earned a criminology degree from Nova University, completed FBI training in Quantico, Virginia, and then 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 some type of emotionally stable profile to successfully carry 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."

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