New leader of FBI's Albany office promises regional cooperation, professional approach
In July, the FBI named Janeen DiGuiseppi as the special agent in charge of the Albany Field Office. The office has cycled through five other leaders since 2017. Most recently, Thomas Relford stepped down from the post in May, having taken over following the resignation of James Hendricks. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found Hendricks sexually harassed eight female subordinates. When that report was released, the Associated Press reported Hendricks told investigators his accusers had either misinterpreted his actions or exaggerated his behavior. On Oct. 8, WAMC's Jim Levulis sat down with DiGuiseppi to discuss the office’s past and why she wanted to take on the post that oversees some 200 staffers covering 32 counties in New York as well as Vermont.
DiGuiseppi: So I would say for every agent in the FBI, and I shouldn't say every, but most agents, when we come into this organization, and we get into a leadership position, the pinnacle of our career is to be a Special Agent in Charge of a field office. That's when you are there to provide leadership support, not only to the people in the field office, but to the communities. So when the Albany office came open, I was down at the training division, and I actually made the decision that I've got almost 23 years in the FBI that I was going to probably retire from the training division. But when this position came open, and I had seen what had gone on in the office, I knew that I had the right leadership and professionalism and background to be a good leader for the great men and women of this office.
Levulis: Prior to your appointment, this office has seen four special agents in charge recently depart for various reasons. Does that turnover concern?
DiGuiseppi: No. In the FBI when you get into a leadership position, there is often times we move around a lot. And it's so that we have a more well-rounded leadership team in the FBI. So my predecessor, Mr. Relford, he spent over 20 years in the FBI. He did a great job here as a Special Agent in Charge. But he retired for his family to go back to Kansas City and nobody can fault anyone for that. What I would say is with Mr. Hendricks, obviously what happened here under his I won't say leadership, under his management was disturbing. And his departure was the right thing for this office.
Levulis: And for our listeners, you mentioned Special Agent James Hendricks. He left following an investigation that found he sexually harassed employees. Have you addressed that situation with the office staff? And if so, what did you say?
DiGuiseppi: So I explained to the office that I am not Mr. Hendricks. I am not that type of leader. My expectations that first day I was in the office, I explained to everyone, everyone in this office will be treated fairly, and will be provided a fair and safe work environment. And that's what I stand by. I have a zero tolerance for anyone, whether it's sexual harassment, or bullying, or providing favor to individuals because they like someone more than someone else. People here, with me as their leader, will have fair opportunities to promote up, to have training experiences and to be in a safe work environment.
Levulis: Are there still members of your office staff who were alleged victims of Mr. Hendricks’ actions that are still employed here?
Levulis: Have you reached out to them individually?
DiGuiseppi: I have spoken to everyone in this office. I have an open door policy. Anybody who wants to come talk to me, if they have concerns about what's going on in the office or how they're being treated. They come and talk to me, so I'm open to it. I'm not going to force someone to talk to me about something that's happened to them, but they know that they can come talk to me about anything.
Levulis: This region includes many companies that work in industries with national security interests, including General Electric, GlobalFoundries and Regeneron. How does your office work with those companies to protect trade secrets and information pertaining to national security and national interest?
DiGuiseppi: So the FBI and the Albany Field Office has a really robust engagement program to engage companies. We have office of private sector engagement that's run out of FBI headquarters, and so we have agents here and professional support staff that go out and meet, and so do I, with leaders Have these companies to talk about concerns to provide them with information on what we do and what we can offer them. And we get a lot of information when there are concerns from these companies that come to us. And then we do what we do with every kind of concern or complaint. We investigate them.
Levulis: You worked in the public corruption and civil rights section in the Criminal Investigative Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC. Albany as the capital of New York State is no stranger to public corruption. Do you see your office as a force in stopping corruption, specifically political in Albany?
DiGuiseppi: Absolutely. We focus on, like the FBI that is, we are the agency that has the investigative responsibility for public corruption. So we take that seriously. We have agents dedicated to that. We do outreach. And it's a priority for the FBI, obviously. Because of the damage that corrupt public officials at all levels, not just at state, county, city, we look at all corruption at all levels.
Levulis: Shifting to something on a national scale, those involved in the siege on the US Capitol on January 6 came from all over the country, including this part of the Northeast. It's also an instance where much of what happened was captured on social media, on live television. What's this office’s role in that case?
DiGuiseppi: So the Washington field office is the primary lead on this investigation, because it happened in the Capitol, but every field office to include Albany, we will get leads, we will get investigative information, and we do what we always do, we will investigate the information we get. And we will, like, I'm sure you've seen, there have been quite a few individuals in the Capital Region and the western part of our area that have been arrested based off the Capitol riots. So we investigated, they committed a crime on that day, and that's why they were arrested. So we continue to work with our partners, both state, local and our federal partners in our field offices and Washington field office.
Levulis: Does that investigation involve looking into the social media accounts of area residents who were there that day?
DiGuiseppi: So we have a number of investigative tools that we utilize. So what we do, like any investigation, we look at every bit of information we can before somebody is indicted and arrested on a crime. We are looking at criminal acts, not at what people's beliefs, or membership of groups are, just the criminal acts that they committed during the Capitol riots.
