Special agent Royden ‘Ross’ Rice leaving FBI after 32 years
BY NATASHA KORECKI Staff Reporter Twitter@natashakorecki November 24, 2012 9:42AM
Special Agent Royden “Ross” Rice is leaving the FBI after working there for many years. He is photographed at the FBI headquarters in Chicago on September 27, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:35AM
For 13 years, Ross Rice was the public face of the FBI in Chicago.
He appeared on a regular series he helped launch on Fox Chicago — “Chicago’s Most Wanted,” which focused on nabbing fugitives.
As a 32-year agent and the main spokesman for the FBI’s local bureau, Ross often conjured up catchy monikers for some of the Chicago area’s most notorious bank robbers — and was the face behind the camera pushing publicity to lock them up.
It’s with some irony then that as he retires, Rice reflected on one of his first assignments when he began the job.
“I was a new agent, no one knew me in Chicago,” Rice said.
So the bureau took advantage of his anonymity.
Using an assumed name, he staged a fight over a parking spot on the North Side to get into trouble. Then, as part of the ploy, he hired an “attorney” to defend him. The lawyer was really an undercover FBI agent.
As part of the investigative work, the lawyer paid a bribe to a sitting judge to get it dismissed.
It was just one sliver of what would become a massive investigation: Operation Greylord. The Greylord probe ultimately took down judges and lawyers alike to expose an expansive corrupt criminal justice system in Chicago.
“It was just an honor to be a very small part of a team that puts something like that together,” Rice said.
After spending five years downtown in the organized crime squad, Rice, who with another agent was the youngest in his FBI class at just 24, spent 14 years in the FBI’s Orland Park office, which covers the south suburbs. There he worked a variety of cases, including bank robberies, kidnapping and fugitive cases. “We worked everything,” he said.
That included the case of Albert Tocco, a mafia boss from Chicago Heights. Tocco fled right before he was indicted. He became a Top 10 fugitive and eluded authorities for months. That was before the FBI tracked him down in Europe. Tocco had been living in Greece.
“He was located through some great investigative work,” Rice said.
The cases that really stick with Rice, that still linger in the back of his mind, he said, are two that were never solved.
That included the Tylenol poisoning investigation, one that was recently reopened after 30 years. Seven people died in 1982 after ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.
“The whole office was essentially mobilized for a week or so running down leads in that case,” he said.
The other was the case of Tammy Zywicki, who was on her way to college when her car broke down on Interstate 80 near Utica, Ill. She was sexually assaulted and murdered, her body found days later.
In August this year, 20 years after her death, the bureau announced that the case was still active and the FBI was still looking for leads in the case.
In 1999, Rice took over media coordinator duties for retired agent Bob Long. From there, he, along with the now-retired Cynthia Yates, quarterbacked media response to breaking news. A major part of that was handling bank robberies. During Rice’s tenure, the Chicago office launched bandittrackerchicago.com, which melds investigative tips and technology to solve more bank robberies.
“The images they capture are almost portrait quality in some instances,” Rice said of the developing technology available through bank security. Sometimes, the image of the suspect could be downloaded right from the crime scene, he said. The photo goes out to media outlets through the FBI but bandittracker keeps the photos up at all times for people to peruse. The quality in some instances is so good, he said: “If you know this guy, you’re going to catch him.”
A day working the media that Rice said he would not soon forget was Dec. 9, 2008 — when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home. “The volume of calls we got following the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich was something I would never have dreamed of,” Rice said.
Rice also handled community outreach for the office, an aspect of the FBI that developed rapidly and more broadly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Ross is best described as a real professional. He was an accomplished and experienced field agent who worked in one of our most capable and successful resident agencies,” said Robert Grant, the former special agent in charge of the FBI office.
He described Rice as having “an unparalleled skill to remain calm and poised under the most trying of circumstances.”
Grant said Rice won the respect of “generations of law enforcement leaders in the region” who attended Rice’s media training program, which he provided free of charge. “I received incredible remarks from those he provided training to. He was very good.”
Rice was the manager of the Chicago FBI Citizens Academy, an outreach program that aims to educate the public about the FBI.
“He was the steady, trusted and confident face and voice of the FBI in Chicago,” Grant said. “And he is a good and trusted adviser and friend to me.”