OK, let’s get this out of the way up front: Being an FBI agent ain’t glamorous.
Not unless mounds of paperwork make you passionate.
In fact, as Gil Cooper tells it, working for the FBI is a lot like working for an insurance company: Agents manage cases, review documents and develop leads, conduct interviews, and provide other institutions with information and advice.
There are payoffs–nailing the bad guys, upholding justice and all that stuff –but only if you do all your paperwork.
But the rewards are there, enough so that Cooper–known on his resume as Gilbert–built a 23-year career out of investigating and helping to prosecute an eclectic mix of swindlers.
Now, he has moved on to new pursuits with Pinkerton Security & Investigation Services, the largest security and investigation firm in the country. As managing director for Pinkerton Investigation Services in most of New York (excluding New York City and Long Island) and northern Pennsylvania, Cooper will be donning his salesman’s hat to drum up the business needed to bring the 5-year-old Rochester office to maturity.
Like his progression through military education and into the FBI, Cooper’s move to Pinkerton cannot be traced to any particular influences. (Of his early interest in the FBI, Cooper says, “Maybe I saw something on TV or read something in the newspaper.”) But he is sure of one thing: that his attraction to investigative work was not in the hopes of becoming some crime-fighting superhero or emulating the good guys in the movies.
“I wasn’t a theorist saying I’m going to wipe crime off the face of the earth,” he maintains in characteristically contemplative fashion. “I was more a pragmatist (who) just had the idea that (the FBI) was a great organization.”
Cooper, 52, is an economic-crime specialist whose niche is forensic accounting. He attended military high school near his hometown of Waterford, near Albany, and served as an officer in the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Army. But the skills that built his reputation are based in math, not the military. While in the Army, he oversaw equipment and armaments, but it is his bachelor’s degree in business and MBA in accounting that are his special weapons.
In his 17 years in the FBI’s Rochester office–and earlier in stints in Birmingham, Ala., and New York City–Cooper put those skills to work in nabbing all manner of white-collar criminal.
“Gil, in terms of financial investigation–nobody ever surpassed him,” says John Grande, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Racketeering, who has known Cooper since his arrival in Rochester.
Among Cooper’s favorite cases was one masterminded by a guy named Alfred Forman, who had made an interesting career for himself doing bankruptcy bust-outs here and elsewhere. He would set up a company, reel in suppliers with a flashy image and an early show of reliable payment, then continue to build up an inventory on credit. Meanwhile, he was reselling the product out the back door. The deals ended when he stopped the cash flow and declared bankruptcy.
A tidy scheme, it was difficult to label it anything other than bad business. And he got away with it for 15 years.
But in 1985 Forman was the one who got stung. The FBI collaborated with a small trucking company to secure Forman’s shipping business. From that vantage point, Cooper and colleagues were able to gather the evidence needed to pull the plug on a $6 million fraud ensnaring 5,000 companies and 150 truckloads of merchandise.
The sting saw 45 convictions and put closure on outstanding cases elsewhere around the country.
Then there was the case of Anthony De Angelis, a grandfatherly con artist who in a spree spanning six decades is believed to have bilked some very smart people out of up to $1 billion. He is notorious for a 1960s scam recalled almost fondly as the Great Salad Oil Swindle, which the Wall Street Journal called one of the “all-time financial crimes.”
A dozen companies, including an American Express Co. unit, were bankrupted in the scheme, in which De Angelis invented millions of dollars of non- existent inventories as collateral for soybean-futures trading aimed at cornering the salad-oil market.
The case on which Cooper nailed De Angelis involved pork–32 truckloads to be exact–obtained using fraudulent letters of credit. Slippery for years, De Angelis now resides in a halfway house in Florida.
Though he notes that in Rochester’s business climate “you can come across some sophisticated professional criminals,” Cooper has had his share of the not-so-colorful: bank embezzlements and government kickbacks, for instance. But that is the bread and butter of a federal investigator’s job.
And he has had his share of frustrations, including a case in which a real estate investor named William Yager was accused of using nearly $1 million of fraudulently obtained money to buy stock in the Village Green Bookstore Inc. Yager was indicted following a lengthy investigation, but at trial a jury acquitted him.
For the most part, Cooper says, his tenure with the bureau gave him a great sense of accomplishment–a job well- done, he believes. But two years ago he decided it was time to move on.
He was getting burned out. And he and wife Kay had two kids to put through college. (Erin, now 18, started this fall; Bryan, 17, gets his turn next year.) So, Cooper began exploring his options, thinking he might like to start his own security firm or sign on with a midsize firm interested in establishing an in-house security unit.
After extensive research that included interviewing with some of Rochester’s most progressive firms, Cooper began to realize that increasing fraud and liability, and the expense of maintaining in-house security, were prompting more companies to outsource their security and investigative work. The opportunity with Pinkerton came this spring, and Cooper assumed his new post in July.
William Hill, the Atlanta-based Pinkerton senior vice president who hired Cooper, says the firm was impressed by Cooper’s degree of experience, forensic- accounting strength and widespread contacts.
“He knows the Rochester business community,” Hill says.
Adds the Labor Department’s Grande: “It takes time to attain Gil’s status in the law-enforcement community. He’s the kind of guy you can ask a question of and know you’ll get the right answer without having to question it.”
Based in Encino, Calif., Pinkerton has more than 20,000 customers through 220 offices worldwide. A public company expected to reach $1 billion in sales this year, Pinkerton employs 45,000 people and counts more than half of the Fortune 500 companies among its clients.
Cooper’s job is to grow this region’s investigative and consulting business (another local Pinkerton unit handles security and guard services), with the goal of reaching $500,000 in sales by year-end.
His seven-member staff–additional contract investigators are called in on certain cases–does everything from investigating insurance fraud and workers’ compensation claims to running background checks and due-diligence searches, providing litigation support, and conducting quality-assurance audits of company operations (for instance, “shopping” a retail firm’s stores).
Cooper thinks the potential growth is boundless. Aside from the increasing recognition that in-house security and investigation can be prohibitively expensive, liability concerns have encouraged more companies to do pre-employment screening. And escalating abuse of programs like workers’ compensation has many employers scrambling to catch offenders.
The change has been good, Cooper says, a perfect fit, in fact.
His wife agrees. But there is one thing she expects will not change.
Cooper never has let his job keep him away from the kids’ activities or the serious woodworking hobby he cultivates. In fact, she says, her husband always has been quite good at separating work from home.
Maybe a little too good.
“It almost seemed that at 5 o’clock he left his investigative skills on State Street,” she says with a laugh. “Because at home he can’t find the peanut butter or where his glasses are.”
Gil Cooper: A career built on catching the bad guys
OK, let’s get this out of the way up front: Being an FBI agent ain’t glamorous.