Seamus McElearney

Position: Supervisory special agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Best known for: Relying on informants, recordings and good police work, a special team of FBI agents led by McElearney struck major blows against two of New York’s organized crime families. The families have been responsible for murders, extortion, labor racketeering and other serious crimes.

Since 2008, the team, known as C-38, has spearheaded the dismantling of the Colombo and Bonanno crime families, arresting 120 alleged members and associates, including the reputed top echelons of both organizations. Guilty pleas or jury convictions have been obtained for 115 of those individuals. The list includes Colombo family street boss Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo, underboss Benjamin “The Claw” Castellazzo, consigliere Richard “Richie Nerves” Fusco and five “captains.”

The Bonanno family also was badly hurt with the 2011 conviction of acting boss Vincent “Vinnie Gorgeous” Basciano for a gangland murder. A number of powerful captains, “soldiers” and associates also went down.

The investigations of the families helped solve 15 homicides, including a police officer’s murder, led to the forfeiture of $10 million and developed evidence that led to a concrete workers union being put under trusteeship to free it from the control of the Colombo crime family.

The FBI team often worked around the clock. Colleagues said McElearney was a linchpin of massive investigations, making key day-to-day tactical and operational decisions. He was engaged with team members in convincing criminals to become cooperating witnesses. Colleagues said McElearney’s experience and knowledge of the families and their culture was critical to the success of the investigations.

Government work: McElearney joined the FBI in 1998 and was assigned to the New York field office. By the end of his first year, he was part of the squad that was investigating the DeCavalcante and Bonanno organized crime families. He later became acting supervisor and then the permanent head of the squad responsible for investigating the Colombo crime family. In March 2011, McElearney became head of a merged squad with responsibility for investigating the Bonanno, DeCavalcante and Colombo organizations.

Motivation for service: McElearney said he feels a great sense of pride and accomplishment being part of a team that has been so successful in battling organized crime. Joining the FBI has helped him be of service to the country, he said.

Biggest challenge: Convincing criminals to turn their life around by cooperating with the government. Most criminals were raised not to trust law enforcement, so earning their trust is difficult, McElearney said.

Quote: “By eliminating this organized crime element, we are getting rid of a menace to society — individuals who have created untold mayhem.”

— From the Partnership for
Public Service

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