Persichini resigns as head of FBI's Washington office

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The FBI official in charge of the bureau's Washington field office attended his retirement party Tuesday. In the background is an investigation alleging that he violated rules while taking an open-book exam this fall, according to two sources familiar with the episode.

Joseph Persichini Jr., who since 2006 has managed scores of national security and criminal investigations across the District and Northern Virginia, was feted Tuesday in a farewell luncheon at which community leaders, including D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), celebrated his tenure. The D.C. Council has been considering whether to pass a resolution to honor Persichini for more than three decades of government service, according to the council's legislative calendar.

Persichini, 55, told reporters in recent weeks that he was leaving the bureau "as a Christmas gift for my wife" and to explore opportunities in the private sector. His resignation is effective Dec. 25.

The two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Persichini had been under internal FBI scrutiny in connection with an exam covering the bureau's guidelines for conducting investigations. The guidelines, revised late last year at the end of the Bush administration, spell out how agents should pursue criminal and national security leads. The FBI required a 16-hour training to learn the guidelines, capped by an electronic exam in which test-takers could consult their course materials.

Persichini, whose title is assistant director in charge of Washington, attracted management attention when he allegedly completed the open-book exam in less than 20 minutes and with a very high score, the sources said. Some test-takers required more than two hours to complete the exam, the sources said.

The bureau's Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducts ethics investigations, recommended administrative disciplinary action, but the appeals process had not run its course by the time Persichini announced his retirement last month, the sources added. He is believed to have taken the test in a room by himself. Two other high-ranking officials in the Washington field office are under OPR scrutiny in connection with a separate incident involving the guidelines exam, the sources said. The matter has prompted weeks of unease in the Washington office, they said.

Persichini did not return calls to his cellphone or an e-mail requesting comment Tuesday, referring calls to other bureau representatives.

A spokesman for FBI headquarters declined to comment on the internal investigation, citing rules that prevent him from speaking about personnel and disciplinary matters, as did a spokeswoman for the Washington field office.

Potential irregularities with the guidelines exam were first reported last month by the law enforcement Web site, which did not name the officials who were allegedly involved.

Persichini has appeared at multiple news events in recent months: He walked the city's bustling streets during the historic presidential inauguration with D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, and he commanded significant camera time after the deadly shooting this summer at the Holocaust Museum. During his tenure, he devoted time to community organizations, reached out to religious minorities and worked on programs that introduce students to the FBI's work, among other activities.

Persichini joined the bureau as an accountant in 1976, becoming a special agent four years later. In the course of a posting in Miami, he became an expert in law enforcement corruption and has led training sessions in the United States, Russia and the Middle East, according to a 2006 FBI news release.

The bureau has solicited applications for Persichini's job in a process that closed last week. A replacement could be named within a few weeks if the FBI follows typical procedures for a large field office, experts say. The new assistant director is expected to have deep experience in law enforcement and national security.

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