Agency best kept secret in law enforcement
Shrouded in anonymity, a crime-fighting government agency has had its headquarters in Newtown Township for nearly 20 years.

Prosecutors in Michigan and Kentucky know about it. So do police officers from Canada, New York and Ohio.

Detectives from more than 700 law enforcement agencies from all over the Northeastern United States journey to Newtown Township to use it every day. Its employees have helped solve some of the highest profile crimes of the past two decades.

Yet MAGLOCLEN gets none of the credit.

figure5_1And that’s just the way the agency, located in a nondescript brown building in the far, far back corner of an industrial park off Newtown-Yardley Road, likes it.

MAGLOCLEN stands for Mid Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network, a little-known arm of the federal government. It has quietly played a part in some of the most infamous crime investigations in recent memory.

The agency’s walls are lined with photos, charts and graphs used at the trials of convicted killers. They include millionaire eccentric John DuPont, who murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Shultz on his estate in Delaware County, and Arthur Bomar, who raped and murdered co-ed Amy Willard during a carjacking on the Blue Route in 1997.
Reports detailing the inner workings of Jamaican and Russian organized crime sects, as well as the latest statistics on prison gangs and satanic cults, lay in neat piles on countertops.

In super cool, air-conditioned laboratories, 6-foot tall computers – including a database stuffed with the names of the most-wanted criminals in the United Sates and beyond – beep and whir behind locked glass doors. In every office, tall dividers block desks from view as hushed voices discuss unsolved crimes.

A massive conference room can be glimpsed from the hallway. It contains hundreds of chairs ready for one of the 60 training sessions that MAGLOCLEN hosts for police officers each year. Topics covered at these member-only conferences include computer forensics, money laundering, and the proper use of surveillance devices.

Visitors from the media are rare – and most rooms are off-limits. The agency’s written reports, with tantalizing titles such as “Domestic Threat Groups” and “Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs” are not public record and therefore not furnished to reporters.

MAGLOCLEN’s secrets are shared only with law enforcement officers from the agency’s list of members, which include the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office and most local police departments.

MAGLOCLEN holds no press conferences and will not answer questions from the general public. It is there solely to serve its members, says spokesman James Gallagher, the agency’s first deputy executive director.

“We like to keep a low profile. It’s our member agencies who do all the work, so they deserve all the credit when a crime is solved. We’re just a service agency,” he said.

One of six in nation

Founded in 1981, MAGLOCLEN is one of six government-funded Regional Information Sharing System agencies that share a $20 million annual budget. Eight states – Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, Michigan and Indiana – as well as the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, are served by MAGLOCLEN.

There are five other regional RISS offices throughout the nation.

RISS began in 1974, following a crime wave by a group called the Dixie Mafia, Gallagher explained. The gang, a band of Southern-bred armed robbers, was terrorizing victims in several states. Unable to catch the robbers on their own, a group of law enforcement officers from different agencies took the unprecedented step of sitting down together to share clues.

“That wasn’t really done back then, and to some extent is not done today. It was and still is a very parochial business.” Gallagher said.

But the Southern cops’ efforts paid off, and the Dixie Mafia was shut down. Soon after, Congress mandated that an information-sharing network be created and RISS was born.

Newtown Township was chosen as the MAGLOCLEN site because of its close proximity to I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as well as its centralized location between New York City and Washington, D.C.

The agency’s executives are former law enforcement officers, and the FBI and the U.S. military trains much of the staff. Security is nearly as tight as the Pentagon, and staff applicants must pass a battery of background checks.

“It’s quite extensive,” Gallagher said of the checks. “We go way back into their lives.”


MAGLOCLEN employees assist law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Much of MAGLOCLEN’s services are handled by phone and computer. Members from all over the nation call the office daily seeking information on suspects and crime trends. Information and updates also are sent out over an Intranet, a secure e-mail system shared exclusively by member government agencies.

MAGLOCLEN agents also hit the road each week, assisting at crime scenes or gathering information to share with members.

The agency’s work can be seen every day in Bucks County courtrooms. Aerial shots of crime scenes and accident reconstruction sketches are refined and drawn to scale at MAGLOCLEN, then made into huge posters. The posters, photo montages of suspects and hierarchical charts that organize drug gangs from the kingpin on down, are designed to make evidence more easily digestible to jurors.

“You can have a wealth of evidence, but it’s of no use if the jury doesn’t understand it. That’s where photos and charts come in handy,” said Steve Tori, MAGLOCLEN’s analytical staff supervisor.

But by far the most requested service of MAGLOCLEN staff is help with computer crimes, Gallagher said.

“There’s been a great surge in these crimes over the last decade,” said Gallagher, “but our staff has been able to keep up. It’s a very technical and legally complicated issue.”

So complicated that the slightest mistake can ruin a case.

In a child pornography investigation, for example, police must be careful to make a mirror image of the computer hard drive and not touch the actual information because it is evidence.

Since a computer can’t be cross-examined, prosecutors come to MAGLOCLEN to learn the legally correct way to glean information from the machines. One wrong move, Gallagher explained, and a computer case could be thrown out of court.

MAGLOCLEN staffers also teach technical nuances, like the proper way to seize a suspect’s computer.

“We once had a case where the officers picked up the machine and carried it out the door, not knowing that there were magnets lining the doorway. All the information was erased,” Gallagher said.

MAGLOCLEN employees won’t discuss specifics of local cases they’ve helped solve, but Gallagher said the agency has been involved in many high-profile Bucks County cases. Staying out of the limelight helps its staff do the job better, he explained.

“We don’t want the headlines. In fact, we try to stay out of them,” Gallagher said. “We do our best work behind the scenes.”

Monday, September 11, 2000 [The published date is NOT a typo.]

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