FBI veteran takes charge of local office Supervisor started after high school, worked his way up

December 23, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

David R. Knowlton knows the FBI, from the bottom up.

He began his career more than 25 years ago as a clerk at FBI headquarters. After rising through the ranks of the bureau, first as an agent in Virginia and later as a top supervisor in Washington, Knowlton is about to embark on one of his most challenging assignments.

This month, the Arizona native took over the Maryland-Delaware division of the FBI. He is responsible for overseeing 200 agents and their investigations into public corruption, white-collar crime, health-care fraud and other unsavory rackets in the mid-Atlantic region.

With his wife working as a supervisor of the FBI's Washington field office, and Knowlton running the Baltimore office, the special agent with the jovial smile and penetrating stare says he's sitting pretty.

"It's worked out just perfect," Knowlton, 44, said during an interview last week.

Knowlton replaces Timothy P. McNally, who left Baltimore this year to head the FBI's field office in Los Angeles.

In 1970, fresh out of high school, Knowlton found work with the FBI. His father, a former federal probation officer, knew an FBI agent who helped Knowlton land a job as a clerk in the FBI's property division in Washington, tracking guns and radios and other equipment for the bureau.

Within six years, Knowlton had graduated from the University of Maryland and become a special FBI agent at the age of 24. His first assignment took him to Richmond, Va., and it wasn't long before Knowlton was in the middle of his first firefight.

In 1977, he was part of a team summoned to stake out an apartment. Peter Holland, a man suspected of belonging to an interstate stolen property ring, was on his way back to his room. Knowlton and several other agents were hiding inside, and more agents were waiting outside.

Dangerous work

When Holland opened the door and the agents announced themselves, he opened fire. Less than 10 seconds later, Holland was dead, fatally shot by agents outside the room.

"He was hit a bunch of times," Knowlton said.

A year later, Knowlton went back west. He was transferred to the Sacramento, Calif., field office, where he worked political corruption cases in the state Legislature, as well as fraud investigations, bank robberies and violent crimes.

In 1982, Knowlton was part of another gunfight, this one during a bank robbery in Stockton. He said local police officers had developed a source inside a gang who tipped them to a heist that was planned for the weekend. What the source didn't know was that the plan included sending two robbers into the bank as advance men.

When 38 FBI agents and police officers surrounded the bank, they heard gunshots inside. One of the robbers shot an FBI agent posing as a teller. Gunfire erupted inside and outside the bank.

"All hell brook loose," Knowlton said.

One of the robbers was killed. Four were arrested.

1983 marriage

Another agent posing inside the bank that day, Ellen Bolinger, would later become Knowlton's wife. They were married in 1983, and the FBI transferred the couple to the San Francisco field office a year later.

Knowlton continued to rise through the ranks.

In 1985, he became a supervisor and then the senior agent in the bureau's Concord, Calif., office. Four years later, the couple was back in Washington. He worked as a supervisor in the inspection division, she worked as supervisor in the national security division at headquarters.

In 1991, Knowlton was back on the road, this time heading to New Orleans, where he was assigned as the assistant agent in charge of the field office. He said the office was busy with cases of political corruption and dishonest police.

"It was very corrupt," Knowlton said. "It's a shame. The people down there deserve better."

In 1995, Knowlton returned to Washington, eventually becoming chief of the inspection division, which monitors and evaluates the FBI's national and foreign operations. His wife became the assistant special agent in charge of the Washington field office -- a position she still holds.

In Baltimore, Knowlton said he wants to continue to forge ties to local police agencies and provide them with FBI help to develop cases and solve crimes. Among his priorities -- violent crimes, health-care fraud and white-collar investigations.

For now, Knowlton said he's trying to quickly figure out his new surroundings.

"I'm trying to meet as many people as I can," he said.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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