The Story Behind FBI Special Unit C-38

Supervisory Special Agent
Seamus McElearney.
It was publicly proclaimed by no less than Attorney General Eric Holder that the FBI decided to sharply reduce resources allocated to battling the New York Mafia.

This was revealed about three years ago -- concurrently with the infamous event known as "Mafia Takedown Day," when some 120 mobsters were arrested in their bathrobes at dawn--high noon for busting down the doors of nice, well-kept suburban homes.

The FBI historically has had one squad assigned to each New York crime family, back during those decades when they systematically dismantled organized crime in the city, the so-called golden years of the mob.

In contrast, as of this past June, the FBI had on the streets only two New York City-based squads to keep an eye on the 700 or so members -- and estimated 7,000 associates -- of the Five Families, according to's Jerry Capeci.

To say it another way, the FBI mob effort has been cut in half since 2008.

Which begs the question: why would the FBI so cavalierly announce this?

And raises, for this blogger, another one: what the hell is FBI special unit C-38?

I started to see references to the unit in newspaper articles and on blogs, and it was apparent that C-38, whatever else it was, has been definitely focused on the New York Mafia, but was it in addition to the two mob squads still left in New York? I was curious as to where and how this "special unit" fit into the existing landscape.

Finding the answer was not as simple as it should have been. Even with a simple Google search, I kept coming upon stories that mentioned the unit by name -- but a definition, a story that explained the purpose of the unit, was not so easy to find.

As per this basic research I determined that the unit claims credit for taking apart the Colombo and Bonanno families over the past five or so years, resulting in the arrests of 120 members and associates, including top-level members -- with guilty pleas or jury convictions for 115 of them, according to a recent Washington Post report.

“The Colombo family has pretty much been decimated. They are in complete shambles and disarray,” said Belle Chen, an assistant special agent in charge at the FBI’s New York Field Office. “The Bonanno family has been severely disrupted.”

Yes, Belle, but what the hell is this unit C-38?

It's easy to learn who is the boss of C-38: Supervisory Special Agent Seamus McElearney. As for the composition of the group, it consists of nine special agents and one analyst, the WashPo report said.

Chen called McElearney a linchpin for massive investigations, making key day-to-day tactical and operational decisions, and engaging with his team members to convince made men to break their oaths of silence and become cooperating witnesses.

McElearney said members of his team often worked around the clock, monitoring electronic surveillance, protecting mob informants as they secretly recorded conversations with their associates, preparing search warrants, handling arrests and assisting prosecutors.

George Khouzami, an FBI coordinating supervisory special agent in New York, said the group took some high-risk, high-reward strategies to get mob members to cooperate and turn on their compatriots. At various stages, he said, "dominos fell and members of each of the families no longer knew who to trust."

Something kept popping up in my searches for the special unit -- something about a bill [C-38]. I started looking into the bill -- and found the answer.

It will be faster and easier to explain it with a quote I found on Mort's Musings: Canadian Law and Policy:

Ok, this is truly absurd. DEA, FBI, NCIS agents authorized to arrest Canadians in Canada? I haven't noticed any suggestion the RCMP or OPP can arrest Americans in Buffalo. I'd say it's a bad parody by extremist Canadian nationalists... except it's real legislation in Parliament right now... "the bill [C-38] grants U.S. law enforcement agents the same power to enforce Canadian Acts of Parliament as members of the RCMP, if they are participating in integrated cross-border operations; ...

"The government is aware the prospect of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arresting Canadians on their native soil is controversial.

"We recognized early that this approach could r
aise concerns about sovereignty, privacy and the civil liberties of Canadians," RCMP superintendent Joe Oliver told the Senate committee on security and defence last week.

Unit C-38 is empowered to pursue and arrest suspects in Canada.

More to come...