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Today's public corruption more sophisticated, less 'cash in a bag'; FBI agent

Steven M. D’Antuono, an FBI supervisory special agent, is in charge of the local FBI office’s public corruption squad. His squad of 13 agents handles corruption cases ranging from involving small scams in the D.C. government to and high-level schemes in federal agencies.
His unit, for example, investigated the $48.1 million D.C. tax scandal orchestrated by Harriette Walters.

The Crime Scene sat down recently with him and asked him several questions.

This is probably a silly question, but is there enough work in the District for one squad of agents?

Yes, definitely, there is more than enough work to go around. I could use a couple of more bodies, actually.

You said you have been doing this a long time. Have you noticed any changes or trends in how these schemes are pulled off?

A lot of the old stuff is going away. You don’t get cash in a brown paper bag anymore. You look at any of the old D.C. public corruption cases and you have an envelope with cash being passed around. That isn’t reality anymore.

In the sophisticated, high-level scams, they are using wire systems to transfer money They don’t take cash bribes.

I mean, look at [ex-Rep. William] Jefferson and the $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He probably wouldn’t do that again.

How do you decide what’s a federal case?

Public corruption is public corruption. It goes from a DMV clerk to a mayor to a governor. It doesn’t matter who the public official is. Public corruption is a blight on the system.

For example, we once had a 'booter' case. The guys who put a boot on the car would take $50 or $100 to take a boot off the car. We will work that case.

We investigated the Ikela Dean case because it was about the integrity of the system. But it wasn’t a big money case.

If one person is doing it, it’s going to corrupt the system.

I come from a very corrupt state, Rhode Island. It’s very like D.C. in a sense: It’s small and everyone knows everyone else. How can anyone break into an industry when someone else is paying? It’s not right.

It comes down to the integrity of the system. So we give everything a look. The dollar amount is not important.

Where do tips come from?

A lot of this stuff is word of mouth. We also have a close relationship with the D.C. Inspector General. They get information.

Public awareness also helps. Not all tips lead to investigations, though.

What are the challenges of doing the undercover stuff versus the historical investigations, which are document-heavy? You guys have to examine all kinds of reports, records and other documents in some of your more complex historic investigations. But when you go undercover, you must be looking for other things, right?

Historical cases are challenging, but we don’t shy away from them. They are the toughest type of corruption case you can make. You can go back 18 years with Harriette [Walters], but those can be tough because the public wants to see the tape.
There is an intent issue: What was the person’s state of mind when they were paying the bribe?

As an agent, [going] undercover is great. That is the fun thing. That is what we train for. As a white-collar agent, you are going through buckets and buckets of documents, and you are looking for the needle in the haystack.

It’s the audio, the video, it’s paying the bribe. We do that. That’s good. You have that person on tape. That makes it is very difficult for that person to say ‘That’s not me.’

-- Del Quentin Wilber

By Washington Post Editors  |  January 22, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Del Quentin Wilber  
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