Agent of Deception
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 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. Federal Bureau of Investigation rules dictate that confiscated money must be processed into evidence within ten days of 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.
Fellow agents had repeatedly asked Sullivan, a 25-year FBI veteran who ran the organized crime unit, to produce the money. Over and over, he lied. Sanchez finally had enough of the subterfuge and made his demand. No problem, Sullivan replied. All he needed was an hour.
Sullivan went to his office for a moment before slipping out and driving his government-issue 1990 white Lincoln Town Car north to his Plantation home. He tossed some clothes, a hair dryer, a toothbrush, and toothpaste into a bag, and wrote a note telling his wife, Catherine, that he loved her. Then he drove off. 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. Fearing Sullivan was going to kill himself, they began an intensive FBI manhunt.
Sullivan 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. He'd become an expert while working undercover for the FBI. That night he downed a case of beer and a few vodka tonics, then 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. Agents arrested Sullivan while he was out buying more booze, then grilled him in his room. The agents smelled the alcohol, 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 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. A judge sent him to 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 nineteen agents spent months sifting through every case he ever worked, every surveillance tape he ever made, every covertly recorded discussion he had held with organized-crime figures, every report and memo he had ever submitted. The massive investigation was appropriately titled "Operation Lost Count."
Psychologists evaluated Sullivan's mental condition and found him to be an alcoholic; a pathological gambler; a man stricken with obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a number of other mental problems. The bureau apparently failed to discover these problems as Sullivan rose through the ranks and conducted countless sensitive investigations.
The unforgiving light of Lost Count reflected on the bureau. Suddenly 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.
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 would 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. 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 fall at any time. 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. 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."
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 a language school in Monterey to study Italian. Soon, he'd be watching and listening to 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: "I was the youngest guy on the squad of about fourteen 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 remember the Fort Lauderdale office, which was shut down in 1987, as a "country club" for agents. He said "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.
Former agent John Hanlon, who worked in the FBI's Fort Lauderdale office in the early 1980s, terms Sullivan's assessment of the operation substantially correct. It wasn't known for its productivity.
While Sullivan worked in South Florida, FBI agents in New York and New Jersey were slowly piecing together information about a massive heroin ring run out of Italian restaurants. Investigators learned 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 FBI director, and current New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
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, 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. The language school failed to account for Sicilian dialects and accents. During Sullivan's recent sentencing hearings, the FBI conceded that none of the Monterey graduates could translate Sicilian. The FBI had to rely on just two men, both native Sicilians, to decipher thousands of conversations.
Sullivan told psychologists he feared his inability to translate might cause him to miss something on the tapes that would endanger other agents. And there were more problems. He couldn't screen out irrelevant parts of conversations. Nor did he know when to turn off the recorder to avoid recording subjects' conferences with their attorneys: Listening to such talks constitutes a civil rights violation. Sullivan and other monitors simply taped everything.
"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 gold bricks, graduated from a failed language program, and, during a historic FBI case, participated in haphazard and possibly illegal wiretapping procedures. To Sullivan, who thrived on structure, it was a fearful and stressful environment. The breakdown of FBI procedure, 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.
During the 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 the 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 regularly worked with him 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 psychiatric disability, 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. He helped 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 one million dollars 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, which Breen wrote 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 Mistri'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."
Although Sullivan appeared to be adept at undercover work, he states he was drinking up to 35 beers per night at the time, and, in addition to taking bets, he was betting hundreds of dollars on ball games. He said he wagered both his own cash and FBI money. But records show he was never officially authorized by the bureau 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 seem "peculiar" to his cohorts if he didn't.
The introverted, obedient Sullivan became 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, also spent a lot of time in bars working undercover. He 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 both drank heavily. 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 imbibed during the meeting, says special agent Brian Jerome, who investigated Sullivan.
As the drinking increased, Sullivan became more conflicted. He came to like Mordini and Mistri personally, considered 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," says psychiatrist Richard Seely. "[He] was caught, in my estimation, between two families that he idealized in different ways."
Sullivan met Accetturo only once, at a birthday party for the mob boss at Tiberio. Sullivan's testimony about the meeting during an unrelated 1998 trial in New Jersey was captured in a book titled 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 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 as a result of the Shockwave case, Sullivan's mental condition became much more serious: "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 important, 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, impulsiveness, paranoia, and a frantic fear of abandonment. But if Sullivan was unstable, nobody at the FBI seemed to notice.
