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Assigned to investigate D.C. corruption, FBI Agent Bill Spivey ended up in a world of stings, porn, and bad cops. Is it any surprise he
didn’t get away clean?
The door opens at the house of William Spivey, FBI agent. It’s a nice place, its spacious rooms decorated with antiques and art. But we aren’t staying. Almost as soon as I arrive, he introduces me to his wife, Renee Spivey, and then suddenly announces, “We’re going for a ride.”
The house alarm is set, and the three of us quickly hop into Spivey’s Jeep and cruise through the surrounding knolls of the upscale development. It’s in Fort Washington, a largely black suburb about 15 miles south of downtown D.C. The ride ends just a few blocks away, when the agent pulls into the driveway of another large, executive-style home.
The occupants, by prior arrangement, are gone. He punches in their house alarm code, and we walk into a plush suburban mansion much like his own. “This is our safe house,” Spivey says, with a wry smile. “What do you want to know?”
Well, everything, now that he mentions it. I want to know why Spivey, a black FBI agent, was depicted in news accounts as
a rogue agent intent on setting up then-
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. I’d like to know how it is that he stands accused of sending pornography to the wife of a Washington cop he was supposed to be looking after. And while we’re at it, I’d also like to know why he ended up testifying on behalf of another D.C. cop he helped bust for shaking down a whorehouse. Once I have the answers to all of those questions, I’m pretty sure I will know why Bill Spivey, FBI agent, is about to become Bill Spivey, ex-FBI agent.
In person, he looks every inch the straight-arrow G-man, right down to the close trim and the dark shades. He’s a licensed pilot, a low-handicap golfer, and a double agent who has infiltrated terrorist organizations. At 52, he’s kept his body lean. His muscles are buff. His gaze is direct. He doesn’t drink.
But he’s twitchy. Hence the safe house—you can take the agent out of the FBI, but you can’t take the FBI out of the agent. As I am beginning to understand, Spivey lives in a different world from most civilians. Where the rest of us see blue skies, he sees surveillance flights. Those two guys parked over there? They could be hearing every word we say through sophisticated listening devices. Shake hands? “The FBI probably just got that on film.” And his paranoia is not without foundation. They’re not just after him; they got him cold.
There’s a big stack of evidence suggesting that Spivey forgot the first lesson he learned at the FBI training academy: Trust no one. And the second: Suspect everyone. After being assigned to baby-sit a dirty D.C. cop with nothing to lose, Spivey somehow ended up going down with him. And now that the cop has finally gone to jail, Spivey’s career is in shreds, and he’s in the papers as some obsessed nutcase who singlehandedly tried to bring down the mayor. But where other people see a loose cannon, a Fibbie who left the reservation and brought the Bureau into disrepute, Spivey sees a victim, a stand-up agent who has been tricked by his enemies and thrown in by his friends.
Sitting beside his wife around the kitchen table in the neighbors’ house, Spivey hesitates as he slowly tries to reconstruct the tangled undercover web of events that conspired to undo him. His 18 years in the FBI are about to end—a recent letter from the Bureau suggests that he probably has 30 days left. The gloomy details are punctuated by a steady rain on the windowpanes. He’s reluctant to talk—FBI agents are programmed to keep their mouths shut no matter what—but no one else is defending him.
It’s a long story, he says. It could be a movie, says his wife. Somewhere near the opening credits of that movie, Spivey’s undoing might be framed by the one credo every agent lives by: “Do anything to solve the case, but don’t do anything to embarrass the FBI.”
Spivey was once an ambitious cop who parlayed a career as a police detective in Norfolk, Va., near his native Portsmouth, into a job with the FBI in 1982. Within a year, he was doing undercover work infiltrating the Republic of New Africa, an alleged domestic terrorist group with ties to the ’60s radical group the Weather Underground—and at least one fatal armored car robbery in New York. He was assigned bank robbery investigations in the D.C. area, a core task in the Bureau’s franchise. As a trained pilot, he got a piece of the Aldrich Ames spy case doing air surveillance operations. For a while, he oversaw a secret FBI airfield in Virginia. Like all of his colleagues, he kept his initial profile low—the closest he came to any news headlines was doing background investigations on congressional witnesses in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination fight.
