Career Spotlight: Richard D. Gregorie (C'68, L'71)

Leo Higdon

Senior Litigation Counsel, U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, Florida

You joined the Justice Department in 1972, straight out of Georgetown University Law Center. What inspired you to go into criminal prosecution?

The clinical program at Georgetown Law helped me obtain legal internships at The United States Attorney’s Offices in Boston during the summer of 1970, and in Washington D.C. during the 1970-1971 academic year. I worked with two well known prosecutors, George Higgins and Harold Sullivan. Higgins later authored The Friends of Eddie Coyle and other Boston-based crime novels. Sullivan was the legendary Chief of the Major Crimes Unit in the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office. I was permitted to sit in court with the prosecutors during two major criminal trials, and I became addicted to the fast pace and daily excitement of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

You spent the first 10 years of your career prosecuting organized crime and racketeering cases before becoming chief of the Narcotics Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. What was the biggest challenge in that transition?

As a traditional organized crime prosecutor, I dealt primarily with local crime. Prosecutions involved neighborhood gambling, loan sharking, prostitution and police corruption run by local crime bosses and crime families. In Miami, crime was international. Prosecutions involved extraterritorial jurisdiction, heads of international drug cartels and corrupt foreign governments. I had to transition from using the tools used to prosecute local crime bosses to expanding the jurisdiction of those tools and applying them to international criminals.

During your tenure as Chief of Narcotics in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, you wrote the indictment that eventually led to the prosecution of infamous drug trafficker Manual Noriega. What can you tell us about that time?

When I arrived in Miami in August of 1982, crime was rampant. Drug traffickers, money launderers, Colombian secarios (hit men), major con artists, swindlers and human traffickers operated uninterrupted. This was the era of the Mariel boatlift and the Dadeland massacre. There was a severe shortage of law enforcement, judges and prosecutors. Consequently, the President ordered judges, federal agents, and prosecutors from all over the United States to Miami to address the problem. Current U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Marcus was then the newly appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He hired me and ordered me to track crime to its highest levels and not be concerned about politics. He encouraged and supported me in investigating drug dealers, corrupt officials, dirty bankers, and leaders of international drug cartels. At the time, the problem with international investigations of this type was that the foreign intelligence community and the State Department were not used to interacting with Justice Department prosecutors. We convicted some of the world’s most prolific drug traffickers and convinced them to become witnesses against their cartel bosses as well as corrupt foreign officials and leaders of foreign governments, including Panamanian General Manuel Noriega

What has been the greatest professional lesson of your career? Most formative?

The greatest professional lesson of my career is best set forth in a quote from Navy admiral, computer scientist, and author Grace Murray Hopper:

“It is better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.”

Having worked in the government bureaucracy for 40 years, I have learned that nothing worthwhile gets accomplished unless you step up and do it. Too many prosecutions stay piled on prosecutors’ desks because timid bureaucrats live by the maxim big cases, big problems, little cases, little problems, no cases, no problems.

How do you think your time at Georgetown has influenced your professional decisions?

My time at Georgetown taught me to think for myself and follow my own course. My professors, classmates, and friends have always been drawn together by their education and loyalty to Georgetown. But, they have been inspired by the independent and diverse achievements of each individual classmate. My Georgetown class of 1968 boasts that its members include a President of the United States, presidents of several universities, an inventor of the insulin pump, a hit songwriter, an editor of The Wall Street Journal, a Saudi Prince and Director of the Saudi Intelligence Directorate, and a number of John Carroll Award recipients. I am always proud to say that I am a Georgetown Hoya and I am even more proud to be the parent of another Hoya who will follow her own course, Ryley Gregorie (C‘17).

What was the last book you read? 

I just finished reading Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst. It is an exciting spy novel about the dark period in Europe just before the start of the Second World War. I read for enjoyment, but I always seem to find interesting the international intrigue which is part of what I do every day.