Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From It All (2 page)

I would also like to thank my parents, John and Judy. Although their marriage struggled, their love for me and my two brothers, Joseph and Jim, never did. That my brothers and I have managed to remain standing despite the powerful headwinds of life seemingly always trying to blow us down is a testament to the power of the love our parents had for us. Although the book’s painful recount of my earlier years may leave the reader with the impression of a painful childhood, my early years left me with love to spare. And, although our relationship has been contentious at times, I am grateful that Joseph, his wife Jonel, and Jim and his wife Jordana have always been there to support me when I’ve made tough decisions.

No book of this type could ever be complete without acknowledging the dedication and honor of the men and women of the United States Secret Service. At no point in this book are any security details revealed, and any information that may have compromised ongoing security operations was intentionally omitted. I deliberately wrote the book this way to ensure that no agent would ever have to modify a security template due to an idea fomented by this book. The men and women of the Secret Service are a quiet lot that perform a noble mission: keep the president alive no matter his politics, race, gender, success, or failure, and if, heaven forbid, something were to endanger his life, then you will die first. That is a profound level of commitment when one reflects on it, yet the men and women of the Secret Service rarely give it a second thought.

Having spent my twelve years with the Secret Service working with a number of military units that range from communications to medical to Special Forces, I also feel it necessary to extend the servicemen and women of our country a sincere debt of gratitude. For security reasons I intentionally omitted some of the more telling interactions I had with the men and women of our United States military, but I assure you they will never be omitted from my mind. Their bravery and selflessness is a testament to what makes this country peerless on the international stage. I was consistently humbled by being among our nation’s finest warriors and want to again say, “Thank you; our freedom is your gift.”

Growing up in a household where my parents were separated and my mother worked full time meant it was a challenge at times to find an ear
willing to listen when I needed someone with whom to share my feelings. My grandmothers Eileen and Anne were always filling in those gaps and providing sage advice and guidance. Their love for me was boundless and I yearned to make them proud. I also found comfort in the homes of my three aunts: Eileen, Jane, and Susan. They all lived within blocks of our Queens, New York, apartment and subsequent home, and they were quick to provide a hot meal, a warm bed, or a shoulder to cry on when our situation at home was troubled.

Although I don’t remember much about my grandfather Clifford, I know his impact on the community he lived in was dramatic. I wish I had more memories of him to relish. I do however have vivid memories of my grandfather Frank. He was my hero. He was a quiet man whose silent strength changed my life. The saddest day of my life was the day I lost him. A piece of me died with him that day.

Running a grassroots political campaign, such as the one I did in Maryland in 2012, requires the passionate dedication of thousands of volunteers and supporters. I want to thank every volunteer who showed up to wave a sign or knock on a door with me. I was consistently humbled by the number of people willing to stand in triple-degree heat with me and fight for a better tomorrow. I want to extend an additional thank-you to Jim for managing the campaign, Sharon for organizing the chaos, Kelly for believing in me, Maria and Ally for never giving up, and Brian, Mike, Jim, Marcia, Mark, and JoAnn for their time commitment.

Like many Americans, I have grown increasingly frustrated by the wall that has been built between the American people and their elected representatives. With trust in politicians at historic lows, it was refreshing to me, during my campaign, to encounter people who are guided by principle. I want to thank Senator Mike Lee from Utah for taking a chance on me when I had nothing but a passion for change. Senator Lee is that rare elected official who cares little for politics but cares greatly for a better tomorrow, and I will be forever grateful for his support and guidance. I also want to thank former congressman Lieutenant Colonel Allen West and former Republican nominee for vice president and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. They supported me because they believed in me, and in a political world driven by backroom deals and illicit pacts, it is refreshing to know that there are people out there who care more about
a prosperous future than an immediate payoff.

No acknowledgement section would be complete without a heartfelt thank you to Lynda McLaughlin, the production team, and Sean Hannity for allowing me to amplify my message on Sean’s show. As with Senator Lee, they took a chance on me, which I will never forget.

