Mike Zummer looks like the perfect Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent (SA) as memorialized in the TV show “The FBI” starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Zummer, like Zimbalist, is tall, good-looking, intelligent, battle-hardened and compassionate. Like FBI whistleblowers before him, Zummer was too perfect, too compassionate and too good at his job. Also like the whistleblowers before him in the FBI, Zummer was terminated because he simply wanted to do his job to the best of his ability.
Zummer was born in Evanston, Illinois, and raised in the Chicago suburbs of Kenilworth, “a very nice place to grow up and go to school. People were pretty wealthy there, with great schools and great programs,” and Zummer felt very blessed. Zummer’s father was an attorney and his mother a teacher, and both parents were a major influence on Zummer. Growing up Zummer became interested in the military beginning in fourth grade. His older brother exposed Zummer to the military by entering the Marines through the Naval ROTC program. When it was time for Zummer to go to college, he received a ROTC scholarship but entered the Marine Corps. He had done well at high school, graduating in the top 1% of his class, and went to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He did extremely well at basic officer training, second in his class of 200. Zummer chose to join the Infantry and was deployed overseas in 1995, taking a detachment of Marines on an aircraft carrier as the commanding officer.
During deployments, Zummer started thinking about joining the FBI, which he then did in 1999. He was assigned to Organized Crime in New Orleans, and then White Collar Crime. Zummer was very successful as a FBI Agent, at one point handling a Ponzi scheme case with 600 victims totaling losses of 23 million dollars. It was mostly elder individuals targeted by the fraudsters. The case taught Zummer a lot about victims, and focused Zummer on the importance of what the FBI did.
After four years, Zummer left the FBI in 2003 to enter Stanford Law School, with ambitions of attaining a political career or a prosecutor position. In 2004, the Iraq War started, and Zummer felt guilty Marines were fighting in Iraq without him, so he volunteered and spent seven months on deployment in charge of Iraqi security services. He referred to it as a “heartbreaking experience” since there was not enough resources, operational support and insufficient training for the Iraq security forces.
Zummer returned from Iraq in 2005 and finished law school in 2007. He clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit in New Orleans, with Judge Edith Brown Clement from 2007 until 2008.
It was an “incredible experience working for Clement,” but Zummer decided to re-enter the FBI in 2008 and was reassigned to the New Orleans Office working political corruption. Zummer had previously worked corruption as a new SA in the FBI and in Iraq, where he worked kickback schemes, frauds and bribery.
Harry Morel was the District Attorney (DA) of St. Charles Parish in Louisiana, where he had been the DA since 1979. One has to understand how powerful the DA position is in Louisiana, where incarceration is high, and DAs can have the final word with criminal justice in the county.
In 2009, Zummer was in charge of an investigation concerning allegations that Morel was trading sex for leniency in his court. Zummer handled a witness, Danelle Keim, whose undercover work substantially contributed to the case against Morel. Morel allegedly sexually assaulted Keim from April 2010 until her death in Feb 2013. Prior to her death by overdose, Keim had written a note saying, “I worked with the FBI because of what he (Morel) did to me.” Keim’s death had come after a news report about the Morel investigation which included enough details to identify Keim.
Shortly after Keim’s death, Zummer was notified that the case against Morel was impossible to charge. Zummer disputed that finding, which was arrived at by the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO). Zummer subsequently learned that the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) handling the case, Fred Harper, was in a contractual business relationship concerning joint ownership in a condominium with Morel’s attorney, Ralph Capitelli.
Although Zummer had additional potential victims, and several areas of investigation on Morel, he was stunned to receive a declination letter from the USAO in April 2013. In a subsequent meeting, Zummer heard reasons for Morel’s declination that were nonsensical and perplexing.
A month later, Zummer filed a complaint with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG), against AUSA Harper “for failing to recuse himself from matters involving Capitelli.” Shortly after the complaint filing, AUSA Harper exchanged the ownership in the condominium that he owned with Capitelli, putting ownership in his live-in girlfriend’s name.
