Philly's new top FBI officer brings passion to his post

Ed Hanko, the new top FBI agent in Philadelphia, in his office. He is a Wilkes-Barre native.
Ed Hanko, the new top FBI agent in Philadelphia, in his office. He is a Wilkes-Barre native. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photograph)
Posted: April 04, 2013

Among the first decisions Ed Hanko faced as he settled into his office last week as the FBI's top agent in Philadelphia was where to put the photo.

The weathered black-and-white print shows about 60 helmeted coal miners at a plant in Ashley, Pa., just outside Hanko's hometown of Wilkes-Barre. Near the middle stands his father, Joseph, a second-generation Polish immigrant who never made it to high school.

When Hanko was 12, his father took him to the mine for the first time. They boarded an elevator and disappeared into the earth, dropping into darkness until the boy could no longer see his hand in front of his face.

When they resurfaced, the elder Hanko delivered his message. Stay in school, he told his son. Get a better job than me.

Hanko, now 52, heeded the advice.

Still, he likes to keep the photo just a glance away, to remind him of his roots, his late father, and the people Hanko now serves. It landed prominently on a bookshelf on his first day in his eighth-floor corner office in the William J. Green Federal Building.

"Whenever I feel like I'm having a bad day," Hanko said, "I look at the picture of my father."

As the special agent in charge of the Philadelphia division, he'll oversee the eighth-largest FBI division, one with more than 500 agents and support staff covering more than half the state and three South Jersey counties.

Hanko said he didn't arrive with specific marching orders or a belief that Philadelphia poses any unique challenges for the bureau. "We have what every big city has," he said.

His task is to provide his staff the tools to do the job, and to represent not just the local face "but also the ethical face" of the FBI, he said. Hanko has taught courses in ethical leadership at the FBI Academy and in the field for local police.

Becoming an agent wasn't a goal when he was young, Hanko said. Getting a college degree was.

He was a cash-strapped student at King's College in Wilkes-Barre in the late 1970s, he said, when he saw an ad on a college bulletin board. The Baltimore Police Department was luring recruits by paying their way at the University of Baltimore.

Hanko signed up.

After three years in uniform and two more working narcotics cases, Hanko applied in the mid-1980s to the FBI. His score on the multipart exam, 89, fell short.

He accepted the decision. But his friend Ed Goetz could not.

Goetz was a classmate and state trooper who had passed the FBI exam. Goetz was perplexed. To him, Hanko was too smart to have missed the cut.

Months later, Goetz, then a new agent, was sent to the Baltimore office and assigned to the squad that reviewed applicants. One day, he asked to see Hanko's file. A secretary couldn't find it, so Goetz looked himself. He found the folder behind a file cabinet, as if it fell there, and began scouring it.

"I remember looking at the scores, and saying, The way I add these scores up, it looks like he passed," Goetz, now a vice president of security for Exelon Corp., recalled in an interview.

So Goetz took the file to a supervisor, who confirmed a momentous typo in the results: Hanko's 89 was really a 98, a passing grade.

The supervisor asked if Hanko was a good guy. "I said he's a great guy," Goetz recalled, "and he'd make a great FBI agent."

Within days, the FBI called Hanko back.

Hanko said he routinely shares that story with agents, and told it twice last week. The lesson: Check your facts, then check them again.

Too much is at stake.

"We put people in jail," Hanko said. "We can ruin careers."

His own 27-year career has included posts in a half-dozen offices, including Newark, Detroit, the FBI Academy, and, most recently, Cincinnati.

His arrival here is a homecoming of sorts - he reported to the Philadelphia division while working in its Scranton office a decade ago - though not one he actively sought.

Hanko had been the top agent in southern Ohio for less than 18 months when he was asked to take over in Detroit last year. He declined, but wasn't given the same option after Philadelphia's leader, George Venizelos, left to run the larger New York division for the FBI.

Still, Hanko left an impression in Ohio. He sent a squad of agents to Columbus, the state capital, to focus solely on public corruption, and was there for the first indictment against a sitting Ohio legislator in a century.

He also partnered agents with local police on a Safe Streets task force that targeted violent gangs overrunning city neighborhoods. In a year, the task force crippled four drug networks, said Karl P. Kadon III, an assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecutes violent crime.

That kind of collaboration "didn't happen before he got here," said Kadon, a former city prosecutor.

Kadon said Hanko struck him as gregarious without being phony, intense without being overbearing. Hanko's energy, he said, is contagious.

"I have never worked with an SAC who was able to motivate and drive forward his or her agents like Ed," he said.

The idea of safe streets runs high on the list of Hanko's priorities. He has a soft spot for the vulnerable and little tolerance for bullies, a sense of justice heightened as the parent of a 20-year-old daughter with Down's syndrome.

(He has two other children, a 27-year-old daughter, and a 24-year-old son who served two tours in Iraq with the Army 25th Infantry Division.)

Michael Dessoye, the chief of detectives for the Luzerne County District Attorney's Office, got to know Hanko during the agent's years in Scranton. Dessoye hailed him as "a cop's cop," and predicted that his roots and background as a police officer will win him respect and cooperation of local law enforcement agencies here as they did there.

"There's just one badge as far as Eddie is concerned," Dessoye said.

There have been regrets. Hanko said he is still haunted by a case that began in May 2009 with a phone call from a colleague in Detroit.

A 5-year-old girl, Nevaeh Buchanan, had been kidnapped outside her home in Monroe, Mich., about 35 miles south of Detroit. As the office's crisis management coordinator, Hanko supervised the search.

Eleven days after her disappearance, Nevaeh ("Heaven spelled backwards, Hanko pointed out), was found dead along the banks of the nearby River Raisin. Investigators believed she had been buried alive.

Agents had no shortage of suspects. Hanko recalls being shocked by how many registered sexual offenders lived in or near the girl's neighborhood. The list included Nevaeh's mother's boyfriend. But his alibi turned out to be unimpeachable.

Eventually the case went cold. It sticks with Hanko for one reason.

"Because I didn't solve it - and that guy's still out there" and probably has attacked again, he said. "In so many other cases, for the most part somebody paid for what they did."

SACs, as the lead agents are called, often stay in their posts two to three years, shuffled from office to office by the FBI brass. Five years from the bureau's mandatory retirement age, Hanko hopes to buck the trend.

"I'm hopeful that I would stay here and finish out here," he said. "Can I guarantee it? No."


Contact John P. Martin

at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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