1
EARLY YEARS

G
ROWING UP ON ROSE LANE
in Smithtown, New York, with my mother, Judy, my father, John, and my two brothers, Jim and Joseph, was quiet, peaceful, and relatively unmemorable for all of the right reasons. We made the short walk each morning to our school, Forest Brook Elementary, at the end of our street. My father was a building inspector and licensed plumber and my mother worked in a supermarket. They provided for a comfortable and peaceful existence. All of this was about to change for us, and when the change appeared it came swiftly, with no harbinger of what our future would hold.

My father and mother were very good at hiding the trouble in their marriage. They rarely fought openly, so from an eight-year-old’s perspective everything appeared normal. Their marriage began to fracture during the early 1980s and by 1983 was a marriage in name only. By my ninth birthday I understood what was happening. I distinctly remember a fight that resulted in a bottle of Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup shattering on the front porch and creating a huge, dark stain. The memory is distinct and fresh to this day. With their divorce moving forward, my mother could no longer afford our Smithtown home and decided it was time to move back to Queens, New York. She was raised in Queens, and although she may have been accustomed to the rigors of city life, my brothers and I definitely were not.

The new apartment in Queens was located on Myrtle Avenue, above the bar my grandfather owned. My mother had little money and the bitter divorce proceedings dragged on, so her salary from working in the supermarket across the street was our only means of support. The bar attracted few customers since my grandfather’s passing years earlier. My mother and her three sisters attempted to manage it with little success, and living above it was a stressful experience. In addition to the noise from the jukebox every night, the apartment was small, cramped, and infested with rats. Myrtle Avenue was always crowded with cars and people in no rush to contribute to the night’s silence.

My mother started seeing a man she knew from her childhood not long after moving back to the old neighborhood. Mike, or as she had us refer to him, “Big Mike,” was a grizzled dockworker and a former boxer. He was a physically imposing figure at six feet, five inches and nearly 280 pounds. His demeanor was very different from than of the father we left behind in Smithtown, and growing accustomed to his increasing presence at the small apartment was a difficult adjustment for my brothers and me.

Mike was generally a decent man, but he became an entirely different person when he drank. He grew up in the hard city streets where fighting was the rule rather than the exception. Having known nothing but peace in my childhood to this point, constantly hearing about violence and fighting was beginning to affect me. After our first year in the apartment, Mike moved in with us and became a permanent fixture in our lives. I was unaware, at this point, of the consequences of crossing Mike, but I
quickly learned the boundaries of our relationship. Sitting in the kitchen one night, Big Mike asked me in front of my mother if I would like to join him and his son Mike at the Ridgewood Grove Arena to watch WWF wrestling. Having no interest, I replied, half-jokingly, “I have other things to do.” These words would come back to haunt me the next morning when he furiously screamed at me about my rudeness while I was lying in bed. I was stunned and scared, and I learned never to speak to him again in any way that could even be perceived as rude. This was just a small hint of what was to come.

I awoke in the middle of the night a couple of weeks later and heard muffled screams, the kind of screams that have to be muffled. Thinking I was having a nightmare I closed my eyes, but the sound would not relent. My brother Joseph, six at the time, made the mistake of crossing Mike earlier that day for a reason most rational adults would attribute to childhood immaturity. Mike had been drinking and decided that Joseph was going to be the release valve for his rage. This was the moment our lives changed, never to be changed back. Once children trade the innocence of childhood for the brutal reality and hard edge of life, there are no buybacks. The abuse became a familiar routine for me. Joseph and I never discussed it. No one did. We all just pretended it didn’t happen and the world was happy to acquiesce. With no money, torn clothes, an empty refrigerator, and a prison of an apartment, I turned to the world of comic books to escape. I read every one I could get my hands on and had dreams only a child could have, dreams of the super strength to be able to stand up to Mike and not be afraid. The super strength never materialized, and the damage to my childhood was irreparable.

