DiBiagio outlines strain with local FBI

U.S. attorney criticizes effectiveness, cooperation

February 13, 2003|By Gail Gibson and Laura Sullivan | Gail Gibson and Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio unleashed a broad attack last month on the effectiveness, commitment and cooperation of the FBI's Baltimore Field Division, writing in a confidential letter that the local FBI office was "in distress" and displayed "a marginal presence, at best" in Maryland law enforcement.

In the sharply worded Jan. 9 letter to Special Agent in Charge Gary M. Bald, DiBiagio quoted at length from an internal report prepared by senior prosecutors that suggested that FBI agents - "distracted" by counterterrorism efforts - were failing to develop significant cases and concluded: "The single biggest problem the office has right now is our failed relationship with the FBI."

"The problem is more than number of cases or number of significant indictments," DiBiagio wrote in the letter, obtained yesterday by The Sun. "The FBI Baltimore Field Division is in distress."

DiBiagio declined to comment yesterday on what he described as "confidential correspondence." Bald, in an interview, defended the FBI's performance in Maryland and said many of the issues raised in the letter were cordially addressed at a subsequent meeting with DiBiagio.

"Honestly, these are perceptions that I don't share but ones that I have taken to heart," Bald said. The 25-year FBI veteran, who took over as head of the Baltimore office in October, said he has been impressed in his first months on the job by the quality of cases under indictment and investigation.

"The successes we've had have been very good and in some ways belie the tone of the letter," Bald said.

DiBiagio's letter outlined the apparent strained relations that have been quietly simmering between the two offices for the past year. Writing to Bald two weeks before a scheduled Jan. 23 meeting, the prosecutor suggested that a national mandate for FBI agents to emphasize counterterrorism efforts had resulted in a local failure to address violent crime, white-collar fraud and public corruption - areas DiBiagio has repeatedly described as his top priorities.

Among his assertions:

"The FBI has become distracted and almost useless as they try to figure out how to address terrorism," he wrote, quoting from the internal report that analyzed federal prosecutors' efforts in 2002. "For some reason, this has had the most direct negative effect on the white-collar and public corruption squads."

"The FBI should be the lead agency for federal law enforcement in the state, and instead they are a marginal presence at best," DiBiagio wrote, quoting the same report. "This is trouble not just for the Office but for the community."

"The FBI Baltimore Field Division is in distress," DiBiagio wrote. "There is a perception that the FBI is not fully engaged in the federal law enforcement effort in this state. In particular, the perception is that the FBI is not sufficiently engaged in addressing serious violent crime, corporate corruption or public corruption in Maryland. This is completely unacceptable."

The fractured relationship is both highly unusual and central to the effectiveness of federal law enforcement in Maryland. Typically, the Baltimore FBI office and federal prosecutors in Maryland work in lock step, with agents investigating and presenting cases for possible charges and then working closely with assistant U.S. attorneys as the cases go to trial.

The FBI is traditionally the most central partner for federal prosecutors, who also work closely with other federal police agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration - two agencies that have played key roles in several of the high-profile indictments brought under DiBiagio during his first year in office.

In his letter, DiBiagio described the FBI partnership as one in disrepair and told Bald: "I need to know from you exactly what you intend to do to reverse this condition." The prosecutor closed his letter by rejecting requests by Bald that they discuss the issues by telephone, rather than in writing.

"Finally, you have repeatedly requested that I not set forth my concerns in writing and that you would prefer that I contact you by telephone," DiBiagio wrote. "Because I believe that these are extremely serious matters that directly impact the welfare of the citizens of the State of Maryland, I believe that it is critical that the record be clear as to what I have said and when I said it."

Bald said that he had asked DiBiagio to reach out to him in person only as a way to build a stronger relationship. Bald said that he and DiBiagio had not met or had extensive discussions about the direction of federal prosecutions in Maryland before January because Bald's first months on the job were consumed by the serial sniper investigation.

Now, Bald said, the two men are forging a good relationship. He said the FBI's focus on counterterrorism will mean fewer agents are available to pursue other types of cases, but he said the quality of the cases - if not the quantity - remains high.

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