Back then, Spivey was the picture of a successful agent, even if he didn’t always agree with supervisors about his assignments. Some of the disputes were typical office politics, but he began to believe that broader, darker forces were at work. By 1990, less than 10 years out of the FBI Academy, Spivey noticed that he wasn’t being promoted as quickly as some of his fellow agents. “There’s still a lot of guys who think minorities don’t belong in the FBI,” he says. He began speaking out about what he viewed to be an institutional bias against agents of color.
Spivey, a seasoned street investigator, wasn’t the only black agent who was getting a feeling that there were two kinds of FBI employees, and the other kind was getting the plum assignments. In 1990, he and a half-dozen other black agents in the Washington Field Office got to grumbling together about what they saw as an unequal distribution of promotions within the agency. They became known as the Magnificent Seven. They eventually formed BADGE (Black Agents Don’t Get Equality), with Spivey serving as unofficial spokesman, and compiled a list of grievances. BADGE began meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church on 9th Street NW. When they felt the presence of agency spies, they started gathering out on Hains Point. By early 1991, the black agents were ready to go public and take their allegations to court. On April 23, 1991, Spivey went public on the CBS Evening News, appearing in an on-camera interview to say that the Bureau needed to do some policing of its own employment practices. He said racism was “alive and well” in the FBI. Under unwelcome public scrutiny, the FBI agreed to a settlement in which it committed to investigating and attempting to mediate the claims of BADGE and the 300 agents BADGE purported to represent.
But with that mild victory, the black agents say, came a high cost. All but a few of the BADGE members ended up facing disciplinary actions, bad performance ratings, or what the black agents considered forced retirements. “They zeroed in on all the original members,” said Ronald Kemp, one of those who retired. “You were always under the gun, watching your back. It made it hard to do your job.”
Another member says that about the only thing that changed after the agreement was reached was their career prospects. And it wasn’t a change for the good. “We were known as troublemakers,” said another one of the Magnificent Seven, who demanded anonymity. “We all faced similar situations. They made our lives a living hell, and they came after us one by one.” Among those who eventually retired under pressure was Emanuel Johnson Jr., the named plaintiff in the black agents’ suit.
Still, Spivey’s career arc seemed mostly intact until 1997. He had been disciplined for using an FBI plane without authorization and had also been accused of revealing information about an FBI investigation to a defense attorney. Nonetheless, he was assigned to the Special Operations Group in Springfield, Va., where he spent much of his time trailing people of interest to the FBI. Then, that spring, he says, a black supervisor ran into trouble using an FBI credit card in the romantic pursuit of an office secretary. When the dust settled, Spivey says, he and a number of other black agents were transferred out. Spivey filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint. He did not prevail.
In May 1997, he was sent to the Washington Field Office’s public corruption section in Tysons Corner. Among black agents in the region, the office had a reputation for obsession with black D.C. officials, particularly Mayor Marion Barry, who had essentially wriggled out of the noose that the FBI had set for him back at the Vista Hotel in 1990. “It was considered a ‘get-Barry’ squad,” Spivey says.
At the public corruption unit, it seemed to Spivey that all investigations led to Barry, whose arrest at the Vista had led only to a misdemeanor drug conviction. In spite of recent headlines that suggested that he was the one who was lusting after a Barry arrest, Spivey says he was merely following orders, some of which he didn’t necessarily agree with. One of his first assignments, in the summer of 1997, had him looking into the District’s parking meter contract with Lockheed Martin. Bureau higher-ups suspected that Barry had somehow gotten in on the award of the massive contract. “I received enormous pressure…to link Barry to the investigation,” Spivey says. At one point, he met with Barry’s attorney, Frederick Cooke. No charges were ever filed.