In August 2013, the Saint Charles Herald Guide quoted Capitelli as saying the case against Morel had been declined. Shortly after, Kenneth Polite became the USAO and Zummer briefed him on the Morel investigation.
Zummer then discovered that AUSAs were asking when Zummer would be “transferred from the Louisiana FBI,” and that none of the AUSA’s “would allegedly work with Zummer.” It appeared a clear-cut case of retaliation was occurring against Zummer because of his OIG complaint against AUSA Harper. Zummer never received the results of his OIG complaint. However, he doggedly continued the Morel investigation and obtained more than twenty victim statements about sexual contact with Morel after he had asked for “sex in connection with his position as district attorney or assistant district attorney between 1986 and 2012.”
Zummer and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office had amassed a huge amount of evidence, in the form of transcripts, video, audio and two dozen witness statements. Over 100 interviews were conducted and 39 polygraph tests administered. With such a large amount of witnesses with pertinent information, permission was requested from FBI headquarters that Morel be charged under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which the FBI headquarters granted. The RICO charges were at least 30 racketeering acts, solicitations of sexual bribes in violation of state law and federal obstruction of justice acts.
In July 2015, Zummer was informed that a plea agreement with counts of mail fraud, obstruction of justice and misdemeanor civil rights violations would be offered to Morel. Zummer found this stunning, as he was working the RICO. Morel accepted the plea agreement and pleaded guilty in April 2016 to one obstruction of justice charge. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, a $20,000 fine, and one year of supervised release.
It appeared that a sexual predator had gotten off easy because of possible political connections and more than twenty witnesses were given short shrift in the justice system. One reporter asked the USAO how Morel could receive a plea agreement with such significant criminal behavior, and asked if the victims were receiving justice.
Zummer was appalled and noted that, “the Iraq experience was really formative in all of this. The Iraqi security forces were left to swing in the wind, and I was not going to let these victims swing in the wind, nor the [St. Charles Parish] Sheriff’s Office who stood up and did the right thing. I was not going to let it happen again. There is a moral and spiritual obligation to our fellow human beings. People need to stand up and I hope something positive comes from this [situation].”
Zummer notified FBI management that he was going to write a letter noting the misconduct by the USAO, and was ordered to send the letter to the FBI New Orleans Division Chief Counsel, which he did in May 2016. He did not receive a response for a month. Zummer was then instructed by Division Counsel to send his letter to the Justice Department OIG, which he did in June 2016. The OIG transferred his letter to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). In August 2016, OPR revealed that they would not comment on whether or not Zummer should send the letter: they passed it to the FBI, who advised him that he could not send the letter in his official capacity.
Zummer started another front in August 2016 by submitting two letters of USAO misconduct to the FBI’s prepublication review program, in order to allow him to send the letters to the Court. Both letters stated that Zummer was making the disclosures to the court and media as a private citizen under his First Amendment rights. The FBI prepublication office advised Zummer that they would not review his letters because the disclosures were being made in the performance of his duties, and this was outside the scope of the prepublication review. Zummer asked if he had any First Amendment Rights and received no reply. Zummer knew that the plea agreement between Morel and the USAO on March 30, 2016 was “tainted by the USAO’s lack of impartiality in the matter. The USAO had failed to represent the interest of the victims and the United States as a whole in this case.” Zummer also knew “after the declination of the case in 2013, the USAO had a personal interest in avoiding seeing their previous decision publicly reversed.”
