Did the Justice Department just orchestrate a bait-and-switch scam on a gullible, eager-to-believe citizenry?
Six weeks after the feds loudly proclaimed that they are still pursuing mobsters with a vengeance, the FBI has quietly cut the number of New York squads that investigate the notorious Five Families. There used to be five, one for each. That's been cut to just three. It's not just re-organizing either. The total number of mob-busting agents is also cut by some 25 per cent, Gang Land has learned.
As a result of changes that began this week, sources say the FBI now has only about 45 agents investigating the ongoing criminal activity of some 700 mobsters and an estimated 7,000 associates of New York's five Mafia families that operate in the city and surrounding suburbs.
The changes come two years after they were first considered, and rejected, as unwise.
The budget cuts were a shocker even to law enforcement officials. "It makes no sense and it conflicts with what the Attorney General said when he came to New York and said over and over again that going after mobsters was a top priority of his," said one law enforcer who was at the news conference when Eric Holder announced the arrests of more than 120 defendants in the biggest mob takedown in U.S. history.
"Our fight against traditional organized crime is strong. Our commitment is unwavering," said Holder at the huge January 20 media event. "The Department of Justice and our partners are determined to eradicate these criminal enterprises once and for all," he added. The attorney general also noted that mobsters were "among the most dangerous criminals in our country," - remarks that were echoed by New York FBI boss Janice Fedarcyk and four U.S. Attorneys who joined him at the news conference.
Today, however, only the Genovese family squad remains intact, headed by Kevin Brown, the former supervisor of the Bonanno squad, which was disbanded. The Bonannos are now the responsibility of the pro-active Colombo family squad, under Seamus McElearney. The Gambino squad, headed by Gerald Conrad, now monitors the Luchese family as well. The old Luchese squad now chases Albanian gangsters and ethnic hoods from other Balkan countries.
To further complicate matters, FBI honchos in Washington also rewarded the agent who headed the New York office's entire organized crime program since 2007 - David Shafer - with a new position as head of Special Operations, the agency's black bag unit, and replaced him with an agent with no experience dealing with mobsters.
Several former FBI supervisors, including James Kossler, who oversaw all organized crime squads from 1979 until 1989, told Gang Land that this was déjà vu all over again, and likely to lead to a resurgence of power and influence by today's beleaguered wiseguys.
"I hate to see this happen because as they have done in the past, the mobsters are going to find some new way to strengthen themselves, and we'll have to play catch up against them again," said Kossler, referring to a disastrous decision decreed by his Washington superiors in 1988.
That's when the FBI first decided that the Bonanno family was dead, and put one squad in charge of pursuing the activities of the Bonanno and Colombo crime families. Eight years later, however, when the FBI realized that the once moribund crime family, under the leadership of then-boss Joe Massino, had regrouped and regained its former clout, the agency put together a new Bonanno squad to combat the resurging crime family.
Former FBI supervisor Lin DeVecchio, who headed the squad that handled the Bonannos and Colombos during that eight-year stretch, told Gang Land that consolidating the squads "is a big mistake."
"Logistically, it's very difficult for one squad of agents to work two families," said DeVecchio, who detailed those years in a book he just wrote with Charles Brandt about the controversial and failed 2007 murder prosecution of him by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office: We're Going To Win This Thing: The Shocking Frame-up of a Mafia Crime Buster.
"You've got a lot of wiseguys you have to get to know, and obviously you can't get to know the individual mobsters and their patterns as well as you would if you were focusing on one family," said DeVecchio. "There should be one squad per family. Even if you had to cut the size of the squad, it makes more sense to me have one squad for each family."
DeVecchio agreed with other current and former FBI agents that the number of agents currently assigned to the Mafia was "dangerously low." Even if the Bureau used a more conservative estimate of five mob associates for each "made man," said DeVecchio, there is "no way" that 45 agents can effectively keep tabs on more than 3,500 organized criminals.
But wiseguys should not be giving each other high fives and chest bumps just yet.
Belle Chen, the FBI's new chief mob buster, is a former NYPD detective who seems to have hit the ground running.
"The mob is still a priority," said Chen, who joined the FBI 15 years ago and whose most recent task before being chosen to head the agency's organized crime division was as head of the agency's gangs and violent crimes unit.
Noting that she had nothing to do with the unit's reorganization, and conceding that she was new to the mob beat, Chen told Gang Land that she has already begun reassessing the situation and would do everything in her power to not repeat prior FBI mistakes and continue to wreak havoc for wiseguys and their criminal partners.
"The organized program is new to me," she said. "I have to learn the program, see what was done in the past, see why these changes were made, and how they're going to impact the organized crime program. I'm here to assess the situation, see what I can bring to the table from my past experience, and see how we can move forward."