In September 1997, Spivey was still up to his eyeballs in the Lockheed Martin case when he was asked to help out in an investigation of Lt. Yong Ahn, the Metropolitan Police Department’s highest-ranking Asian officer. The unit had received information that Ahn, a 1st District night-watch commander, was shaking down Korean “massage parlors” for protection money. Spivey had his doubts: The initial video-surveillance operations seemed to show more infatuation than ill-intent in the police lieutenant’s entreaties toward a young Korean massage parlor owner named Sarah. “I questioned whether he was really extorting money or just having an affair,” he says.
All the same, the FBI arrested Ahn early one morning in February 1998, at the end of the lieutenant’s overnight shift. Spivey led an interrogation that was destined to become the basis of a legal appeal by Ahn, who claims he was grilled all day long despite his request for a lawyer. (Spivey would later support Ahn’s contention at a court hearing.)
Ahn, too, believes the public corruption unit seemed to have its sights set on Barry. In an interview, Ahn says he got the impression right away that he was expected to lead the FBI to businessmen Ho Kang and Tony Cheng, and other top Barry fundraisers in Washington’s Asian community. Spivey says Ahn got the right impression: “I was cognizant very quickly of where the Yong Ahn investigation was intended to lead.”
Barry noticed that his dealings were back in the gun sights of the FBI when he was informed that his bank records had been subpoenaed. According to Ahn, the FBI suspected Barry of depositing campaign contributions from Asian businessmen into his own personal account.
“It wasn’t anything I was worried about,” Barry says now. “Everything was on the up and up.” But at the time, Barry was unaware of Ahn’s arrest, his secret guilty plea on March 11, 1998, and the FBI’s plan to catch Barry selling a city job to Ahn’s wife, Azita Ahn, for the sum of $5,000.
Though the Ahns were reluctant FBI undercover operatives against Barry, they had little choice but to cooperate in exchange for a lenient sentence—and, they hoped, secrecy. But the Barry sting imploded on April 23, 1998, when two local television stations broke the news of Ahn’s February arrest. Although the newsies didn’t know that Ahn was being used to go after Barry, the reports blew Ahn’s cover, rendering him useless to the FBI. Disgraced, forlorn, and desperate, Ahn sought to reverse his tearful confession and guilty plea. Now working full time in the family dry-cleaning business, he’s still fighting that battle, vowing to “get my day in court.”
About a month after the Barry sting flopped, Spivey was assigned to watch over another fallen D.C. cop, Officer Michael Cencich. Like Ahn, Cencich was accused of shaking down prostitutes for protection money. Like Ahn, he agreed to cooperate in a broader corruption probe in exchange for a reduced sentence. Like Ahn, he had Spivey assigned to him as his “control” agent. But somewhere over the course of the summer of 1998, Cencich managed to turn the tables on his keeper.
In August, while Cencich was awaiting sentencing for extortion, he brought authorities copious electronic evidence that Spivey had sent obscene e-mail messages and pictures to Cencich’s wife, Suzann Cencich, over the Internet. The Justice Department launched an investigation that culminated Oct. 6, the day Spivey testified on behalf of Ahn in a hearing about a new trial. Before he got out of the courthouse, Spivey had been dispossessed of his badge, gun, and briefcase. In the span of a year, Spivey had gone from hunter to prey.
In Spivey’s world of spy vs. spy, he was set up by a wily, dirty cop with the express cooperation of the agency he had served for nearly two decades. But, conspiracies aside, the official rap on Spivey is devastating.
Cencich was a highly regarded intelligence-unit officer who had once earned a commendation from FBI Director Lois Freeh. Then he got caught extorting money from several Dominican-run whorehouses around the city. He had been having financial problems and had told one pimp in a shakedown, “You’re looking for money, I’m looking for money,” according to court records. In the hopes of a lighter sentence, Cencich had quickly agreed to help the FBI root out other corrupt cops. Spivey, rounding out his first year in the public corruption squad, was assigned to keep an eye on the agency’s new asset.
