Sure, he’s a nice guy, but you still do not want to mess with Bill Gandy.
Gandy is an ex-FBI agent and former criminal prosecutor who never goes into a situation unprepared.
Doing the legwork, doing the research and following through on his beliefs has taken Gandy to where he wanted to be.
Now he runs Saperston & Day P.C. as managing partner, president and CEO from the firm’s Rochester office.
But before he took on the task of managing the Buffalo-based firm and overseeing its growth, he learned about all aspects of the law–as an enforcer and investigator, a prosecutor and a defense attorney.
Those experiences have taken him into the lives of the most decent and upstanding people and those who prey on society.
He has learned about the struggles of the innocent and the guilty. At one point he even went undercover, learning about crooks by pretending to be one, an often uncomfortable and dangerous occupation.
“I didn’t like being somebody other than who I was,” he says. “I did it; it was an experience. I learned a lot.”
In his First Federal Plaza office, Gandy looks like any ordinary, gray-haired, suited lawyer, a Pittsford father of three teenagers.
A picture on a wall of Gandy’s office tells part of his story. In it, two long-haired, bearded, scruffy-looking guys pose next to an ancient van at a warehouse. One of them is Gandy, some 20 years ago.
He grew up in Rochester, attending the former No. 8 School of the Rochester City School District before his family moved to Irondequoit, where he graduated from high school in 1967. He went on to St. Lawrence University in Canton, majoring in history.
Gandy was accepted at Syracuse University Law School, but deferred enrollment as he considered other options. In that year he held jobs as a hardware clerk, a drug counselor at Irondequoit High School and as a hot- line worker.
During a visit to Rochester by President Richard Nixon, Gandy met a Secret Service agent, who was the friend of a friend. Talking about the man’s job started Gandy thinking about working in law enforcement.
He decided to go to law school, but the idea of investigating crime stuck with him.
Once Gandy had received his law degree in 1975, the FBI beckoned. Scandals involving domestic surveillance by the bureau had not died down. Director J. Edgar Hoover had died only three years earlier, and a new policy of mandatory retirement for agents 55 and older was forcing the FBI to recruit hundreds of people.
At the time, one of every seven agents was a lawyer. Gandy was young, a former college athlete, looking for adventure; he wanted a way to serve his country and develop his investigatory skills.
“The thing I always admired about the FBI is that they aspire to excellence,” Gandy says.” It was–and is today–the finest investigative organization in the world.”
During his three-year tour in Washington, D.C., Gandy sought out and received an assignment on some of the bureau’s early sting operations, working with other law-enforcement agencies like the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
To identify and arrest fences of stolen property, the FBI sent Gandy and other agents undercover to sell goods.
At first his superiors did not think a lawyer like Gandy could pass as a criminal.
“They didn’t want to send me out,” he says.
But the photo in his office shows a different side to him.
Gandy posed as a college dropout and thief who went around selling stolen goods. The cover generally held, though there were some dicey moments.
One time Gandy and his partner were in the middle of a touchy negotiation on the price of some cameras. Gandy, who was wearing a wire and had backup two blocks away, looked down and realized the cameras were in a box labeled “Metropolitan Police,” a dead giveaway.
In an inspiration, he picked up the box and dumped the cameras on the couch in an apparent fit of anger, then tossed the box to his partner, saying they would sell the cameras and nothing else. They stormed out. The two men left with the box and their covers intact.
Another time a fence introduced Gandy to a guy on the street who recently had been released from a youth facility and thought he recognized Gandy. “Are you a cop?” asked the guy. The fence joked, “He’s not a cop. He’s an FBI agent!” They all laughed.
“There were times … we would go into circumstances that were reasonably risky,” Gandy says, with typical understatement.
A series of arrests led to the conviction of many of the people Gandy had spent time with. Among them was a man who had stolen $350,000 worth of Polaroid film from the government.
“It became, really, a new investigative technique,” Gandy says. “The FBI went on to deal with much more sophisticated operations.”
“Good investigation makes cases,” is the motto in Gandy’s law office now. The FBI taught him about “levels of evidence,” and how going deep can make all the difference.
Later he returned to conventional investigations, looking into white-collar crimes like bank fraud and embezzlement.
As his three-year commitment approached an end, Gandy started to look for a more stable situation, in which he was not likely to be transferred.
In 1978 Gandy and his wife, Joanna, and young son, Matthew, moved back to the Rochester area, eventually settling in Pittsford. The couple soon had two more children, Margaret and Sara.
