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Secret is out: Jefferson grads heading the feds’ L.A. law

San Antonio Express-News (02/01/2004)

By Ken Rodriguez

Richard T. Garcia was an undercover agent. A bad guy. A fake businessman who infiltrated the Medellin drug cartel.

Tony Chapa was a secret agent. A dark suit with glasses. A guy who protected former Vice President Al Gore.

Garcia and Chapa share a unique history: They participated on the ROTC drill team at Jefferson High School more than 30 years ago. They became police officers. Then they became secret agents.

Now they arrive in Southern California as two of the nation’s highest-ranking Hispanics in federal law enforcement: Garcia as head of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, Chapa as head of the Secret Service office in Los Angeles.

“ You couldn’t have planned this even if you wanted to,” says Garcia, a 1971 Jeff grad. “This is absolutely fantastic.”

Garcia, 50, and Chapa, 49, will work closely together. Their agencies will collaborate on an Electronic Crimes Task Force. “We’ll be collecting evidence on laptops about all types of crimes,” says Chapa, a 1972 Jeff grad.

Some examples include terrorism, identity theft and child pornography. Other projects are top secret.

Garcia, who will lead the nation’s third largest FBI field office, is eager to begin working with Chapa. But he must first complete his responsibilities as head of the FBI’s office in Houston. Today’s assignment: Protecting the Super Bowl from the threat of terrorism.

The journey that led Garcia and Chapa from San Antonio to Los Angeles is straight out of a spy movie. There are underworld figures, powerful heads of state and bits of Hollywood. Both men have served as consultants on films about spy agencies.

“ It’s been quite a ride,” Chapa says.

The ride for Garcia began after he graduated from Southwest Texas State University in 1975 with a degree in law enforcement. First job: Dallas Police Department. Five years later he joined the FBI.

In the late 1980s, Garcia helped break up seven Colombian drug rings. He worked undercover in Hialeah, Fla. “I ran a business that provided electronics equipment to the cartel,” he says.

More than 90 people were indicted when the operation ended. The FBI seized more than 110 metric tons of drugs and several hundred million dollars in cash and property.

The New York Times wrote a 2,453-word story. The newspaper cited Garcia’s leading role in “one of the most successful undercover operations United States law-enforcement agents have ever staged against Latin American drug traffickers.”

Over the years, some of Garcia’s underworld sources have met gruesome deaths.

“ One guy was shot, stabbed, burned and had his arms, legs and head cut off,” Garcia says. “Another source was kidnapped, tied up with chains, dumped in the ocean and eaten by sharks.”

Chapa’s Secret Service career began after five years with the San Antonio Police Department. He has provided security for Gore and served on protective details for four sitting U.S. presidents and two former presidents.

“ It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime to be that proverbial fly on the wall, to be a witness to history in the making, and to changes in world affairs,” says Chapa, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from St. Mary’s University.

Chapa accompanied Gore around the world, and did not stop traveling when Gore left the White House. “I always volunteered for the foreign trips,” he says.

One memorable trip took him to Bogota, Colombia. There, Chapa investigated the production of counterfeit currency that flowed into the United States.

“ We suppressed more counterfeit production, caused the arrests of more counterfeit producers and seized more money before it hit the streets than ever before,” he says.

At Jefferson, Chapa and Garcia won honors with the ROTC drill team. Over the past three decades, they’ve been decorated with numerous distinguished service awards.

Until recently, many of their accomplishments have been shrouded in the shadows of their own agencies. But now their names and achievements are appearing in news reports.