Spivey’s initial debriefing of Cencich took place right after Cencich pleaded guilty to extortion. They met in the office of Cencich’s lawyer, G. Allen Dale, who works close to the FBI building downtown. Suzann Cencich was also present. Spivey says she made no particular impression on him, but Cencich’s lawyer remembers it differently: “It is apparent that Spivey’s attraction for her began that day,” Dale wrote in a subsequent court brief. Even before Michael Cencich had a chance to give anybody up, according to Dale, Spivey had contacted Suzann Cencich via America Online and began communicating with explicit proposals for a liaison. One passage, offered in a court brief to win Michael Cencich leniency, quoted Spivey telling Suzann Cencich he could “make [her] smile, scream, moan, groan, and more which I will keep to myself.”
He also sent pictures. “Suffice it to say they are the most disgusting, vile, and sexually explicit photographs imaginable,” Dale would later tell a court. “We know of no one, save possibly Larry Flynt, who would not be embarrassed to view them.” Allegedly, Spivey included at least one nude shot of himself. Then he asked Suzann Cencich to reciprocate.
Spivey’s request apparently didn’t come out of the blue. Spivey knew that a search of the Cencich house in suburban Maryland had turned up computer disks with graphic sexual depictions of Suzann Cencich. When she told Spivey that the nude pictures he wanted were on the seized disks, he allegedly returned some of them to her—illegally, according to Dale.
Dale, who brought much of the damning material to the authorities in August 1998, portrayed Michael Cencich as a victim of a “one-sided game of Russian roulette.” He wrote in a later court brief that Suzann Cencich “was under the impression that if she did not continue to ‘go along’ with Spivey’s perversion, it would affect the outcome of her husband’s cooperation and result in her husband serving a lengthy jail sentence.”
Michael Cencich had some tools at his disposal. A seasoned investigator, he allegedly lured Spivey into compromising himself. One government brief in the case suggests that at least a few of the hundreds of pages of e-mail exchanges were actually between Spivey and Michael Cencich, who was posing as his wife. He also started taping their phone calls.
Michael Cencich, it seemed, had an inexhaustible supply of dirt. He told authorities that Spivey had told him to keep $700 he had gotten from a brothel operator, and that Spivey had once demanded sex from a Spanish-speaking prostitute. Cencich, who speaks Spanish, claimed that Spivey had directed him to tell the woman that “if she didn’t ride this boat, she could ride a boat back to her country.” He also reported that Spivey had let him carry a pistol during an undercover operation—clearly a violation of the law, given Cencich’s status as a felon.
According to his later account, Michael Cencich was told by Spivey that, as an FBI agent, Spivey was untouchable: He was trained to defeat a polygraph examination; he could use credit agencies to track down anybody; and if anybody crossed him, he could put a bullet in the person’s head.
Odder still, Cencich told authorities that throughout the summer of 1998 Spivey was encouraging him to withdraw his guilty plea. The U.S. Attorney’s Office couldn’t be trusted, Spivey reportedly told him, and his own lawyers had “sold him out.” Cencich, according to Dale, felt completely compromised. In his sentencing brief last year to U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Dale wrote: “Mike Cencich was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. His only way to express redemption for his sins was to cooperate with the Government. His only way to cooperate was through Agent Spivey, and Agent Spivey was doing everything in his power to sleep with Cencich’s wife and undermine Cencich’s cooperation.”
Suzann Cencich, in a letter to the judge dated Jan. 12, 1999, described the entire ordeal as “a nightmare.” The couple was in therapy, she said. Meanwhile, the feds had apparently wasted no time opening an investigation against Spivey. They also moved Cencich and his family at government expense in late 1998 to protect them from any possible retaliation.
The allegations were referred to the FBI and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which is currently in the midst of an investigation. The Justice Department declined a request for an interview. But court records indicate that, besides looking at Spivey’s e-mail exchanges with Suzann Cencich, investigators also said they developed evidence that Spivey had sent confidential FBI reports to Michael Cencich over the Internet, including a document identifying the name, address, and telephone number of another informant who had given the FBI information about corrupt D.C. police officers. The game of double jeopardy reached its apogee when Michael Cencich, a convicted felon, was sent to meet Spivey, his FBI control agent, wearing a wire.
Spivey knows that there is substantial evidence arrayed against him suggesting that he was using his position to advance a personal agenda that had nothing to do with his job description. But the same facts, viewed through Spivey’s conspiratorial prism, suggest that he was guilty of nothing more than naivete.
According to Spivey, Michael Cencich made the first move, tracking him down via a name search on America Online shortly after they had begun working together. Soon after, Suzann Cencich was contacting him, too. They began to chat. The chats became increasingly graphic, and he says he reported the contacts to his supervisor in the public corruption squad, Christopher Kirwan. Kirwan, according to Spivey, told him to “pump her” for information about her husband, whom the FBI suspected of holding back. Spivey says the FBI also believed that Suzann Cencich had been involved in money pick-ups with her husband—an allegation Dale denies. (Kirwan, for his part, isn’t talking. Speaking to me on an interoffice telephone as I stood in an unmarked FBI lobby on the second floor of a green glass office tower in Tysons Corner, Kirwan indicated he couldn’t discuss Spivey. “My hands are tied,” he said.)
Spivey claims he took the phrase “pump her” as a deliberate double-entendre—an invitation to get to know her better, in the Biblical sense if necessary. He claims that such an investigative gambit isn’t outside of the FBI’s playbook, that seduction had been one of the requirements of his 1983 infiltration of the Republic of New Africa. In the Cencich case, he was merely doing whatever it took to win Suzann Cencich’s trust. And it seemed to be working. Spivey says she led him through a series of incredibly graphic Internet chat rooms. Among the records and notes Spivey keeps of his case are some of the pictures he says she sent him. They run from the completely raunchy to an angelic photograph of her son.
Spivey admits that he sent along some sexually explicit photos of his own. He says he downloaded them all from the Internet, including at least one of a well-endowed black man—cut off at the shoulders—that was supposed to be him. (In October 1998, when the FBI raided their house, Renee Spivey was shown the picture. She says she took one look at the image, noted the man’s scaly complexion, and said, “That ain’t my man.”)
But even if the picture isn’t Spivey, the other accusations remain. What about the $700 prostitution payoff? Spivey says he was nowhere near the incident, that it occurred before his watch. And the FBI reports that ended up in Cencich’s hands? Spivey says they originated with Cencich, who knew how to fill out FBI reports from previous work he had done on a joint police-federal task force. What about the specter of a recently convicted felon carrying a gun? Spivey says it was an unloaded prop he gave Cencich while they worked undercover on an investigation of corrupt police officers.
From the G-men’s perspective, the story is distasteful but simple. One of their own decided that he was above the law he was sworn to enforce. But Spivey says he’s been the victim of a massive operation by his FBI supervisors to manufacture a case against him and get him out of the agency. And what better tool than Michael Cencich, who needed to snitch on somebody to reduce his sentence? “These are desperate people taking desperate measures,” Spivey says. “Of course, they figured, who’s going to believe me?” And once Spivey was held in disrepute, the Bureau and the U.S. Attorney were able to blame the Barry debacle on him and distance themselves.
Cora Masters Barry, Marion Barry’s wife, thinks it’s possible that the black agent was set up to take the fall for federal misdeeds. Like Spivey, who sees himself as the Will Smith character in Enemy of the State, she believes the setup resembles something straight out of Hollywood. Spivey’s paranoia, Cora Masters Barry believes, has the ring of truth to it: “A lot of what you see on TV is a copy of real life.”
No criminal charges against Spivey have been filed, although he is currently on administrative leave and believes that he will be fired in the next few weeks. Cencich, who pleaded guilty in May 1998 to extortion for accepting $1,450 from a house of prostitution, was sentenced last April to 15 months in a federal prison in Florida. Agreeing to leniency, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubester noted that Cencich’s information on Spivey had helped “the FBI rid itself of a bad law enforcement agent.”
Although the lawyers have debated whether Cencich did much else to cooperate with the FBI after his arrest in May 1998, there was apparently no limit to Cencich’s willingness to snitch. According to Spivey and Dale, Cencich simply appeared uninvited at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., shortly after his arrest and asked to speak to a case officer. He was escorted to a room equipped with a video camera and interviewed by two CIA officials. Spivey says Cencich told them he had been arrested by the FBI and offered to do whatever it took to get off the hook: He spoke fluent Spanish, would go anywhere, could set up anyone. The CIA people left him to pace for a while, then came back and dismissed him. He was escorted off the premises, and a copy of the videotape was forwarded to the FBI.
As a freelance snitch, Cencich explored other avenues of attack on Spivey, as well. In a government brief filed in his extortion case, it’s alleged that during the period of Cencich’s cooperation with the FBI, in the summer of 1998, he made contact with “another criminal defendant about Spivey’s misconduct and encouraged that defendant to work with Cencich to discredit Spivey.”
The name of the other defendant Cencich supposedly contacted is not disclosed in court records, but it’s a safe bet the brief was talking about Ahn, the protagonist in the Barry sting. In the summer of 1998, Ahn says, Cencich contacted him on his police pager, while Ahn was preparing to appeal his guilty plea for receiving illegal gratuities. Because Ahn’s February arrest was still technically under seal, he says, he was surprised to hear from Cencich.
What Cencich wanted, according to Ahn, was help in recruiting “Korean girls” to entice Spivey into a compromising situation. Ahn says that Cencich also mentioned that his own wife could “set up anyone” and that Ahn’s cooperation could help Ahn with his case. Ahn declined the offer, but Cencich called again, he says. “He advised me this was my last chance to ‘get on the bus,’” Ahn says.
After the Barry sting was derailed by news reports of his arrest, Ahn was out of maneuvering room. The Metropolitan Police Department moved to fire him, and Ahn became a cooperating witness without portfolio. Once the pride of the Washington Korean community, Ahn lost face when his name appeared in the news. He says he pleaded guilty to protect his name and his family. Now he had nothing to lose. “I want to get my name back,” he says. He was not without allies.
“I was prepared to testify for Ahn, and testify truthfully,” Spivey says. “That would have given Ahn grounds for a lawsuit against the FBI.”
Spivey says he had problems with Ahn’s arrest from the beginning. Despite videotaped evidence showing Ahn taking a cash payoff from a prostitute, Spivey continues to have his doubts about Ahn’s guilt. And he was also willing to testify that while Ahn was being interrogated—an interview Spivey was part of—his request for a lawyer was largely ignored. “If I’m going to put someone in jail, I want to feel good about it,” Spivey says. “I didn’t feel good about this.”
Around Christmas 1997, Spivey and his partner, Dane Foore, had sat in a secret hiding place in a massage room at the back of the New World Spa near Chinatown as part of the FBI’s investigation into reports that a D.C. cop was shaking down massage parlors. As he stared into the video monitor in front of him, something looked wrong to Spivey.
The monitor was hooked up to a camera in the base of a lamp in the lobby, where the FBI hoped to videotape Sarah, the New World’s owner, paying off Ahn. The lobby is a threadbare world of mirrors and silk flowers, two floors above a beauty salon on 11th Street downtown. The video setup was much the same as the one the FBI had used to spy on then-Mayor Barry smoking crack in the Vista Hotel in January 1990. According to Spivey, Ahn could be seen offering perfume and flowers to Sarah. A slender young woman from Korea, Sarah politely offered the uniformed lieutenant some tea. At one point, the cop peered straight into the lamp, creating a tense moment back in the massage room. But then Ahn motioned his female friend to sit next to him on the couch. A conversation in Korean ensued.
Hardly a typical MO for an extortion or bribery plot, Spivey thought. “It blew my mind,” he says. “I’m like, This is extorting money? It’s crazy. Where I come from, he’d just take the money and go.” Instead, the conversation ended, and Sarah walked Ahn out to a musty stairwell outside the door—and outside the reach of the camera. Then she reappeared in the lobby, back on camera. Spivey never saw her give Ahn the alleged $3,000 payoff.
“Did you give him the money?” Foore reportedly asked.
“Yes,” Sarah told them.
“When?” Spivey pressed.
“In the stairwell,” she assured them.
Spivey, the veteran of the two agents, got indignant. “Do I look that fucking stupid?” he demanded. Foore tried to calm him down. Later, they would talk about cultural differences in the way Koreans do business. “This is bullshit,” Spivey remembers thinking. “Sure, there are cultural differences. But you take my money from me, I’m gonna have an attitude about it.” The woman was keeping the money, Spivey figured, and the FBI agents were being played like chumps. “Nothing going on there but a police lieutenant infatuated with a woman,” Spivey says. “It’s like Bill Clinton. I don’t want to know.”
A subsequent surveillance operation would catch Lt. Ahn taking $2,000 from Sarah on videotape. It was on Jan. 15, Ahn’s 38th birthday. He says now that he accepted the envelope from Sarah as a gift, before he knew what it was. He says he returned it the next day, though not before Foore and Spivey spotted him spending a $20 bill on gas on his way back to his suburban Springfield home.
Spivey, ever the contrarian, says he’s inclined to believe that Sarah got the rest of the money back. For her part, Sarah’s not saying.
Standing at the top of the stairwell, leading into the lobby where she was videotaped with Ahn, Sarah recently greeted me with a tight-lipped smile. She walked to a room in the back with a low-framed bed. She dimmed the lights. She looked 10 years younger than her 35 years. She could have been selling clothes at the Gap. I called her by name and asked her about Agent Spivey and Lt. Ahn. Did she keep the money? “I can’t talk,” she said, indicating that she was still working for the feds. “I’m on the hook of the FBI.”
Whatever misgivings Spivey may have about Sarah, her cooperation against Ahn launched both Ahn and Spivey, however indirectly, on a rendezvous with local lore and history: the foiled April 1998 Barry sting, which remained hidden in sealed court records until last November, when Ahn got a four-month prison sentence for accepting illegal gratuities.
The details of the sting, contained in Yong Ahn’s “cooperation diary,” outlined a now-familiar FBI plot to “nail” Barry by videotaping the mayor taking $5,000 in exchange for a job for Azita Ahn. The operation was to have taken place in Virginia, where Barry would presumably “not [have gotten] off easy” the way he had in D.C. in 1990. The protagonists of the diary are Spivey and Foore, who are quoted telling Yong Ahn that their bosses were “pressuring them about [the] Mayor’s investigation.”
Spivey says it was media reports of Ahn’s secret arrest several months before that kept the Barry sting from going forward. But Ahn’s diary quotes Spivey and Foore as telling him that the assistant U.S. Attorney on the case, Richard Chapman, had reservations about the sting because it was “too much work and too political.” Chapman has refused comment, though U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis issued a written statement insisting that her office “did not authorize a sting operation.”
Spivey says his friends now chide him as the “black Ollie North,” a single agent out on a mission without legal authorization. “I’ve been designated as the mastermind of the Mayor Barry sting, without anyone else having any knowledge, which is ludicrous.”
Spivey has found some private support among FBI agents who are offended at the suggestion that anyone in the FBI would be out on an investigative limb without the approval of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We don’t do cases like that without the U.S. Attorney getting involved,” says one agent who requested anonymity. “I don’t think the Bureau has any problem with what Spivey did [on the Barry case].”
Barry, who knows a thing or two about investigations, says he doubts that Spivey or his fellow travelers in the FBI were after him without authorization: “I’ve been under investigation for the last 25 or 30 years, so I’m used to that. But there’s no way the FBI would operate in a vacuum, especially on a case involving me. That would have had to be a high-level decision.”
Officially, FBI and Justice Department officials aren’t saying a word about Spivey. But when the effort to bring down Barry broke in the Washington Post last November, both agencies got out the 10-foot poles. The man left standing all by himself, the rogue agent who was on some inexplicable personal crusade to get Barry, was Spivey.
“I had no ax to grind with Barry,” says Spivey, pointing out that the sting was discussed at several meetings in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Although he can’t say how high it was discussed in the chain of command, he clearly felt he was following orders: “I just never wanted it said that I didn’t do my job.”