Levulis: Have you been involved in any sort of investigation like this before in your career?
DiGuiseppi: I haven't. No.
Levulis: The FBI's violent crime data showed an uptick from 380 cases per 100,000 people from 2019 to 398 in 2020. Looking at the data over the past decade, there was a similar uptick in 2014 through 2016, before it dipped back down again. Now back in 2000, it's worth noting that the rate was more than 500 cases per 100,000 people. So the rate of violent crime in the US is down drastically compared to 20 years ago. But what in your mind leads to these swings over the course of a year or a couple of years where violent crime seems to tick up before dipping back down?
DiGuiseppi: I think there are a lot of factors. And if there's a dip 10 years ago, or let's say two years down the road. It's really I think time specific on what's going on in the country then. I think it's fair to say that with COVID, there were a lot of people who were not working, not going to school. So there are just a lot of factors that go into it. What I would say is that the FBI, with our state and local partners, we take addressing violent crime very seriously. I know here in Albany, we have a safe streets task force that we work with our state and local partners. We have 11 officers who are assigned full time to the FBI here as a task force member from eight different agencies. I would name them all but I'll probably forget someone and don't want to offend them. But I can tell you the top and I shouldn't even say the top because they're all great partners, But state police, Schenectady, Troy, the Schenectady DA’s office, Department of Corrections, Albany Police Department, Colonie Police Department we all work together to try and address violent crime here. And for us with our task force, every police department has their focus on their communities. But as a task force and as the lead on this task force, we focus on criminal enterprises. Trying to go after the folks that are leading, and who are directing the violent crime and the criminal activity. Here in Albany, neighborhood-based gangs, that's who's committing a lot of the violent crime. So we work with our partners. One thing, which is interesting, I don't think people realize, but when I first came in the FBI, I was on a violent crime task force. What we do with our partners is not every, every criminal that we encounter, can we build a federal case against. So that's what's so important about these task forces is we look at every case, every subject individually. So where are we going to get the best bang for our buck? Are they going to get more time in the state system or federal, and then that's the direction we go. Even if we don't have a federal charge for someone, we have technical expertise, we have financial resources that we can help our state and local partners in addressing these criminal activities.
Levulis: The governors of four Northeast states, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey just announced an agreement to share gun crime data between the states. They mentioned that there wasn't enough sharing on the federal level. Do you agree with that assessment?
DiGuiseppi: I'm not really sure what they're referring to. But I think, as an agency, we are always looking at ways to better share information with our state and local and federal partners. So I can't really speak to that. But I know, for myself, for this office with our state and local partners, we share information and intelligence. We have an intel analyst embedded in the Crime Analysis Center in Albany, that is a run by our local partners. We have an analyst that's there, and we share intel all the time.
Levulis: There's also been and this has been portrayed a lot in the media as an uptick in hate crime, too. Is that something that the FBI is seeing happen as well?
DiGuiseppi: So I think across the country, there is an uptick in hate crimes. I know for myself and for our office and the FBI as a whole, we have pushed out a hate crime campaign. Because I think there are a lot of people that still don't understand what a hate crime is, that they are a victim of a hate crime. And so we want to make sure anybody that has any kind of criminal acts committed against them, especially if it's because of a bias against them, whether it's race, their sex or religion, that they know that we're here as the FBI, and we're here to investigate those crimes. And when they occur, we put all our resources towards those investigations.
Levulis: Carla Freedman was recently approved by the Senate to take over the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York. Obviously, your region with the FBI Albany office overlaps a lot with that district. Have you had a chance to speak with Attorney Freedman?
DiGuiseppi: We communicated. I know we communicated yesterday but the day I found out that she was confirmed, I reached out to her and we were already coordinating meetings together. And so I'm very happy that she's coming on board. I've heard nothing but great things about her from my agents out in Syracuse, which is where she's currently based. And I know that we're going to have a great working relationship to address the criminal activities that are occurring here.
Levulis: And in that office Attorney Toni Bacon has been in an acting role since September 2020. You've overlapped a little bit, how has your relationship with her been?
DiGuiseppi: It's been great. I mean, I don't know if you've met her. She's very vivacious. She has a great outgoing personality. The only complaint I have is I always have to follow her when we do events. And as you can tell, I'm very flat and monotone. So that's my only complaint about her. She always goes before me. But, no she's a very aggressive attorney. She she's passionate about this community and about reducing gun violence and violent crime. And so she's been a great partner too.
Levulis: Finally is there anything about the FBI, this field office that you would like the public to know that they might not?
DiGuiseppi: So what I would say is this office and I know that there has been a lot of negative press, and it's based off of Mr. Hendricks’ actions when he was leaving this office. But this office is filled with a lot of great dedicated people and professionals on the agent, intel and professional supports side that put everything they have into making sure this community is safe. We work great cases here. I mean, I'm astounded by the work that we do here and the types of investigations we're doing. So I would just tell your listeners that FBI Albany is here to protect this community to partner with our state and local partners to make sure that they are safe. And I'm just really proud to be leading this office.
Levulis: Have you ever spoken with Mr. Hendricks?
DiGuiseppi: I don't know Mr. Hendricks at all.