New city FBI chief no stranger to big cases

He headed probe leading to fellow agent's conviction

October 14, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

In more than two decades with the FBI, Special Agent Gary M. Bald always was drawn to solving complex, highly organized crimes, from mob-linked political corruption in Philadelphia to the profit-hiding schemes of Colombian drug gangs.

But the highest-profile assignment for the man who this month took over as head of the FBI's Baltimore office - and quickly found himself immersed in the search for a deadly serial sniper - was to unravel a web of wrongdoing in his own organization.

For the past three years, Bald led an U.S. Justice Department task force assigned to investigate an FBI agent in Boston suspected of tipping off gangster informants to pending investigations and indictments.

For Bald, 48, the first task was convincing skeptics that the bureau would fairly investigate its own.

"I definitely would have taken the case wherever it went, and we did," Bald said in his first comments on the case since last month's sentencing of former FBI Agent John J. Connolly. "I approached it just like every other case - it was a criminal allegation, and unfortunately the people involved were, or had been, FBI agents."

Bald started his FBI career 25 years ago solving mathematical and probabilities equations in the bureau's laboratory division. He brought the same analytical approach to his new roles as a case agent and bureau supervisor.

In his case work, Bald said he gravitated toward solving complicated, large-scale crimes where he tried to mentally beat the bad guys at their game.

He has been on the job less than a week in Baltimore and has put those same instincts to work.

Bald had just reported to his new post when he and FBI agents from across the region were called to help solve the sniper shootings in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Washington and Virginia. Bald has served more of a managerial role in the high-profile case.

He has also become a familiar figure at briefings for the news media on the shootings and has been interviewed on national television programs, including an appearance recently on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.

"The most enjoyable part for me is the mental side of a case," he said recently. "The challenge of understanding what makes that person operate, what makes him do what he does."

Former colleagues say Bald is known as painstakingly thorough. Peter A. Gulotta Jr., who retired from the Baltimore field office this summer, worked closely with Bald from headquarters in the early 1990s when they were assigned to investigate and review complaints against agents.

"The nature of his background, he's going to be extremely thorough," Gulotta said. "That's the nature of those investigations. When you're doing internal investigations, you don't want to leave any stone unturned."

Fighting corruption

As an agent on the corruption squad in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s, Bald helped build a case against then-city Councilman Leland M. Beloff, who was charged with a reputed member of the Scarfo crime family with trying to extort $1 million from a prominent waterfront developer.

Supervising drug investigations from the FBI's Newark, N.J., office in the early 1990s, Bald oversaw a case in which agents uncovered a Colombian drug cartel's method of disguising U.S. drug profits through legitimate pharmaceutical purchases routed through Germany.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio has made such corruption and large-scale drug and violent crime investigations a priority for federal prosecutors during his first year in the post.

Bald said he plans to work closely with the federal prosecutor but that the local FBI office also must devote substantial resources to anti-terrorism efforts and foreign counterintelligence, areas in which prosecutors and the public might not see end results for years, if at all.

A new era

In Baltimore, Bald will be the seventh special agent in charge in the past 12 years. The high turnover rate is caused partly by the field office's proximity to Washington.

Top agents here typically get noticed by headquarters and often are tapped to work in Washington or in larger field offices. As special agent in charge of the Baltimore office, Bald oversees about 300 employees, including 200 special agents who work across Maryland and Delaware. The assignment is a homecoming of sorts for Bald, his wife and three children.

Bald, who describes himself as a typical "soccer dad" away from the office, grew up near Annapolis but never worked from Maryland for the FBI.

He is replacing Special Agent Lynne A. Hunt, who in August was named assistant director of the FBI's inspections division in Washington.

Hunt had been special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office since May 2000, overseeing the office's response to national events, including the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to local cases, including the FBI shooting in March of an unarmed Pasadena man.

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