Newly published FBI special agent history of Congressmember behind landmark anti-fraud legislation

Representative Mike Oxley, best known for his co-authorship of the anti-fraud law to emerge from the Enron scandal, was one of the FBI’s staunchest defenders in the halls of Congress throughout his tenure—and especially during the 1990s “Crypto Wars,” in which the Bureau tried and failed to require law enforcement backdoors in all U.S. encryption software.

Oxley was one of two former FBI agents to serve in Congress—the other, Rep. Don Edwards, served as chair of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights and frequently butted heads with his former employer on policy issues.

In the years after Oxley’s 1971 retirement from the FBI, he remained close with the Bureau’s leadership and continued to exchange friendly correspondence. He received letters of thanks from FBI directors each time he defended the agency in the Congressional Record. Today, FOIA The Dead is publishing Oxley’s complete FBI file, including the following notable points:

  • In 1971 Oxley received personal commendation from J. Edgar Hoover for his efforts in arresting suspects involved in a bank robbery. According to Roll Call, the bank robbery involved the Black Panthers.

    The high quality of your efforts incident to the investigation and apprehensions of [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] the subjects of a Bank Robbery case, is indeed worthy of commendation.

    In spite of the difficulties you encountered, you skillfully and with great dispatch effected the arrests of these Bureau fugitives without causing insurmountable problems. I am appreciative.

  • Also in 1971, Oxley received a $200 “incentive award” authorized by Hoover for working with an informant to apprehend one of the suspects in the killing of NYPD officer Kenneth Nugent. Two of the people charged for that crime were the last people sentenced to death in New York before a State Court ruled the law unconstitutional; their sentences were reduced to 25 years to life.
  • A section of the FBI’s August 1969 pre-employment background check is representative of the Bureau’s concerns in the era:

    screenshot_2016-09-25_19-46-22screenshot_2016-09-25_19-46-06

    [REDACTED], A NON-HIPPIE TYPE INDIVIDUAL RESIDING AT [REDACTED], ADVISED THAT [REDACTED] LIVES WITH HIM AT THIS ADDRESS AND IS SINGLE. … STATED [REDACTED] IS NOT A HIPPIES [sic]. ALTHOUGH HE WEARS LONG HAIR.

Harvard affirmative action pioneer reportedly fired from prison job for 1955 integration push

Newly released FBI files document extensive background check and post-employment investigation

Walter Jewell Leonard was best known as the architect of Harvard’s influential affirmative action program beginning in 1969. The admissions policy has been emulated by schools around the country and the world. In 1955, he was investigated by the FBI during an application of his own, to serve as a corrections officer in an Atlanta federal prison.

The overwhelming majority of Leonard’s FBI file is the product of that investigation, which included exhaustive background checks into his education, his Coast Guard service, his employment history, and his finances (“All offices note Appli[cant]’s poor credit rating,” p. 17). Unsurprisingly, that history reflects the Jim Crow south in which Leonard was raised, including conflicting and ultimately discredited stories about insubordination and even embezzlement at various jobs.

One example: he worked as a waiter at the restaurant O’Donnell’s Sea Grill from 1950-1, and reportedly was fired for refusing to serve another cashier. Further FBI inquiries showed that Leonard was not at fault for the incident—”his discharge was the result of a misunderstanding and [the office manager of the restaurant] now felt that the applicant was not reprehensible.” In the FBI’s own words in 1966: “Atlanta file shows that LEONARD was discharged from two jobs in Washington, D.C., and had poor credit rating while there; however, there appears to be some question as to whether he was actually discharged or resigned. There also appears to be some question as to whether these actions by the employers were justified or had a sound basis.” (p. 68)

But the records from after the application are even more illuminating about the work that would eventually win him national recognition. He received the prison job but was terminated seven months later, in October 1955. His file includes excerpts from a letter he wrote to the warden at the time.

LEONARD wrote that in connection with the decision by the Board of Supervisors to terminate his services, he wished to appraise the Warden of some “rumors” and “falsehoods.” He mentions allegations made to the effect that he was a “spy” for the Bureau of Prisons and that he was placed at Atlanta to “break down segregation” and push for “integration.” The letter notes that “these things are out of proportion to common sense.” LEONARD continued, “It has been suggested that I have aired views, contrary to institution practice, along racial lines. If I knew who started this absurd propaganda, I would feel inclined to institute a suit for libel. Even if I had observed some discrimination, I am intelligent enough to realize I don’t have the authority to contradict the administration of this institution.”

