DEA Agent Dogged by Problems
Dec. 19, 1997
MIAMI (AP) _ As a federal drug agent for 33 years, Richard Fekete took risky assignments and was awarded commendations for his undercover work, but he was dogged by a severe drinking problem and accusations of spousal abuse.
The job and the alcohol came to a violent collision Dec. 12, when a fellow Drug Enforcement Administration agent was taking Fekete home from a Christmas party because he was too drunk to drive. Sometime that night, authorities say Fekete shot Shaun Curl six times, killing him.
Fekete's lawyer argues that his client was in a drunken stupor and remembers nothing. But according to an affidavit released Thursday, investigators believe Fekete, though drunk, may have been out to get Curl anyway _ they just don't know why.
The 55-year-old agent remains jailed without bond, charged with first-degree murder.
Whatever the outcome, it is now clear that Fekete kept his job as a federal agent even though he had a history of both alcoholism and violence.
Fekete had been in and out of counseling, once because he had held a gun to his wife's head, according to published reports. He underwent psychological and alcohol abuse counseling three times.
The latest was in January 1995, just weeks after his wife accused him of a pattern of abuse that included drinking binges, violence, threats and holding his DEA-issue weapon to her head and the head of the family dog.
Leigh Ann Fekete, 36, who now lives in California, and Fekete separated last summer. The couple filed for divorce Nov. 25.
Fekete was treated for eight weeks under the DEA's employee assistance program, a common mental health benefit offered by U.S. employers. His DEA bosses ordered his last treatment.
Still, Fekete was able to keep the job, which took him from Panama's jungles to New Jersey's topless bars. He was transferred from the DEA's New Jersey office to Chicago, and then to Miami to work at the agency's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Office.
Discipline under the civil service system must relate to on-the-job performance, and people with drinking problems are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act and other measures.
Even so, Fekete's job-related problems have been numerous:
_ He was demoted over a brawl in 1979 with Camden, N.J., police officers, but was reinstated two years later when an administrative hearing officer decided a corrupt officer fabricated the incident.
_ Fekete fatally shot a cook wielding two knives during an argument with another employee at an outdoor cafe near Philadelphia in 1987. Fekete consumed 11 beers before the shooting, but the shooting was ruled as justifiable.
After the investigation into Curl's death is finished, the DEA plans an internal inquiry to see if somebody in the chain of command may have failed to do his job.
But the criminal probe so far appears to be largely circumstantial. That's because the only person who might know what happened is Fekete. And his lawyer said Fekete remembers nothing.
``Everybody knew that he has had alcohol problems for a long time,'' attorney Glenn Kritzer said. ``However, I think it's also been clear that his drinking problem has never affected his work product.''
Kritzer said his client remembers only being at the party and then crawling on all fours in a swampy area where Curl's car ran off the road.
``He didn't even know until they arrested him the following morning that he had shot and killed a friend,'' Kritzer said. ``He was so shocked and devastated that he said he wanted to commit suicide.''
Tests showed Fekete had a blood-alcohol level of 0.269 percent, more than three times the level at which Florida law considers a driver to be impaired.
Even so, an affidavit released Thursday suggests Fekete may have threatened to kill Curl, 39, several times.
When two DEA agents visited Curl's wife, Kathleen, the morning after the shooting, she told them that Fekete had made threatening telephone calls to their home.
``Fekete had telephoned the Curl residence and had spoken to Mrs. Curl on at least two occasions,'' FBI agent Luis Quesada wrote. ``Fekete threatened to kill Curl.''
But in a subsequent interview, Mrs. Curl ``did not repeat her prior statements regarding the threat to kill Curl, despite specific questioning,'' according to Quesada.
Kritzer said his client never threatened to kill Curl and that the two agents were good friends.
``People do not offer to drive people home if they are not concerned about them and care about them,'' he said.