Gandy took a job with the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting a variety of crimes. He tried 11 felony cases, winning convictions in all of them.
Six years spent investigating and prosecuting crime began to wear on him, though. He always felt a great deal of responsibility on and off the job.
Adds Gandy: “You see a bad side of life. You’re affected by that.”
He went into private civil practice, starting out as an associate with a small law firm that no longer exists. A year and a half later, he learned Saperston & Day was looking for a litigator to work in Rochester.
The Rochester office at that time consisted of three attorneys. Gandy saw that as an opportunity.
“If I’m successful, then I’ll probably be a partner in this law firm,” he reflected at the time. “If I’m not, I’ll probably be gone. I’ll take that risk.”
It is one that has paid off. Saperston & Day now has 24 lawyers in its Rochester office and ranks among the city’s dozen largest law firms.
Gandy, managing partner of the Buffalo-based firm since 1995, says it is a team effort, involving recruiting outstanding lawyers who also are good at communicating with clients. In practice, that translates to being down-to-earth, returning clients’ calls and keeping them up to speed on the progress of their cases.
“Service in the legal business, we’re beginning to find out, is the same as in any business: making the client happy in a cost-efficient and effective way,” he says.
Treating people well is something Gandy seeks to do all the time, even in the midst of confrontations.
“I have to be able to communicate with other people. You need to respect their positions. I don’t need to let my own personality defects get in the way,” he says. “I have a fundamental belief in the dignity of all human beings.”
A crusading quality is evident in the cases of which he is most proud. In 1985 Gandy took on a seemingly lost cause, representing William Columbo, who had been in a coma since falling off a bar stool in a drunken stupor. Gandy got his hair cut at the barber shop where Columbo used to work, and he offered to help if he was needed.
Another lawyer had turned down the case, believing there was no basis for a lawsuit. Columbo’s mother wanted to sue the bar, however.
Gandy took the case and hired investigators who took statements from people who had seen Columbo at the bar the night of the accident. Gandy learned that after Columbo fell off his stool, the management left him on the floor for at least a half an hour.
At closing time, 2 a.m., an ambulance was called, but by then oxygen to Columbo’s brain had been cut off and he had gone into cardiac arrest and a coma.
“They treated him like a piece of trash on the floor,” Gandy recalls. “That was very upsetting to me. I had a lot of passion for that case.”
The verdict, in which the bar management was found 20 percent responsible, got $700,000 and helped pay to send Columbo’s daughter to college.
Gandy has adopted other causes as well, such as his seven years as a board member for Discovery Huther-Doyle, a local alcohol-and drug-treatment facility, which began as a suburban program in Webster and since has grown substantially.
As an assistant district attorney, Gandy saw the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, and the harm lack of treatment has done. He believes strongly in the work of Discovery Huther-Doyle, and he has put in the time to back that up.
As chairman of the capital campaign that raised more than $250,000 for a downtown facility, Gandy spoke to many groups to spur enthusiasm and contributions, says Robert Lebman, Discovery Huther-Doyle executive director.
After one speech by Gandy, people asked the director in wonder, “How did you get him?”
“When somebody really believes in what they’re saying, they’re not just reading written remarks, it comes across,” Lebman says.
While his commitment to volunteer work continues, so does his involvement in his firm. It continues to grow, with offices in Syracuse and Penn Yan, and another slated to open in Amherst.
Colleagues admire his leadership style, which has brought the firm together for such difficult transitions as restructuring Saperston & Day’s equity, a task that Gandy attacked with typical preparation and persuasion, says one longtime partner.
“I think he’s tough,” says Gary Mucci, who has been at Saperston & Day for 22 years. “I wouldn’t call him a conciliator. He’s a litigator. Gandy uses argument to move a matter to resolution.”
“As a manager, what I spend a lot of time doing is talking to people,” Gandy says.
Along with his trips to Buffalo and meetings with other lawyers, Gandy also tries cases himself, three or so a year. He recently settled an attorney malpractice case. The agreement is sealed, but he seems pleased with the outcome.
That calm authority, the straight-arrow style that serves his firm and his clients, is one that also has taken Gandy where he wanted to go.
“I like to think I have some vision and I’m always looking down the road,” he says. “I’m usually a person who pretty much has an idea what he wants to do.”
A practiced investigator makes his case
Sure, he’s a nice guy, but you still do not want to mess with Bill Gandy.