“I do not want to think that there was a racial angle to the opinion of my supervisors. I have written the Bureau, I have made no mention of this point; wanting to discuss this with you personally. I am not interested in the personal whims, prejudices, or selfish motives of anyone. My purpose is to do and keep a job.

(pp. 72-3. Emphasis added.)

Of course, some 15 years later Leonard would go on to have the authority at an institution where he was able to correct discrimination.

Some records from his file from that era are largely redacted. Context suggests that, in 1956, the FBI contacted Leonard to evaluate his suitability as an informant about the activities of members of the Nation of Islam, due to his position as office manager at “Forrest Arms Hotel, … where three of the Assistant Ministers of the Atlanta Temple reside … He has been asked to attend their meetings and although he has not yet attended, he stated he will in the near future.” (p. 68)

The question of his informing seems to be mooted when Leonard lost that job and, in August of 1956, Leonard moved to Chicago, as one of millions of African American participants in the greater sociological phenomenon dubbed The Great Migration.

Finally, in 1979, a review of his file was made in advance of Leonard’s presidential appointment by Jimmy Carter to serve on the United States Naval Academy Board of Visitors.

Legendary jazz producer investigated for Chicken Dance travel behind Iron Curtain

Jazz legend Gene Norman was flagged by the FBI for a pair of 1984 trips to Poland, which was at the time under Cold War era travel restrictions. Norman, born Julian Nabatoff in Brooklyn in 1922, was himself the son of Russian immigrants. He and his travel companions were only able to fly to Poland via Montreal.

Scanned passport photo from Gene Norman's file.

On the Polish trips that garnered FBI attention, he was accompanied by a musician who had recently recorded a Norman-produced hit version of “Dance, Little Bird,” more commonly known as “The Chicken Dance.” According to FBI records, the trip was at the behest of the Polish state music and entertainment agency Ars Polonia to mark the release of the record in that country.

That performer’s name is redacted in the released FBI files, but context indicates that it was Wisconsin Area Music Industry’s Hall of Fame inductee Bob Kames, who became known as “The Chicken Dance King” by the time of his death in 2008. This clip of Kames performing the song with his family band in a 1980s Christmas special likely dates a few years after the Polish travel.

The version they recorded reportedly sold 300,000 copies in Poland. Kames said of its success: “I get 2 cents out from each 35-cent record sold. When they sold 300,000 records, they gave me a gold record. Of course, I can’t take the money out of the country.”

Robert Stigwood, music and film impresario, investigated by FBI in 1991

Robert Stigwood was an Australian music and movie producer and executive who achieved international success with acts such as the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton, and films such as “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,” and “Evita.” Before his death in January 2016, he was frequently ranked among the wealthiest people in Britain.

In May and June of 1991, around the time that Disney aborted plans to fund a film version of “Evita” directed by Oliver Stone, the FBI’s legal attaché in Canberra, Australia contacted the Bureau’s Los Angeles and central headquarters requesting a criminal check on Stigwood after a request from an unknown party.

The FBI came up empty-handed after performing the requested search and checking the records of the California Department of Justice, the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles Count Sheriff’s Department. Information about that request was furnished to the unknown party.

From to FBI records:

On 5/29/91, [REDACTED] contacted [FBI’s Canberra legal attaché] concerning Stigwood.

He advised that Robert Stigwood … is under consideration by [REDACTED] to be [REDACTED].

Stigwood is a relatively well-known Australian movie producer/director who has spent much of his life in the Hollywood California area.

Lead at Los Angeles, California: Conduct an indices search for any information concerning Stigwood and advise [legal attaché] Canberra for dissemination to [REDACTED]. A prompt reply would be appreciated.

Redacted records of that correspondence make up the entirety of Stigwood’s released FBI file and are reproduced below.

Luther “Ticky” Burden, New York Knick convicted of bank robbery

Luther “Ticky” Burden was a professional basketball player with the New York Knicks from 1976-77. In 1981, he was convicted of taking part in a bank robbery. In 1984, that conviction was overturned when the New York State Supreme Court ruled his home had been illegally searched without a warrant. He later pled guilty to possession of $400 of the stolen money. He died in November 2015 in Winston-Salem.

In July 1980, shortly after his arrest, the FBI wrote to the United States Attorney in Eastern District of New York to report that an Assistant US Attorney had declined to federally prosecute Burden, in favor of local prosecution. That letter, which made up the entirety of Burden’s released FBI file, is reproduced below.