The FBI knew, however, about the psychological dangers of undercover work. McCrary testified that a 1978 FBI report "said that undercover work 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 there was 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 the perils of undercover work. The FBI now has an Undercover Safeguard Unit. Agents 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 ex-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.
"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 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 him, it seemed 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. Breen says Del Gaudio 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 after an unrelated state investigation. Santillo, who also maintains his innocence and says he never bet with Accetturo, is now retired and living in 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 Paul Mallett says virtually the same thing about Breen. Breen obviously embellished the facts of the investigation to sell books, Mallett says, adding that it's unlikely Sullivan was ever in real danger. Or if he was, he never documented it. The FBI has no record of the threatening meeting between Sullivan and 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 that didn't keep him from cracking up. The last straw may have come when Sullivan's friend was killed in a deadly battle on a residential street in Kendall.
On April 11, 1986, two FBI agents were killed, five were injured, and two bank robbers fatally shot during a gun battle near Suniland Shopping Center. Agt. Ben Grogan, one of the slain agents, was a good friend of Sullivan, who was transferred from Fort Lauderdale to Miami after Shockwave. Hanlon was one of the injured: He was shot several times and helplessly watched Grogan die.
Sullivan wasn't there when Grogan perished. He didn't hear the gunshots or feel them ripping through his skin. But the killing of 53-year-old Grogan had a terrible impact on him. In a reaction reminiscent of his youthful sobbing spells, Sullivan took on the habit of getting drunk at home, drinking until he began crying about Grogan. Then he'd get into his car in his closed garage and repeatedly play an audio tape 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 until his wife threw it away.
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 W. Grady L. Ryan, his psychologist. "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 also ran rackets involving corrupt police and drug trafficking in Chicago and the Dominican Republic. The informant told Sullivan the group, allegedly led by Gambino crime-family associate Auggie Corrao, was betting with disgraced Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. (In an unrelated case, Rostenkowski later served seventeen months in prison for mail fraud.)
Sullivan did something he never should have done, something his supervisor, Smith, knew was dangerous and never authorized.
Sullivan went undercover again.
"Following Sullivan's intervention for alcohol abuse in 1992, 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 from doing undercover work. Yet Sullivan continued unimpeded, playing 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 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 show 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. Both Schnapp and co-counsel Jane Moscowitz are former federal prosecutors.
"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 did most of his undercover work without permission or knowledge of Smith or the FBI. But neither he nor others at the bureau can adequately explain why, then, Smith 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 discovered. Psychologists who deal with addicts know that they often trade one addiction for another. 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. 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 are peppered through the court file. One thing is clear: He was betting and stealing at a wild pace.
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 bureau. 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 per month in phone bills. Wagering hundreds of dollars every night, he even 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. After receiving $200,000 in FBI money for the probe, Sullivan put the cash, in tens and twenties, into his safe. Soon he was skimming from it for his gambling and debts. Cali Watch, meanwhile, ended, and Washington asked repeatedly for the money. Sullivan came up with sufficient excuses to delay repayment 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 of the $200,000 was left. 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 paying off gambling 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 Mafia-related marijuana-smuggling scheme, was giving him information on mob infiltration of South Florida's garbage-hauling business.
Based on Sullivan's testimony, Judge Stanley Marcus shaved twenty 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 the favor for Laratro, a wealthy garbage hauler, in the hope that Laratro would reward him with money, according to both mens' lawyers.
Sullivan's involvement with Laratro provides a glimpse into his work with his other "family." During the late 1980s, 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. 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 was January 8, the very morning Sullivan was transported to federal prison.
Mallett, a white-haired bureau veteran, says he's been criticized by FBI higher-ups for his role in the Sullivan affair, but declines to provide specifics. He says numerous FBI agents have been criticized or disciplined for their shortcomings in regard to Sullivan. He won't say specifically whether 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."
Though Mallett once considered Sullivan a friend, he now thinks of him as just another criminal. Mallett believes the former agent had psychological problems, but doesn't excuse him. He 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 jobs and that nobody forced him to do such work. Indeed, Mallett claims the FBI failed by trusting Sullivan too much. Agents depended on Jerry Sullivan and now they're paying for it. "He's tarnished every badge in this building," Mallett says.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.
- Program Offers Job Training, Hope to Women in Florida's Notorious Female Prisons
Fri., Feb. 12, 7:30pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 6:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 7:00pm
Mon., Feb. 15, 7:30pm
- Florida-Bound Cruise Ship Damaged in Hurricane-Force Winds
- Hassan Whiteside's Monster Week Silenced All the Doubters