FBI Detroit Special Agent in Charge Paul M. Abbate (FBI)
Detroit — Detroit was on Paul Abbate’s radar for a long time before he was hired to head the FBI’s office in the city.
Abbate followed high-profile cases, including former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s corruption trial, from posts fighting terrorism around the world. He was also involved in the criminal investigation of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Abbate, 45, said he never thought he would get the opportunity to head the Detroit field office. But the unexpected, and family-related, departure of former Special Agent in Charge Robert Foley this summer opened a door.
“I seized on it,” Abbate, 45, said during an interview at the FBI’s downtown office Wednesday, about one week into his new job. “Detroit is in the top tier of field offices and one of the most highly respected. This is a hard-hitting office.”
The Connecticut native, who plans to live downtown, is the FBI field office’s fourth leader in about two years. He does not plan any internal changes and will continue focusing on counter-terrorism, health-care fraud, violent crime and public corruption.
He would not provide an update on the corruption investigation of Wayne County government but said public corruption remains a “huge problem.”
Andrew Arena, the former special agent in charge who retired in May 2012 and who now leads the nonprofit Detroit Crime Commission, has talked with Abbate and plans to meet for lunch next week.
“He’s a good guy and he’s got a great reputation in the bureau,” Arena said. “I know he’s excited — he asked to come to Detroit.”
The local FBI office is attractive for many of the reasons Detroit draws negative headlines across the country.
“You’re going to have violent crime, gangs, public corruption, health-care fraud, counter-terrorism — you name it,” Arena said. “This is a very well-rounded office. Anybody that comes here is certainly going to get the experience of a lifetime.”
Though Abbate made his first visit to Detroit a few weeks ago, he was involved in one of the most high-profile crimes to happen in the metro area.
Abbate was special agent in charge of the counter-terrorism division in the Washington, D.C., field office and supported local agents investigating the failed bombing of Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009.
Abbate helped relay information to agents in Detroit and coordinated travel and logistics when investigators pursued leads in Africa.
The investigation was controversial because FBI agents did not read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights before questioning him. They cited an exception for cases involving overriding concerns about public safety and the case has set a precedent for ensuing terror probes.
“It was a landmark case,” Abbate said.
Abdulmutallab was sentenced in February 2012 to four life terms.
Abbate began his career as a special agent in 1996. He’s worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.
“I’m hoping to have a long run here,” Abbate said.