Westlake -- Two FBI agents visited Angelo Lonardo at a federal penitentiary in Missouri in 1983 and asked the new prisoner to squeal about the Cleveland mob.
"It was a pie-in-the-sky idea," agent R. Gerald Personen, who worked with Robert Friedrick on the case, told The Plain Dealer in 2006. "We didn't think there was a chance."
For the next two years, the lonely Big Ange called Personen collect daily. He turned into what Personen's associates consider history's leading mob informant, helping to convict at least 14 mobsters in Cleveland, New York, Kansas City and elsewhere, including his brother-in-law, Milton Rockman.
Personen pulled off many long shots during his much-decorated career. He died Wednesday at home in Westlake from complications of cancer. He was 62.
"I've never been in a room with anybody smarter," said lawyer Jim Wooley, who helped prosecute Personen's targets for the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland. Wooley said the G-man was brilliant and dogged in courtrooms and on the streets.
"He was just so driven to contribute," said retired FBI agent Dave Drab. "When the case was finished, he saw it as a beginning and was able to use it to build further bridges into the organization he was investigating."
Personen found new ways to fight crime. He pored through demolition records. He wiretapped a table in a prison visitor center. He launched InfraGard, a nationwide program for businesses and government to fight computer hackers.
As reported by Grant Segall, Cleveland.com/May 19th, 2010, 3:33PM