- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

The head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office yesterday said he has created a new task force to pursue federal gun and racketeering charges against gang members in Northern Virginia.

Joseph Persichini Jr., the assistant director in charge of the field office, said the task force began its work about a week ago and is made up of eight to 10 agents and representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and local law-enforcement agencies.

He said authorities hope to prosecute gang members using federal gun statutes and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

“We’re looking for RICO indictments of people,” Mr. Persichini said during a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “The key here also is using ATF and all the gun charges [because] many of those crimes are committed with weapons.”

Agents will “take a look at every gang or crew in Northern Virginia,” he said.

Mr. Persichini, who was appointed head of the field office inNovember after serving as its acting director since January 2006, said the effort is part of an increased focus on dealing with local violent crime, which he called a “very serious concern.”

He also pointed to a recent uptick in violence in parts of the District. Mr. Persichini said he has spoken extensively with Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier about gathering and sharing intelligence and that he talked with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty as recently as Wednesday night about comprehensive plans to thwart violent crime.

Mr. Persichini said “organized opportunistic crime,” including crew-related and robbery-related violence, was driving a spike in violent crime in the 3rd District, which encompasses much of the downtown core.

He said his office has been solidifying its ties to the city’s business community and minority populations, to aid its efforts in fighting local crime.

“We can’t do what we do without the faith and trust of the people we serve,” he said.

Mr. Persichini also said his office has taken a greater role in the schools, expanding internships for teenagers and setting up “junior special agent” programs for sixth-grade students.

“Their first interaction with law enforcement should be positive,” he said.

Despite the increased local focus, Mr. Persichini said the priorities of the field office remain unchanged.

“Counterterrorism will always be No. 1,” he said, calling the District a “target-rich environment” that requires constant vigilance against terrorist threats from international groups and what he described as the “home-grown lone wolf.”

Mr. Persichini, whose background is in public-corruption cases, said corruption would be the focus of the field office’s criminal investigations.

“I’m a firm believer that the FBI is an agency that is … suited for the investigation of public corruption,” he said.

Mr. Persichini declined to talk about the status of the ongoing investigation into the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five persons, including two D.C. postal workers. He said that about 20 agents are still working on the case, but would add only that it is a “continuing, pending investigation.”

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