In Annual Ritual, Justice Honors Founder of FBI
By Ryan J. Reilly | June 9, 2022 3:11 pm

Francesco Isgro, John A. DiCicco, John J. LaCorte Jr., Francis M. Allegra and Thomas Perrelli in the Great Hall of the Justice Department. (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

The Justice Department and the Italian Historical Society of America honored the Attorney General who founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a ceremony in the Great Hall on Wednesday.

A portrait of Charles Bonaparte, Attorney General from 1906 through 1909. (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

Charles J. Bonaparte was named the 46th Attorney General of the United States by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. He found he had trouble enforcing Roosevelt’s “trust busting” policies because the Justice Department at that point lacked a permanent investigative staff. Under orders from the president, he started a 23-man unit that in 1935 was renamed the FBI.

The FBI has honored Bonaparte annually since 1960. The first ceremony featured then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and was held in the Main Justice building. It has been held in a variety of places over the years, often across Pennsylvania Ave. NW in the FBI headquarters auditorium.

But in honor of the 50th anniversary of the honoring of Bonaparte, today’s ceremony made an encore back at DOJ headquarters.

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli’s remarks relayed the history of Bonaparte’s work as Attorney General.

Bonaparte insisted on ensuring that ordinary citizens had a chance against the malfeasance of the big institutions, and he initiated several investigations into some of the biggest corporations of the day – from Standard Oil to the American Tobacco Company and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Now, the threats that we’re zeroing in on today with our Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force aren’t the same as the trusts that Bonaparte had in his sights, but what President Roosevelt saw in Bonaparte’s leadership on these issues sets a legitimate example for us today.

What I take from Bonaparte’s work in those days is not that there is any particular joy to be gotten from slaying giants – though you do get the sense that Bonaparte was happy to slay whatever got in his way – but just a basic understanding that the giants have to be subject to the same rules as everybody else.  We’re a nation of laws.  And when a giant, or anybody else, isn’t following those rules or laws, it is often the Department of Justice’s job to call them to account.

Judge Francis M. Allegra of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, a veteran of the Justice Department who worked with Perrelli when he was a career attorney, said DOJ was very fortunate to have Perrelli as Associate Attorney General.

Charles J. Bonaparte (Library of Congress)

Perrelli joked that his family was wondering why his testimony before Congress was on C-SPAN but the Bonaparte event, which they were much more interested in watching, was not.

Justice Department officials John A. DiCicco, the acting Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division, and Francesco Isgro, senior litigation counsel for the Civil Division, made brief remarks at the ceremony.

A representative from the Italian Embassy also spoke at the ceremony, highlighting the work the United States and Italy are doing to combat crime.

Cristianao Maggipinto, first counselor for social and consular affairs, said the two countries were cooperating on several issues including terrorism and organized crime. He highlighted Attorney General Eric Holder’s trip to the G8 in Italy last year as an example.

“We are very satisfied with the level of cooperation, and we are committed to building on the cooperation,” Maggipinto said.


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