Agent Bishop

by | Dec. 31, 2009

The Agent Bishop Dichotomy

The agent bishop dichotomy was tested in a host of different situations, some more dramatic than others, like the time I rushed from behind the pulpit to pursue a thief.

We were worshipping inside the old Miami Third Ward chapel on Northwest Ninety-Fifth Street. The neighborhood around the church was rapidly becoming a high-crime area. In a prior incident, Lucy Peele, an elderly widow, had her purse snatched on the front steps, while ascending into the chapel. In a subsequent incident, two rifle shots were fired into the building: one through the window of the Family History Center and another through the chapel, lodging in the curtains behind the pulpit.

This particular Sunday, however, I was seated on the stand, listening to the concluding speaker finish his talk. I looked up to see Luis Vallareal, a friend and fellow member, running in from the foyer and waving frantically for me to come down. No one else seemed to notice him.

In full view of about two hundred and fifty astonished members, I rushed off the stand and down the center aisle. This didn't qualify as a normal occurrence.

Approaching Luis, I asked, "What's wrong?"

"They're stealing Frank Fager's tools!" he whispered urgently. "You better get out there!" He pointed out a black youth, who was helping himself to the power tools in Frank's pickup. Frank made his living as a carpenter.

I raced outside. When I reached the parking lot I saw the young male in his twenties, loading himself up with Frank's tools: a circular saw, hammers, measuring tapes, a sander, and other items. He saw me coming and charged across the church parking lot into the surrounding residential area, straining under the weight of all the tools.

"Hey, you, drop those tools!" I yelled, but he just kept running.

"I'm a law enforcement officer! Stop!" I shouted, as I ran after him. I was thirty-three years old, and in a suit and tie. The thief was definitely much younger, only about twenty, but he was packing a lot of dead weight, which definitely gave me an advantage.

We were both sprinting through a black neighborhood, occupied by curious residents who were being entertained with a footrace between a member of their community and a white man in a dark suit, with his tie flapping in the wind.

I began closing in, as we ran by house after house, and through yard after yard. The thief started dropping portions of his booty, as I closed the gap. First jettisoned off to the side were the circular saw and sander, then the smaller tools.

After sunning through North Miami neighborhoods for about a quarter mile, the young man decided it was in his best interests just to escape and leave everything behind. I was exhausted and relieved to see him drop the tools and jog slowly away . . . empty-handed.

When I returned with the tools, the service was over. I entered the foyer of the chapel saturated in sweat, with dust covering my wingtip shoes. I realized several members of the congregation were putting two and two together. They had to be thinking: this is in the job description for a bishop?

The Wedding Bust

Special Agent Jack Barrett was assigned to take a complaint at the front desk from two surly-appearing men, actually brothers, whose emotions were running off the charts. They were begging to be interviewed. Their description, transmitted from the clerk at the front desk, was "scared out of their wits!"

Barrett, who was assigned their case, wanted someone with him on the interview, so I got the nod.

"So, what's the story on this one?" I asked. "Where are these guys from?"

Barrett replied, "These two dudes got hung up somewhere near Atlanta with a hot car. The cops caught on to them, so they ditched the car, and came home empty-handed. Whoever the cars were supposed to end up with lost money on the deal, and all hell broke loose. That's all the clerk out front knows. Why they would come to us, confessing they had possession of stolen cars, is the big question."

Upon entering the interview room, it was painfully obvious that for the brothers, our appearance was unsettling, yet a relief. The brothers regarded us with expressions that were both sheepish and apprehensive. We displayed our credentials.

Barrett led out: "Special Agent Jack Barrett. This is Special Agent Mike McPheters. What's up, gentlemen?"

James Wilson and his brother, William, proceeded to tell us the chilling tale of how Curtis Crisel, an ex-cop, and his uncle, Raymond Koon, had become so enraged over the loss of the stolen cars that they made the Wilson brothers dig their own graves and threatened to shoot them. The men were only spared because a groundskeeper had driven up to the scene, frightening Crisel and Koon.

From the Wilsons, we learned Crisel was going to marry Barbara Duey in Bal Harbor, Florida’s "Church by the Sea," the traditional scene of high society weddings, located at the tip of the barrier island of Miami Beach, in South Florida. We verified that the wedding would take place the following Saturday, and the reception, later that afternoon, at the home of the bride.

After cautioning the Wilson men to keep a low profile for the following few days, and to stay out of sight, we initiated surveillances on the Bal Harbor wedding site and the reception location.

The morning of the highly-anticipated event, Barrett and I were waiting at the wedding site and the reception location.

The Reverend Charles H. Meeker was scheduled to officiate in the Saturday wedding. Once we arrived at his office, and explained that we were at the church to execute an arrest warrant on the prospective bridegroom, the reverend advised us to wait in a small office adjacent to his own, where the bridegroom and best man usually await the bride's arrival.

Crisel showed up early by himself. When he entered the waiting room approximately forty-five minutes before the wedding, Barrett and I grabbed him, handcuffed him, and read him his rights. (The next day, a newspaper article was headlined, "FBI Mutes Ex-Cops Wedding Bells.")

Once we turned Crisel over to other agents who transported him to jail, Barrett and I drove directly to the residence of a friend of the bride, which was set up for the reception, and waited with a warrant for Crisel's uncle, Raymond Koon.

Coincidentally, Koon had also just married, and was on his honeymoon. He had tied the knot shortly after sending the Wilson boys north with a hot car and was taking time off to pay respects to nephew Curtis. While Barrett and I checked out the reception residence, the uncle pulled in with his new wife. Barrett and I closed in. I tagged him with handcuffs, while Barrett read him his rights. As the wedding guests closed in around our Bureau car, where we had just stashed Koon, we became acutely aware how much family and friends resent having their wedding party messed up. Those were really unfriendly countenances that closed in around us.

