FBI agent Barry Carmody worked some of Tampa Bay area's historic cases

Published May 22 2012
Updated May 22 2012

TAMPA — As an FBI agent, Barry Carmody was as relentless as they come. His work helped bring down sleazy public officials, bank robbers and terrorists and resulted in one of the arrests of mobster Santo Trafficante Jr.

Mr. Carmody served zealously with the bureau for 33 years. But getting the bad guys seems to have been more of a profession to him than a personal crusade, and he used wit and a genial charm to get the job done.

He pitched in setting up a fake bottle club in Pasco County in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an FBI sting later chronicled in the movie Donnie Brasco. Operation Coldwater, as the sting was called, netted the arrests of high-ranking crime figures, including Trafficante, who was later acquitted.

While Trafficante was in failing health, among those who visited his Tampa sickbed was Mr. Carmody.

"Dad would go check on him, stop in, probably bring him a beer, smoke a cigar and that would be it," said Roderick Carmody, Mr. Carmody's son.

Mr. Carmody, who balanced a steady focus on serious crime with jokes, pranks and storytelling, died Wednesday, of brain cancer. He was 73.

His common touch allowed him to make inroads with cops and crooks, judges and hookers, gaining both information and friendships.

Once, he even received a friendly letter from an inmate he had helped send to prison.

"He said, 'Despite it all, Barry, I really like you,' " recalled Roderick Carmody, 36.

Mr. Carmody played a role in solving some of the area's most memorable crimes. He investigated the 1975 murder of former Tampa police Sgt. Richard Cloud and pitched in on a widespread corruption case that led to the arrests of public officials and business leaders.

"He was at the epicenter of a big, dark time in our county's history," said Jan Platt, who watched from her office in 1983 as fellow county Commissioners Jerry Bowmer, Fred Anderson and Joe Kotvas were led away in handcuffs, all to spend years in prison.

"He was very aggressive and thorough," retired FBI agent Russell Wood, who led that investigation, said of Mr. Carmody. In 26 years in the Tampa office, Mr. Carmody took down numerous contractors seeking to pay off officials for permits.

"He was an office institution," said Wood, 66. "He provided background on so many historical relationships, such as who are the top players in town."

Born in Shreveport, La., Mr. Carmody majored in history at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. He served three years in the Marine Corps, and was discharged honorably as a captain.

He began a career in the FBI, working in at least three other locations before coming to Tampa in 1972, the same year he married Karen Welsh.

Tampa had everything an FBI agent wanted — great weather, cheaper living and lots of big cases, said Al Scudieri, a retired FBI agent who worked with Mr. Carmody for more than 20 years, including the period described by agent Joe Pistone in Donnie Brasco.

They were part of a tight-knit group who worked out together, went fishing and ran on Davis Islands during the hottest part of the day.

"Barry had that Irish wit, he was a good storyteller," said Scudieri, 65. "We could all be in the same incident, and he would come out and tell the best story about it."

Robert O'Neill, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said Mr. Carmody was "born to be an FBI agent."

"He loved working with law enforcement and he loved his family," O'Neill said. "But his second family was the FBI."

The FBI wants its agents to retire by age 57, but in the late 1990s, Mr. Carmody was "caught up in sensitive counter intelligence cases," Scudieri said. Then-FBI director Louis Freeh approved an exception for Mr. Carmody, who retired in 1998.

His retirement party in downtown Tampa lasted hours. Mixed in among former colleagues telling stories were a couple of young strangers Mr. Carmody did not recognize.

"He said, 'I can't place your name,' " Roderick Carmody said. Turns out, the well wishers had crashed the party for free beer — then stayed two hours, engrossed in Mr. Carmody's life.

"They said, 'We just want to thank you for your service to your country.' That was his life snowballing through, collecting friends."

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

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