Home News Stories 2012 July Journey Through Indian Country, Part 6

Journey Through Indian Country, Part 6

Series concludes with a look at the compressed experience agents gain on the reservations.

Road and horizon
For agents, the unique experience of working Indian Country crimes includes deploying—often by themselves—to remote sites within pueblos or reservations.

Journey Through Indian Country
Part 6: Gaining Invaluable Experience on the Reservation


It wasn’t long after his arrival in Indian Country that Special Agent John Fortunato started carrying dog biscuits in his FBI vehicle. Some of the wild dogs who roam the New Mexico reservations are a lot easier to befriend or distract when they are offered food.

That’s just one small example of how investigating crimes in Indian Country makes agents resourceful—and provides them with an intensive professional experience they may not get anywhere else in the FBI. “We like to say that six months as an investigator on the reservation is like two years at any other Bureau office,” Fortunato said. “That’s mainly because of the nature of the crimes here and our jurisdictional responsibilities.”

SA Lenny Johns (play video)

‘A Ton of Experience Right Away’

“Something that makes Indian Country a unique assignment for our agents is it is a very reactive crime. I particularly like it for our new agent force because they just get a ton of experience right away that they can absolutely apply in other programs later in their careers. That experience includes deploying—often by themselves—to a remote site within a pueblo or reservation...”

Special Agent Lenny Johns
Santa Fe Resident Agency

Since 9/11, the FBI has become an intelligence-based, threat-driven organization. Regarding terrorism, for example, the mission is to prevent acts of terror rather than investigate them after they occur. “But in Indian Country,” said Special Agent Lenny Johns, who supervises our Santa Fe Resident Agency, “the majority of the crimes we have jurisdiction over are still very reactive for us.”

That means when the FBI is called to the reservation, usually a serious crime has already been committed. “Our agents, and particularly new agents,” said Johns, “get a ton of experience in Indian Country they can apply in other programs later in their careers. That experience includes deploying—often by themselves—to a remote site within a pueblo or reservation, dealing with folks that have a different cultural background than they do, and successfully navigating that environment to conduct interviews, follow up on leads, collect evidence from a crime scene, and build a prosecutable case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“The sheer number of cases we’re handling adds to the training experience,” said Fortunato, who worked in our New York Field Office on counterintelligence matters before coming to Indian Country several years ago. His counterintelligence cases spanned months and even years. “Here,” he explained, “because we are reacting to crimes, we investigate an assault or homicide with our tribal partners, and often within a matter of days we are making an arrest.”

And where he had only a handful of cases in New York, Fortunato—and most of the agents working in New Mexico’s Indian Country—have anywhere from 30 to 50 cases to work at any given time. And they are all major crimes such as murder and child sexual assault.

“It’s a 24-7 job,” noted Special Agent Mike Harrigan, who supervises an Indian Country squad. “An agent is always on call. If something happens, even in the middle of the night and the crime scene is two hours away by car, the on-call agent responds from home. That’s how it works in Indian Country.”

“The agents and professional staff working here in Indian Country are as dedicated as any group I have served with during my 25 years in the FBI,” said Carol K.O. Lee, special agent in charge of our Albuquerque office. “They really care about the people on the reservations and making those communities the best and safest places they can be.”



Journey Through Indian Country

About This Series
Nationwide, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country and has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. FBI.gov recently visited New Mexico for a firsthand look at how the Bureau and our partners fight crime on tribal lands.

- Part 1: Fighting Crime on Tribal Lands 
- Part 2: Making an Impact on the Reservation
- Part 3: Murder on the Zuni Reservation 
- Part 4: Teamwork Makes a Difficult Job Easier
- Part 5: A Zero Tolerance Approach
- Part 6: Invaluable Experience on the Reservation


The FBI in Indian CountryBy law, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country. Nationwide, there are 565 federally recognized Indian tribes. The FBI has investigative responsibilities on about 200 reservations. More than 100 agents in 19 of the Bureau’s 56 field offices work Indian Country matters full time, and we’ve represented federal law enforcement on tribal lands since the 1920s.
View large map


New Mexico highway (play video)
“The work that’s being done out there, it’s truly front-line. It’s also relying on your own resources, your own wits, to get the job done, because you don’t have a lot of backup.” 
— Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque FBI

In Their Own Words
FBI officials and our law enforcement partners discuss the unique challenges of working and living in New Mexico’s Indian Country.
Lee videoGonzales videoHarrigan video
Special Agent in Charge, Albuquerque Division
  U.S. Attorney, District of New Mexico   Special Agent, Farmington Resident Agency
Fortunato video St. Germaine video McCaskill video
Special Agent, Gallup Resident Agency
Investigator, The Navajo Nation
  Special Agent, Albuquerque Division
Johns video Brusuelas video Roanhorse video
Special Agent, Santa Fe Resident Agency
  Assistant Prosecutor, Mescalero Apache Tribe   Senior Prosecutor, The Navajo Nation


Indian Country Crimes page

Indian Country Crimes
The FBI investigates the most serious offenses: murder, child sexual and physical abuse, violent assaults, drug trafficking, gaming violations, and public corruption matters.
Learn More