U.S. Government Seeking Whereabouts Of Former FBI Agent Who Disappeared In Iran

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 5:53 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ An American who mysteriously disappeared in Iran while on a business trip is a former FBI agent in New York and Florida known as a meticulous investigator and an expert in busting Italian and Russian mobsters.

The retired agent was identified as Robert Levinson, 59, of Coral Springs, Fla., a U.S. official familiar with the case told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

He was last heard from around March 11 while in a coastal area of southern Iran, where he was working for an independent filmmaker, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation. Levinson was reportedly near or on Kish Island, a resort area in the Persian Gulf.

The federal government is seeking information from Iran on Levinson's whereabouts through diplomatic channels, officials said.

The tall, burly Levinson is an expert on organized crime who sometimes worked 20-hour days, his former colleagues recalled.

``Bobby is one of the most meticulous agents I have ever met,'' said Lewis Schiliro, former FBI assistant director in New York.

The former agent had such a remarkable memory that he became the go-to guy when FBI colleagues were stumped over identifying a mobster in a shadowy surveillance photograph. ``He always knew who it was,'' Schiliro said.

Levinson was an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration before he joined the FBI in 1976. He was assigned to New York, home to the notorious five Mafia families. He transferred to the Miami FBI office in the early 1980s and specialized in the Russian mob there.

``He was someone who thought outside the box,'' said Jules Bonavolonta, former chief of the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division in New York's FBI office. ``He was a good agent. He was very intelligent and had a good vision.''

He retired from the FBI in 1998 and currently owns a private security company, R.A. Levinson & Associates. He is also a principal at Business Integrity International, an international investigative firm in Miami and New Jersey.

Levinson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the City College of New York and is fluent in Spanish and conversant in Russian, according to the Business Integrity International Web site.

He lives with his wife in an upscale gated community in Coral Springs, about 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko, while declining to identify the missing person, confirmed that he was a retired agent who was not working as an FBI contractor when he disappeared.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the agency has sent a letter to the Iranians through diplomatic intermediaries asking whether authorities there have any information about the man.

``It's an American private citizen who is in Iran on private business,'' McCormack said. ``We have been monitoring this situation for a couple of weeks now.''

He said the State Department has been in constant contact with the man's family and his employers since he was reported missing.

U.S. citizens are not barred from traveling to Iran but must obtain a visa, although Kish Island is a Persian Gulf resort area and free-trade zone for which no Iranian visa is required.

A guard was keeping reporters away from Levinson's house in Florida on Tuesday, and several telephone messages left at the home were not returned.

Eitan Karni, who has lived in community for several years, said he knows Levinson's wife, Christine, from her work on the community's board of directors, but he doesn't remember meeting the husband.

``I just hope he comes back safe and sound,'' Karni said.