Early Departures at the Bureau
February 11, 2008
Two veteran agents on the fast track for one of the FBI’s most prestigious jobs — the head of its New York office — are instead bailing out of the Bureau.
One is even giving up a chunk of his pension to leave.
While the two are leaving — one to take a lucrative Wall Street job — the New York office’s current head, Mark Mershon, can’t seem to find a way to retire.
Sources say he has shopped his resume all over town but has been unable to land a suitable job in the private sector.
With nowhere to go, he is about to receive a special dispensation from FBI Director Robert Mueller that will allow him to remain as head of the New York office past the mandatory retirement age of 57.
To put this all in context, the job of heading the New York office — which comes with the powerful title of Assistant Director — is one of the bureau’s plums, its agents often developing headline grabbing cases like last week’s take-down of the Gambino crime family.
It’s also one of the few Bureau Assistant Directorships not at FBI headquarters. The guy who heads the New York office operates in his own sphere, a veritable prince of the church. In the past, people in that job, from Jim Fox to Jim Kallstrom to Lewis Schiliro, have gotten great press and gone on bigger and better things. [At least when it comes to more money.]
The two agents on their way out are Joseph Demarest and Joe Billy. Demarest headed the New York office’s counter-terrorism division, one of the Bureau’s most vital jobs. He oversaw top secret investigations and ran the Joint Terrorist Task Force [JTTF] of 350 or so FBI agents and NYPD detectives.
Bureau wisdom — i.e., office gossip — has it that FBI Director Mueller regarded him highly and recently brought him down to Washington to work on a top secret project. Bureau sources say he was the odds-on favorite to succeed Mershon.
Instead, he announced his retirement Friday and is taking a top security position with Goldman-Sachs.
And he’s doing so at age 48, 15 months shy of age 50 when he becomes eligible for a full pension. Goldman-Sachs is apparently offering him so much money he is forfeiting his bureau annuity, estimated at $50,000 a year for life. [Sources say there’s no partial vesting in the FBI.]
The second candidate, who is said to be leaving in March, is Joe Billy, the Assistant Director of the Bureau’s Counterterrorism Division at FBI headquarters in Washington.
Billy formerly held Demarest’s job heading the JTTF, then moved on to head the Newark office before being assigned to the prestigious Washington job.
He’s said to be leaving in March, when he turns 50 and is eligible for his annuity.
Mershon, meanwhile, has been trying to leave the bureau for a Wall Street job since arriving in New York in late 2005. Bureau sources say he applied for — but did not get — a job at the N.Y. Stock Exchange. Ditto at Bear Stearns. It’s not known if he had applied for Demarest’s job at Goldman-Sachs.
In June, he turns the Bureau’s mandatory retirement age of 57. Sources say that Director Mueller is planning to give him a six-months extension, which theoretically he can keep getting for the next three years, until he turns 60.
Such extensions are rare, say Bureau sources. The rationale behind them is that the agent is involved in a critical investigation or prosecution, whose retirement would jeopardize the bureau’s efforts.
So far as we can tell, Mershon falls into neither of these categories.
Rather, he is perhaps best known for announcing, in this very column, that his first priority upon taking over in New York was to accommodate Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, an FBI critic and rival. The result, as one might expect, has been low agent morale.
So here’s the kicker. Unable to bail out himself, did the prospect of his remaining push Demarest and Billy to jump ship earlier than they he might have?
Put another way, has Mershon's inability to find a job outside the FBI hurt the FBI's ability to retain future leaders in New York?
Mueller’s rational for granting Mershon an extension is said to be to maintain “continuity.” As Demarest’s and Billy’s departures indicate, granting him the extension seems to have had the opposite effect.
The only continuity would seem to be New York office’s subservience to Kelly — and the continued poor morale among the Bureau’s New York agents.
New York Bureau spokesman Jim Margolin confirmed that Demarest resigned last Friday. He declined to comment on Joe Billy other than to say he is still employed in Washington with the FBI. Margolin added that Mershon did not wish to discuss his long-range plans.
The Bureau’s chief spokesman in Washington, Asst. Director John Miller, did not return an e-mail.
Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt