Thursday, July 20, 2017  

Spy Catcher


The capture of the Walker family of spies was the result of hundreds of hours of good old fashioned investigative work by a team of FBI agents led by Joseph R. Wolfinger. The epic spy story has been written about in a book titled Family of Spies by Pete Earley and in a TV movie of the same name.
Former FBI agent Joseph R. Wolfinger lives in Tappahannock, Virginia with his wife Ginerva and is active in the community. He is a charming man who has led an exciting life the like of which us mere mortals can only dream about. Joe Wolfinger is a multifaceted man whose life in the FBI has been like something out of a spy novel. Joe Wolfinger was born on August 13, 1944 in Minneola, New York. His father joined the Navy during WWII. Soon his dad was assigned to the Merchant Marine Academy where he served as Director of Athletics. Joe Wolfinger grew up in Norfolk, Virginia. He attended high school in Norfolk and the Randolph Macon College in Ashland. From there he went to the University of South Carolina School of Law. When he graduated in 1969, a friend interested him in applying for a job with the FBI. He was accepted and spent the next 30 years as a member of what many believe is the finest law enforcement agency in the world.
In November, of 1984 Joe Wolfinger was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where he held the position of squad supervisor in the counterintelligence section. In a classic case of the old axiom “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” John Walker’s ex-wife Barbara discovered that her former husband owned a three-bedroom home, his own private detective business, a single engine airplane, a houseboat and had a girlfriend half his age with whom he was living. He had not paid her any alimony. Unaware that her son Michael was also involved in the spying, Barbara tipped off the FBI in Boston. The agent in Boston, after meeting with a slightly tipsy Barbara Walker, dismissed the complaint as the ravings of a bitter ex-wife. He however, sent the report to FBI agents Joe Wolfinger and Robert W. Hunter at the Norfolk office because John Walker lived in Norfolk. Joe Wolfinger read the report and was struck by the accuracy of her details on how her former husband was spying. That is where the initial investigation of John Walker began. In their surveillance of John Walker, Joe Wolfinger and his team watched Walker’s every move.
On May the 19th of 1985, Joe Wolfinger and a team of nearly ninety people followed Walker on a merry chase up Interstate 95 to Maryland and then onto Washington, DC. At 8 pm one of the team members watched Walker hide a bag which turned out be filled with Top Secret documents. In the end, they found that John Walker, his son Michael and brother Arthur James Walker along with Jerry Alfred Whitworth conspired to steal Top Secret documents and sell them to the KGB.
While Joe Wolfinger was the Agent in Charge of the Buffalo, New York office of the FBI, the office was called upon to work on the case of Timothy McVeigh. The Buffalo FBI office contributed importantly to the investigation. McVeigh was eventually convicted and sentenced to death for driving a Ryder truck filled with explosives to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and detonating the explosives at 9:02 am on April 19, 1995. The explosion he set off killed 168 people. After leaving the military, McVeigh was living with his father in Buffalo where he was reported to have serious bouts of depression. McVeigh, it is reported, was deeply influenced by the events at Waco, Texas where four agents and six members of the Branch Davidians were killed in a standoff between the FBI and the Davidians which lasted for 51 days. For a time Joe Wolfinger was also an assistant director of the FBI and in charge of the Academy in Quantico, Virginia where he directed the training of FBI agents.
In recent years Joe Wolfinger, who is an attorney, has been part of Police Performance Solutions LLC, a company that serves the unique function of helping to determine if police departments are obeying the rules.
When Joe Wolfinger heard the story of how a well-respected former FBI agent named Paul Ricco was, in October of 2003 at the age of 78, arrested for the 1981 murder of Roger Wheeler, a Tulsa Oklahoma based millionaire, his curiosity was peaked. There were lots of red flags in the handling of the case. Rico was never convicted – he died shortly after he was sent to Oklahoma. Rico died before there was even a preliminary hearing. There never was a trial on the charge of murder. The more Joe Wolfinger thought about the story, the more he found it hard to believe that an agent he learned was a man with an outstanding reputation in the bureau could be the same man that could murder a man in cold blood. Wolfinger discussed the story with his friend and former FBI agent Chris Kerr. Kerr shared Wolfinger’s disbelief and together the two retired FBI agents decide to investigate the case.
Their investigation took over three years, it involved interviews with over 100 agents, police officers, witnesses and prosecutors, and the review of thousands of pages of government documents and court proceedings. Their scrutiny led to a finding that in fact Paul Rico was not guilty of the murder and was a tale of corruption involving organized crime figures and corrupt officials. During their investigation, Wolfinger and Kerr found that Paul Rico was a consistently honest agent who invariably did the right thing. The two former agents learned that Paul Rico had taken a job as head of security for a company that ran Jai Alai games in Florida. Rico discovered that the then president of the company was associating with known mobsters. He informed the board of the company of this fact and John B. Callahan, president of World Jai Alai Inc., was fired. No one could accuse Rico of having done something wrong when as soon as he learned Callahan was mobbed up, he informed his bosses.
Fascinated by this story, Wolfinger and Kerr joined together with Jerry Seper, recently retired investigative reporting editor of The Washington Times, to tell the world what a great agent Paul Rico actually was and to set forth the evidence that would prove that he was not guilty of a crime. The collaboration resulted in a book titled RICO published by Telemacus Press, www.RICOBOOK.COM.
Joe Wolfinger has lived a life one would expect to find in a spy novel. Only for Joe Wolfinger, it was his real life’s work. He has participated in a wide range of criminal investigations particularly in the fields of white collar crime, fraud and counterterrorism. For his work in the successful investigation of the John Walker espionage Ring, he was awarded the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in the field of counterintelligence. He led the development of the FBI’s first on-line computer system that provided investigative and analytical support to field investigators. He has been involved in some very high profile and top secret cases that have been a threat to national security.
Obviously, much of the work that Joe Wolfinger has done over the years is classified and can only be guessed at in novels like those penned by Catherine Coulter or in TV shows like The Sopranos. The one thing that is certain is that America is a safer place to live because of the work of men like Joe Wolfinger. Wolfinger is one of those unsung heroes who has worked diligently for years to keep this nation safe from threats both outside and inside this country. He is no longer chasing spies, but is actively involved in a unique service to the courts keeping the honesty, ethics and quality of law enforcement agencies up to the high standard he has set for himself.