More Female FBI Agents Are Taking the Lead

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

The face of the FBI is changing, and to see how, look no farther than the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. One mortgage fraud case after another has ended up there over the past year, and in case after case, the FBI -- long defined by its G-man image -- has had a woman as the lead agent.

With white-collar crime no longer taking a distant back seat to terrorism, agents such as Jennifer Perry, who came to the FBI with a knack for crunching numbers, are finding themselves in the middle of some of the most important cases in Maryland.

It was Perry, just a year out of the FBI Academy and a few years removed from a job at Merrill Lynch, who took a little tip about the Metropolitan Money Store and turned it into one of the biggest mortgage fraud cases in Maryland history, a $35 million foreclosure rescue scam that underwrote, among other extravagances, an $800,000 wedding at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

And it was squad mate Kelly Poggio who took the lead in assembling what might be an even bigger federal mortgage fraud case: allegations that the operators of Metro Dream Homes stole $70 million from unsuspecting homeowners and spent it on six-figure salaries, chauffeured luxury cars and tickets to the 2007 Super Bowl.

For Perry and Poggio, the cases are just cases. And if anything stops people, it's not so much that they are women, but that they are such young women.

"It's, 'Are you old enough . . . to be an FBI agent?' " Poggio, 31 and 5-foot-3, explained, to a knowing laugh from Perry, 29 and 5-foot-2, who has heard the same question.

But for the FBI, which has struggled with diversifying its ranks, the cases -- and the female agents working them -- are emblems of the bureau's evolution.

Driven by legal demands for equality by blacks, Hispanics and women and by the practical need for diversity, the FBI has in the past two decades been casting a wider and wider net for agents. One result has been an increasing number of women, who now number almost 2,500, or about 19 percent of the bureau's nearly 13,000 special agents.

And nowhere is that more apparent than in the FBI's Baltimore field office, where women make up almost a third of the 200 or so agents, more than in any other FBI office.

"I think we've come a long way," said Amy Jo Lyons, who has been the special agent in charge of the Baltimore office for just over a year and who is president of Women in Federal Law Enforcement.

When Lyons graduated from the FBI Academy at Quantico in 1990, 10 percent of the bureau's agents were women, and few were in leadership roles or elite units, she said.

"We now have women on SWAT teams, which when I first joined the FBI, that was unheard of," said Lyons, who went on to be one of the first women on an FBI SWAT team. "We have women on violent crime, drugs, hostage negotiators and working on some of the highest-priority cases in counterterrorism."

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