FBI agent Richard B. Marx spent a year atop 1.8 million tons of debris from the World Trade Center towers, searching for September 11 evidence at the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, N.Y.
For his devotion to the grungy job, he earned the gratitude of victims’ families, the respect of his peers, a nomination as the federal employee of the year — and a 10-day suspension and letter of reprimand from his superiors. The reprimand bars him from a major part of his job — collecting evidence for use in court.
The FBI suspended Mr. Marx after the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said he “lacked candor” in answering questions during an investigation into whether agents took evidence from the Fresh Kills site as souvenirs. Evidence that the inspector general thought was missing, which led to the inquiry, turned out to have been sent to museums nationwide and to FBI headquarters in Washington, all on orders of Congress.
The disciplining of Mr. Marx has outraged many rank-and-file agents, and several current and former high-ranking FBI officials have demanded a criminal investigation into what they say was an “unprofessional and unethical” Justice Department investigation.
“The Department of Justice owes it to Richard Marx and others who may in the future fall prey to such a gross abuse of authority that this injustice be investigated,” said Special Agent-In-Charge Jeffrey A. Lampinski, now retired after 25 years with the bureau. “In short, it became ‘personal’ to these investigators that they punish Agent Marx as well as slur the FBI.”
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Carbonell, who heads a violent crime task force in Philadelphia that includes Mr. Marx, said that during his 25 years with the bureau, he has never seen an agent “treated in such a horrendous manner.”
“What boggles my mind is that the very people who were conducting an investigation that carries serious penalties for those deemed at fault didn’t know that what Mr. Marx was doing in removing some items from the landfill was mandated by Congress. This is absolutely astounding.”
Mr. Lampinski and Mr. Carbonell say they have tried without success for more than a year to get an independent investigation, making the request in letters to the Justice Department, the FBI and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the bureau.
But inspector general spokesman Paul Martin said that the office “conducted a thorough and professional investigation” and that contrary to complaints by Mr. Marx’s supervisors and others, the inquiry was handled “appropriately.”
“We submitted our report to the FBI, which reviewed the evidence, including responses from Marx and his supervisors, and took appropriate action,” Mr. Martin said. “We believe the complaints about our investigation are unwarranted.”
The ‘Giglio letter’
Mr. Marx was accused of misconduct in his management of the Fresh Kills site. In a lengthy but extensively redacted report, they said he “lacked candor” in interviews about the landfill operation, which “constituted misconduct that warrants discipline.”
In a Dec. 17, 2003, memo to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said Mr. Marx could not recall in interviews whether he told any FBI employees that they could take mementos, could not recall whether anyone from the FBI had asked whether they could take mementos and had no recollection of giving any items to FBI employees, including his superiors.
FBI spokesman Richard J. Kolko declined to comment, saying it was a matter involving the inspector general’s office and the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) “that already has been resolved.”
Mr. Lampinski said that even though OPR investigators concluded that the facts presented by the inspector general’s office in the Marx case did not warrant administrative action, that ruling was rejected by the FBI hierarchy, including Mr. Mueller and FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole.
In a June letter, Mr. Pistole said a 10-day suspension was warranted and ordered a letter of reprimand, known as a “Giglio letter,” be given to Mr. Marx, meaning he could not collect evidence or testify in court without being “rehabilitated” by a prosecutor, a process most federal attorneys avoid.
Mr. Marx, whose father spent 30 years as an FBI agent and whose mother worked in the bureau’s fingerprint section, declined to comment on the suspension or the investigation. But in a June 22 letter to Mr. Mueller, he denied any wrongdoing and called the inspector general’s report “unfairly biased and slanted to do me harm.”
“I love my job and the work I am assigned. … I am accused of something I did not do,” he said.
Initially, investigators in Chicago focused on accusations that Mr. Marx took 400 pounds of debris from the landfill, including an elevator wheel, airplane spare tires, a firetruck door, four police cruiser doors, melted guns, airplane pieces, lampposts, street signs, flags and a World Trade Center observation deck plate.
Later, after a leak of the probe to the press, some members of Congress, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, publicly referred to agents at the World Trade Center site as “grave robbers.”
But, Mr. Carbonell said the investigators’ concerns were misguided, because items removed from Fresh Kills by Mr. Marx were held at the evidence recovery unit at the FBI’s Philadelphia field office before being sent to museums nationwide, including the Smithsonian and the New York Historical Society, and for use in the FBI walking tour in Washington.
Mr. Carbonell said the recovered items were sent under a law passed by Congress calling for World Trade Center debris to be saved for their historical value and placed in museums and other public venues. He said investigators were given a list of all the landfill items that had been “bagged and tagged” by Mr. Marx for later shipment to museums, FBI headquarters and elsewhere.
Mr. Lampinski said Mr. Marx’s actions were corroborated in affidavits by several FBI officials and in a “memorandum of interview” by New York Police Department Deputy Inspector James Luongo.
“Given their patently false conclusions regarding the personal use of World Trade Center items and their entirely baseless charges of lack of candor and misconduct, I can only conclude the IG investigators … were bent on destroying Special Agent Marx’s reputation in the law enforcement and forensic communities based on a personal animus for both Marx and the FBI,” Mr. Lampinski said.
The New York Police Department, the New York Port Authority Police, several FBI supervisory personnel and various national museums, historical societies and universities, along with family members and friends of those lost in the September 11 attacks, have publicly voiced their support for Mr. Marx.
A specialist in evidence recovery, Mr. Marx was sent to Fresh Kills shortly after the September 11 attacks to develop a system for processing tons of World Trade Center debris. His recovery system has since been adopted by several law-enforcement and emergency response agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
As site manager, he oversaw more than 1,000 recovery specialists from 24 law-enforcement agencies, processing more than 1.8 million tons of debris. The remains of 188 of the World Trade Center victims were identified and returned to their families.
“I was saddened and shocked that the only FBI letter I received acknowledging my work at Fresh Kills was from Mr. Pistole reprimanding me and giving me time off,” Mr. Marx said in his letter. “I come from a proud FBI family … and all I ever wanted to do was represent the bureau in a positive light.”