HOUSTON --The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating one of its own after the I-Team observed the questionable activities of one of its agents.
Supervisory Special Agent Brian Ritchie has a long career of fighting gang and violent crime. But his involvement in a legal side business has now made Ritchie the subject of an administrative FBI investigation.
It involves installing portable ATM machines at street fairs and other events. The I-Team caught up with Ritchie on a late weekday morning while he was setting up an ATM at the City Hall Farmers Market. He was more than a little gun shy.
I-Team: "We were wondering if we can ask you a couple of questions about what you're doing out here.”
Agent Ritchie: “No.”
I-Team: “Can't ask any questions?”
Agent Ritchie: “Nope."
I-Team: “It seems like you always come out here and do this during business hours?
Agent Ritchie: “No?”
Agent Ritchie: “No sir."
Actually, we observed him four separate times setting up ATMs, mid-morning on a weekday, a time when many professionals are well into their work day.
"What we have is an appearance of impropriety right now,” said Larry Karson, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Houston Downtown. “It's a public service and that entails a requirement of public trust.”
Ritchie is also not just any FBI agent, but a supervisory special agent with lots of responsibility. He has appeared on TV talking tough on crime as a gang task force spokesman.
It makes Professor Karson wonder why Ritchie kept showing up where we found him, when we found him.
"There's always a higher standard in law enforcement," Karson said.
The agent's explanation?
“I take annual leave,” Ritchie said.
Agent Ritchie denied what we saw him doing was ever on the FBI clock, and claims he was on accrued personal time, known as annual leave.
But when we asked:
I-Team: “So all the times we have you on video in the last six weeks doing your ATM business, that would be annual leave?”
Agent Ritchie: “Um, well, I'd, you know, I'd like to think so. Yes sir."
But what is the subject of that federal administrative investigation? The FBI said it’s looking into the possible misuse of a government vehicle. Ritchie used a mini-van to deliver those ATMs that was not registered in his name. The plates come back to a Tulsa, Oklahoma leasing company. Many federal agencies now lease their vehicles rather than owning them.
“If there is a willful misuse of a government vehicle, that's a violation of FBI regulations," Professor Karson said.
And a former federal official agrees.
"Some heavy questions need to be asked,” said Phillip Hilder.
Hilder was the lead attorney of a U.S. Justice Department task force and he trusts the Bureau.
"I do think that (FBI) investigations are pretty thorough, they do hold people's feet to the fire," Hilder said.
But what ultimately happens in this case is a wait-and-see. The FBI isn't saying how long the investigation will take, but a spokesperson provided this statement:
“The FBI is tasked with ensuring its employees conduct themselves with the highest level of integrity and professionalism at all times. It is what the public expects and deserves. Effective internal procedures are already in place to identify and address any allegations of employee misconduct and policy violations. As always we will review the facts and circumstances in this case and make the determination whether or not any disciplinary action should be imposed.”