New regional FBI head agent talks police corruption, drug trafficking, and cyber crime

photo courtesy of FBI

The Examiner had the unique and exciting opportunity Friday, Oct. 17, to visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation Houston Division office and speak to new Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner. FBI Director James B. Comey named Turner SAC of the Houston Division in July. The Houston field office covers 40 counties and includes five satellite offices, known as resident agencies; Beaumont is one of them. Turner most recently served as special agent in charge of the Louisville Division.

“I’ve always wanted to learn and grow inside the organization,” Turner said. “I think each job has a shelf life. In my opinion, the best job in the FBI is a special agent position because you go out, you meet people, you work cases, you go to court, you interview informants and you put people in jail. That’s a fun job, but … this leadership position means a lot to me. Leadership is a big thing for me — to try to motivate people to perform better and to help the organization grow.”

A native of Shreveport, La., Turner joined the bureau in 1991 and was assigned to the Birmingham (Ala.) Division, where he worked criminal investigative matters in the Huntsville Resident Agency. Four years later, he was transferred to the New Orleans Division and investigated gang, drug and public corruption matters in the Monroe Resident Agency.

But common criminals were not the only targets in Turner’s investigations. While working as a Special Agent in the New Orleans Division with about seven or eight years of experience under his belt, Turner helped shut down corrupt law enforcement operations and drug trafficking in Tallulah, a small town with a population of 7,335 in Northeastern Louisiana, where residents had suffered harassment by police and where police were conducting illegal activities.

“It was a town that was overrun with drug trafficking and police corruption, and local law enforcement did not have the proper resources to address those crime problems, so they reached out to the FBI for assistance,” Turner said. “The FBI partnered with Louisiana State Police and the District Attorney’s Office. … There were several allegations of police leaking information to drug traffickers and providing (them) protection. The police were basically supporting the drug trafficking violations in Tallulah.”

Turner said the Bureau got involved in the investigation, ironically enough, because a drug trafficker came to the FBI office in Monroe complaining about police harassment.

“He … complained about this police officer taking money from him,” Turner said. “Handcuffing him, putting him in his police car, driving around the corner, reaching in his pocket and taking his money out of his pocket, and he had no recourse. He said he went to the police department to file a complaint, but (nothing was resolved).”

Even members of the military felt the effect of the Tallulah police corruption. A native of the town and military officer stationed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia didn’t even feel safe coming home for leave, Turner learned, after meeting the man at a church service in Tallulah following the arrests of five City of Tallulah police officers.

“He said he didn’t go home that much,” Turner said. “When he did go home he stayed across the state line in Vicksburg, primarily because he was having issues with police pulling him over and harassing him, particularly this one officer. So, I asked him what the officer’s name was and it was the guy that I had investigated. That’s when I told him, ‘You can go home now because this guy is going to be in jail for a long time.’”

In 1999, Turner was promoted to supervisory special agent in the Criminal Investigation Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. While there, he worked in the Mexican/Criminal Syndicates Unit of the Drug Section. This should prove invaluable as Turner is head of the Houston Division, and the proximity of Houston to the U.S.-Mexico border makes the area susceptible to drug trafficking as well as other national security and law enforcement threats such as alien smuggling, weapons trafficking, and terrorist entry into the United States, according to a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Turner said he hopes his experience in drug trafficking and Mexican/Crime Syndicate investigations will serve the office well. While the presence of these syndicates will no doubt test his office, Turner said it only serves as a motivator.

“What motivates me is a challenge,” Turner said. “Being flexible and adaptable has definitely made me a stronger manager and also a better person. … Just trying to be proactive instead of reactive. It’s very challenging to try to anticipate what crimes are going to happen. That’s why it is important for us to get out there and develop networks and partnerships, so we can keep our thumbs on the pulse of what’s out there.”

While the increasing presence of the Mexican Cartels in Texas is definitely a concern, Turner said he is also extremely focused on cyber crime, a growing and incredibly serious threat.

Turner is able to utilize the Houston Area Cyber Crime Task Force, a partnership that consists of local, state and federal experts, to battle cyber crime, including online predators. Also available to Turner is the Greater Houston Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (GHRCFL), a one-stop, full service forensics laboratory and training center devoted entirely to the examination of digital evidence in support of criminal investigations, such as, but not limited to terrorism,

• Child pornography,

• Violent crimes,

• The theft or destruction of intellectual property,

• Internet crime and

• Fraud.

The GHRCFL was instrumental in bringing down 61-year-old Deweyville resident Mark James Frederick, who was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison for child pornography in 2012. Federal officials executed a search warrant at Frederick’s home following a complaint by a minor that the man had sexually assaulted her. Although photographs of the minor were not found, a forensic examination of the seized items revealed more than 600 images of child pornography, some of which included children under the age of 12 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Frederick was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 5, 2012, and charged with child pornography violations.

“Technology is great, and we want to encourage our kids to learn about it and participate in it … but there’s a risk associated with technology,” Turner said. “Raising awareness and educating your kids on what’s out there and what are some potential areas of concern (is important). Child predator crimes occur on a daily basis where kids are befriended by somebody posing as a person their age. Be careful who you friend on the Internet. Parents should be engaged when it comes to a child’s Internet usage. Don’t give them free reign on that. Be cognizant of the issues associated with that threat.”

Turner also hopes to bolster resources to the FBI Houston office including the number of agents.

“Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. as far as population,” he said. “I don’t feel like we have as many agents as we need to continue to have an impact in our area of responsibility. We have 8 million people in our entire (region) that includes Houston, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Bryan-College Station and Texas City. We have a huge territory, very complex cases that we work, a very complex missions, so we have to have the resources in order to be effective in this growing area.”

One way Turner believes the FBI Houston office can strengthen its force is through outreach programs and by improving its reputation with minority communities.

“Historically those communities have been under serviced,” he said. “I think there is a lot of negative information about law enforcement. In order to address their concerns, we have to build partnerships. We believe in order to make the public safe, we have to educate them and raise awareness. We’re doing that in areas of recruiting minorities for special agent positions. We have partnered with several minority agent organizations. We go out … and hold workshops. We talk about our mission and answer questions. There are a lot of concerns and misconceptions that we try to knock down.”

Turner has worked at both the Jackson Division and Memphis Division; both cities are in the top 10 cities in the United States with the highest percentage of African-Americans.

“I also wanted to grow within an organization, both professionally and personally, and I think the FBI has allowed me to do that by traveling to different cities and working in different environments,” he said.

While he has had the opportunity to serve all over the United States with the FBI, Turner said he is happy to be much closer to his home state of Louisiana.

“It feels great,” Turner said. “My wife is also from Louisiana, so we have the opportunity to be home more frequently. Both of our parents live in Louisiana. So it gives the kids the opportunity to spend time with their grandparents, their aunts and uncles. Being born and raised in the South, it’s just really a good experience for me.”

Turner and his wife, a schoolteacher, have two kids. Their son is a student at the University of Kentucky, and their daughter is in middle school.

When Turner isn’t fighting crime, he enjoys working out, fishing and watching LSU football. He isn’t too fond of police television dramas, though, and only watches them when his mother-in-law visits.

“She’s a big fan of all the police shows and is always asking me questions,” he said. “I really don’t watch them much unless (she) comes into town. That’s all she wants to watch. She is very fascinated by law enforcement.”

Turner said he looks forward to protecting Southeast Texans as SAC of the Houston FBI office and hopes his presence and knowledge will help solidify the division.

“My goal is to make Houston a flagship office, a center of excellence, not only for the state of Texas but for the entire FBI,” Turner said.