I asked myself, Are they going to block our exit and push over our car?

Barrett was about to activate the siren and call for backup. But slowly, ever so slowly, the crowd began to disperse, and the driveway cleared. Within seconds we were out of there, barely avoiding the mob. Barrett was in the back seat with Koon, advising him of his Miranda warnings.

The week before Barrett and I arrested Crisel at his wedding, and broke up a marriage-to-be, I performed a marriage as a Mormon bishop at the Miami Third Ward chapel.

The agent bishop dichotomy was definitely in play.

Late Night Calling

Late one night at our Miami Lake residence on Lake Lure Court, the phone rang. I lay there between the sheets, trying to ignore the shrill ringing that was ruining a good night's sleep. I wanted to just make it go away, as I rolled over, and tried to distance myself from the intrusion.

"What time is it?" Judy muttered, facing me with an expression of alarm. Her soft blonde locks tumbled down over a pretty face, fraught with apprehension. The alarm clock, reading 4:20 a.m., was glaring at us, challenging us to come to our senses and answer the phone, which was still ringing off the hook.

I picked it up. "Who is this? It had better be good!" I mumbled angrily.

"It's the office, Mr. McPheters," the night clerk announced. "Eight people, including four American tourists, were murdered by terrorists yesterday in the Virgin Islands. It happened at a country club. The Bureaus's been requested to assist the local police in Saint Croix, so Mr. Frechette's taking you and a few other agents over there with him. You need to saddle up and be ready to catch a Lear jet out of Fort Lauderdale in an hour and a half."

By this time, Judy was sitting straight up in bed, wide awake. She always came to her senses quicker than I did. It was those Idaho farm girl instincts. I told her what the call was about. She had that "You've got to be kidding me!" look written all over her face.

"This has got to be some sort of a joke. You've got to call them back!" she insisted.

I picked up the phone and called the office. The night clerk answered.

"Hey, did you just call me?" I asked, sounding somewhat peeved, half-doubting and half-curious, while rubbing my eyes.

I went on. "Is this some sort of fantasy? Virgin Islands? Lear jets? Was that really you that called?"

"Sure was, Mr. McPheters. Joe Frachette, Frank Duffin, Leo McClairen, Joe Dawson, and John Walser are all gearing up. Mr. Frachette is counting on you. Fort Lauderdale Airport. Six a.m."

I had received conformation. Blood had been spilled. It was the real deal, and I was needed. "I'll be there!" I slammed down the phone and jumped out of bed.

"It's for real," I told Judy. "They said I was the sixth person they called and the third to call back to confirm it wasn't a hoax. I've got to go to Saint Croix to investigate some homicides."

Judy focused in on the reality of the situation, as she also bounded out of bed, asking "How many days shall I pack you for?"

"The usual" was my response, which meant one suitcase with running gear, and several days of clothing for who knows how long.

As Judy packed my bags, she took serious note of our newly born baby, Tylee. I wondered, Would she have to raise her alone with the other two? She knew I was walking into a dangerous assignment for an indefinite time period. She was trying to think positively.

Bureau wives are like that. They get used to having their man get up in the middle of the night, watching him strap on his weapon, and kissing him good-bye as he walks out into the night. I was part of the Bureau culture. The ladies knew they would get the details later, knowing then was not the time to ask questions, and trusting their spouse would make it back home.

The irony was that even thought there was some apprehension and fear, as she stuffed a suitcase with shirts, pants, and running gear, she was simultaneously and vicariously sharing with me the wonderment, thrill, and excitement that made this career so special.

Spontaneous challenges like this, both in the Bureau and in my Church assignments, inspired feelings of amazement in both of us. To us, these challenges were harbingers, signaling a unique and highly desirable probability that I, with her support, could really make a difference somewhere in the world, while administering the long arm of the law and ministering to the needs of our congregation, as their bishop.

The FBI career was a team arrangement, just as my work as bishop was something we shared, in a very real sense. Judy did not have to be involved in the actual fray to vicariously experience what I experienced in both arenas.

We both knew that my work was now in the Virgin Islands. Packed and ready, I knelt with Judy in prayer and took a fleeting glance and our sleeping children. We embraced, shared a long kiss, and I was out the door.

Blessings of Being a Bishop

The question that has been posed by many who were aware of my time-consuming involvements, both in the Church and in the FBI, was "How could you possibly be keeping up with both of these very time-consuming challenges?"

I have asked myself the same question. Aside from being aware higher powers were (and continue to be) involved, I cannot fully answer that question. What I do know is that while serving as a bishop four times in Florida, Oregon, and Utah for over fifteen years, one amazing truth has been made evident to me. That is, the more I focused my life on serving my Church, my friends, and my family, the more fulfilling were the FBI cases assigned to me, and the more interesting were my other Bureau responsibilities, including functioning as a firearms instructor, a SWAT team member and team leader, and a police instructor.

I am certain that being an FBI agent who dealt with confidentiality gave me extra credibility, and made it easy for members of the Church to confide in me, as their bishop. I am equally convinced that serving in that Church capacity facilitated my fellow agents’ trusting in me as a team player. Several confided in me that their impressions of my church were based on their observation of my behavior.

There were many moments, even in the first ten years of my career, when I paused to consider some of the engaging cases I worked, and I would think, I have already had more fascinating investigations than many agents enjoy in their entire career. In a very real way, I feel these opportunities with the FBI have evolved as a reward for striving to stay diligent in my faith.

--- Adapted from Agent Bishop: True Stories from an FBI Agent Moonlighting as a Mormon Bishop, Copyright Cedar Fort, 2009. Available now.

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