After years of this painful monotony, my grandmother loaned my mother some money to buy a small house just up the road in Liberty Park, Queens. Although it was a short walk from the apartment over the bar, it was miles away in terms of an environment for raising a child. Now on and off with her relationship with Mike, my mother began to work for Con Edison, a New York electricity provider, and earned a better salary. Some of the hardest edges to our lives began to soften, but Mike’s edge was as sharp as ever. After a night of drinking he managed to get to our house and began banging on the windows. The relentless banging terrified me and my brothers and we braced for the repercussions if the window
gave and he got ahold of us. The only thing Mike ever appeared to fear was the police, so I quickly dialed 911 and counted the seconds until they arrived. I remember watching them at our front door after they ordered Mike to leave and knowing, at that moment, that I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be able to pay back the favor and bring peace to a young child’s life.

2
NYPD BLUE

E
ARLY CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES
instilled in me a deep desire to never be physically intimidated again, and to do everything in my limited power to ensure it did not happen to others. Law enforcement became a dream of mine, and after two years of college I began to research careers in federal, state, and local law enforcement. After making a number of calls to the FBI, DEA, US Marshals, and Secret Service, I realized that I was up against steep competition for the limited number of entry-level positions available and that moving from college directly into a law-enforcement position with one of these agencies was going to be difficult
if not impossible. I began to consider different paths and after careful consideration settled on the New York City Police Department as the best organization to acquire both the experience and the contacts necessary to move into federal law enforcement. I decided on the NYPD cadet program as the most logical choice, and my father was eager to help.

My father had always dreamed of a career in law enforcement, but a severe case of scoliosis of the spine had prevented him from following through on those dreams. The cadet program was, in essence, a paid internship program. It allowed me to attend college full time while working part time for the department in a support capacity, with a contract that obligated me to two years of service as a police officer upon graduation. The program was an initiative by the NYPD to recruit more college graduates into their ranks and in a short time it attracted a number of well-qualified applicants.

At this same period in my life I was considering military service as well and was in touch with a recruiter for the US Marine Corps. Staff Sergeant Williams and I engaged in a number of conversations and my desire to serve our country was strong. My uncle, Gregory Ambrose, was killed in action in Vietnam and my mother never recovered from this tragedy. I knew she would be traumatized by my decision if I entered into military service, but the calling was loud and strong. I vividly recall my high school’s job fair and attending the Marine Corps presentation and being magnetically drawn to the heroism the presiding Marine appeared to exude from every pore.

Despite the gravitational pull of military service on me, unfortunately, I would never fulfill my desire to serve, a decision I would question for many years afterward. I received a phone call months after submitting my application to the NYPD telling me I had successfully completed the rigorous application process for the cadet program and had to report for duty in the spring of 1995. At the time, I was living on my own and struggling financially. I moved out of my house after a physical altercation with Mike shortly after my eighteenth birthday and was working and attending college while trying to figure out my future. Financial pressures weighed on me daily and I knew if I took the cadet position military service would not be an option, but it would give me some financial stability and a path forward. My law-enforcement dreams and my desire to escape perpetual
financial pressure led me to accept the position. My mother cried with relief when I told her the news and the thought of losing another member of her family subsided.

I was excited to join the NYPD cadet program. It was my first real job that involved mature responsibilities and I was honored to be a part of the program. Although the job required maturity, I was still just a city kid with a rough edge and was unfamiliar with the formality of a paramilitary environment. The cadet training program was a mini police academy run by officers with strong military backgrounds. The paramilitary atmosphere began on the first day—when I reported for duty at a local college auditorium, I had barely made it to the line to access the facility when a grizzled NYPD veteran screamed, “Get in line, and shut your mouths!” That was all I needed to hear to fully comprehend that my life was about to change.

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