But if Spivey is feeling a little bit like a black Ollie North—left to hang by butt-covering superiors—some of the lawyers in the Ahn and Cencich cases say this conspiracy theorist is worthy of another moniker: Oliver Stone. David Smith, the lawyer who initially encouraged Ahn to plead guilty, calls the evidence against the police lieutenant “overwhelming.” Notions of his innocence now are fairly “post hoc,” he says, pointing out that a federal judge’s ruling in 1998 denied Ahn’s move to reverse his guilty plea, which is still on appeal. Smith also argues that even if Cencich was a plant to set up Spivey, then Spivey—like Barry in 1990—had no one but himself to blame.
“The reason they went after Spivey is because of what he did in the Cencich case,” Smith says. “He’s lucky he wasn’t prosecuted. You don’t have to look for a hidden agenda there.” Smith, a former prosecutor, says Spivey’s suggestion that he was getting electronically intimate with Suzann Cencich at the FBI’s behest is ludicrous: “It’s just so far out of the playbook.”
Dale, Cencich’s lawyer, also points out that Cencich had been identified as a suspect long before Spivey was in the picture and dismisses the idea that his client was squeezed to take out the agent. “It doesn’t seem to have any logic to it,” he says.
For his part, Spivey plays the parts of both victim and stand-up agent with real sincerity. Many of the scenarios he lays out seem far-fetched, but the official version of the story has some hard-to-believe dimensions as well. And Ahn says there’s always more to the story than what comes out.
“In law enforcement, there’s always the official story, and then there’s the real story,” Ahn said. “The true story is much more sinister and much more dark.” If Spivey has any room left to wiggle, it’s partly because both versions come out of a world of officially sanctioned deceits, fake names, and made-up story lines—all routine stuff in the life of a typical undercover agent.
Spivey’s downfall sounds like the Plan rendered in miniature, a world in which the allied forces of white power brokers work to prevent the rise of a black man in their midst. Barry’s spouse, for one, doesn’t think Spivey is the guy who tried to send her husband back to jail.
“I could smell they were trying to make this guy a fall guy,” says Cora Masters Barry. “One agent off on his own? That’s not how it works. I knew there was something fishy.”
Then there’s always the possibility that, as in Barry’s Vista incident, both competing truths are real: Spivey was being set up, and he made a grave error. “He was definitely on their list,” said Kemp, of Magnificent Seven fame. “They would wait for you to make a mistake. Whether he played into it or not, I don’t know.”
The court record suggests his role went beyond being duped. Spivey may have gotten shot down by his own agency, but perhaps he’s the one who gave them the bullets.
And where Spivey sees a vast conspiracy to destroy him via Cencich and Ahn, attorney Carl Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent who brought forward one of the informants who implicated Ahn, sees a convenient cover story that doesn’t hold up.
“The FBI is good at what it does, but they can’t make a guy take off his clothes and send it over the Internet,” Rowan said. “It’s preposterous. The rules for operating with informants are very precise, and the sanctions for violating them are swift and certain.”
Spivey knows he was operating on the edges of the rules, but he believes the transgression that got him in real trouble was his willingness to speak his mind—first about the lack of career prospects for black agents, and later about the problems with Ahn’s arrest. And the linkage is hard to miss, given the events of Oct. 6, 1998.
That was the day Spivey took the stand for Ahn, in a closed hearing in U.S. District Court. He appeared nervous, in the view of Ahn’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro. “There was some bad chemistry in the courtroom,” Shapiro recalls. “It appeared Spivey was shaking, and I couldn’t account for it.” Nevertheless, Spivey testified that Ahn’s interrogation had gone on after Ahn had requested a lawyer. He also testified about the extent of Ahn’s cooperation and outlined how the Barry probe had gone awry.
But when he got off the stand, he says, he was asked to accompany a U.S. marshal to the chambers of Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who was presiding over the hearing. When he got there, he was met by two FBI agents and told he was being put on administrative leave. His gun had already been checked in so he could testify in court. He forfeited his badge, along with his government-issue gray Ford Taurus and the briefcase he had left in it. He called his lawyer, William Moffitt, who picked him up and drove him home. When they arrived, the FBI was already there with a search warrant. CP