On August 15, 2016, Zummer sent a thirty-one page letter to Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt in which he noted the misconduct in the AUSO. In the letter, he wrote, “I love fighting corruption in Louisiana. This is where I belong, but this letter most likely means my time is over here and possibly in the FBI. I am tired of having to accept corruption in order to fight corruption. I am tired of FBI managers pressuring me to accept corruption and cover up corruption by federal prosecutors. More importantly, when I was in the Marine Corps, I learned the simple leadership lesson that I could not ask my Marines to do something that I would not do myself. I see witnesses like I saw my Marines. I cannot ask others to expose corruption if I am not willing to do it myself. Danelle Keim faced far greater risks when she called 911 on April 16, 2010. I will never forget listening to her over a transmitter in her apartment while she waited for Morel to arrive on July 23, 2012. She was on the verge of breaking down from stress. She told me she was having flashbacks from Morel’s sexual battery which prompted the emergency call more than two years earlier. She pulled herself together though and was a true hero. Danelle Keim was brave as anyone I have ever known. I will forget the abuses the other women described to me. Nor will I forget their courage in disclosing them. One woman’s description of what Morel did to her will haunt me for the rest of my life. The victims, the witnesses, the ones who told the truth in this case, deserve nothing less than the same from me. They certainly deserved better from the U.S Department of Justice and the FBI.”
Morel served less than two years of his sentence and was released in August 2018. Zummer, on the other hand, was “placed in a cell without bars at work”, with management ordering him to a nurse’s office two weeks after Zummer sent the letter to Judge Engelhardt. Zummer was not given any investigative assignments and denied access to the computer system.
Zummer, never one to give up the fight, sent a second letter to Judge Engelhardt in September 2016, and the Judge, while not releasing Zummer’s letters, did issue an order noting the legitimate concerns of Zummer. The Judge wrote, “the legitimate concerns of FBI Special Agent Zummer — that the Department of Justice is either unable or unwilling to self-police lapses of ethics, professionalism and truthfulness in its ranks — are shared by the undersigned, particularly over the last few years.”
On September 30, 2016, Zummer was indefinitely suspended from the FBI, stripped of his security clearance, and led out of the FBI office space. Zummer contacted Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Grassley sent letters to the DOJ IG, and James Comey. Grassley noted that the suspension of pay and security clearance after Zummer sent the letter to a federal judge, could be a misuse of the security clearance process masking retaliation for protected whistleblowing. Senator Grassley is known as the champion of whistleblowers, and he proved this once again by backing Zummer.
In August 2017, Zummer filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and others for free speech violations, and filed a complaint with the IG’s office, who responded that Zummer had not followed the proper channels.
On April 29, 2018, the FBI fired Zummer with no pay after a suspension that lasted almost two years. In October 2018, the DOJ OPR sent a letter to the Louisiana Bar asking them to investigate Zummer for his conduct in the Morel case.
Like the remarkable soldier that he is, Zummer has continued the fight, never giving up, and although he has said he “has mortgaged his future” in this matter, his strong sense of justice, his compassion for the victims prevents him from retreating. He has written a book titled Defying Silence: Exposing a Sexual Predator DA, the Justice Department and FBI Management, which has yet to be published.
Zummer is also in-house counsel for an activist organization called Protect the FBI, a non-partisan group that wants to “empower rank-and-file FBI employees to report abuse of authority.” When asked about the FBI, Zummer stated, “Management protect their own and treat it like it is a private club….like a private club that owns the FBI. They completely forget their accountability to the American people, to the public, the taxpayers. There is real contempt for witnesses, for victims, and for whistleblowers. Probably because those people really challenge them to do their jobs. It is easy to put up this wall, put up this institutional barrier to protect them, to protect officials, whether they are management or prosecutors. It is a major cultural problem…the management in the FBI is the problem.”
“People have asked, ‘is this the hill you want to die on?’ For me in the Morel case, oh yeah, this is the hill I want to die on,” Zummer said. “The way they try to dissuade people from doing what is right, for standing up for victims, for witnesses, for the public, for institutional integrity. It is like they are trying to make the FBI more mediocre. How do they inspect themselves?”
Zummer is a wounded warrior, and his enemy was not overseas, but rather here in the homeland. Zummer deserved a hero’s embrace, but instead was betrayed, shunned and isolated by his own government.