FBI files shed light on lives of deceased with ties to Pittsburgh

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When the FBI investigates someone involving potential misdeeds, the records are classified and generally won't be released to the public until after that person dies.

Those files, which can be obtained through a records request, not only may reveal new details about a person's life but can shine a light on the inner workings of the powerful and secretive federal agency.

With that in mind, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency to see if the FBI had assembled any files on some two dozen deceased prominent individuals with ties to the Pittsburgh region.

In most of the cases -- including those of notable figures Mayor Richard Caliguiri, U.S. Sen. John Heinz, children's television icon Fred Rogers and steel executive and philanthropist William Dietrich II -- no files turned up.


Gene Kelly

Arthur J. Rooney Sr.

Milan Puskar

Jimmy Stewart

Andy Warhol
(WARNING: Contains adult content)

But there were several hits -- including on such names as Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., Mylan Inc. co-founder Milan Puskar and pop art guru Andy Warhol -- with a few of the files covering subjects one might more commonly expect to associate with characters in a spy novel rather than someone familiar in real life.

Take Puskar, namesake of West Virginia University's football stadium, who retired as chairman of the Cecil-based generic drug company in 2009 and died in October 2011.

His file, being released publicly for the first time, shows he was the subject of two FBI investigations in the mid-1980s -- one into a possible death threat against a Findlay police officer and another involving a possible bribery attempt in Morgantown, W.Va.

Both investigations were tied to drunken driving arrests. The first happened in 1985 while Puskar was driving near the old Pittsburgh International Airport terminal in Moon. The other came in 1987 while he was "snoozing" in the middle of an interstate exit ramp blocking traffic near Morgantown, according to the file.

FBI agents were investigating whether people associated with Puskar tried to threaten or bribe law enforcement or public officials on his behalf, possibly to make the DUI arrests go away, according to the documents.

PG graphic: Results of FBI files
(Click image for larger version)

The FBI dropped the first matter involving the Findlay police officer in 1986, a year after Puskar's arrest near the airport, after finding "no federal violation" and stating that "all investigative efforts have been exhausted." It was not clear from the file when or how the Morgantown bribery investigation ended.

The FBI file on Rooney involved an extortion attempt against him in 1952, which threatened the life of his twin sons, Pat and John, who were 13 at the time.

"Notifying FBI or police or using any trickery will prove useless and fatal," the extortionist wrote in a letter to the Steelers owner demanding $10,000.

"This is no plank," the writer stated, apparently misspelling the word "prank."

The file contained numerous redactions, but it revealed that the extortionist turned out to be a juvenile. News reports at the time identified the individual as a 15-year-old girl.

A federal complaint against the girl, filed in December 1952, was dismissed in June 1955 "because subject was making satisfactory adjustment under probation orders of the Juvenile Court of Allegheny County," according to an FBI memo.

Long process, lengthy file

The process of getting FBI files can be lengthy, especially if the agency hasn't already released an individual's records. The Puskar file -- which was the only one obtained by the newspaper that had not been previously released -- arrived just this month, more than a year after the initial request was submitted.

His file shows the agency launched the first investigation following a complaint by a Findlay police officer who had arrested Puskar on charges of driving under the influence in February 1985 near the Pittsburgh airport.

The complaint included a 13-page report from the Findlay police department "outlining the sequence of events involving a possible threat on the life of" the officer, according to an FBI memo dated August 1985. The name of the officer was removed.

In all, the FBI released 273 pages on Puskar, most of them containing redactions, and withheld 26 pages entirely.

The agency cited exemptions involving unwarranted invasion of personal privacy or disclosure of confidential sources as the reason for withholding the information.

According to the officer's complaint, his own investigation "disclosed that Milan Puskar is associated with [redacted] and [redacted], both reputed LCN [organized crime] figures in the Morgantown, W.Va., area." The officer "claims that both of these men are involved in this incident." (LCN is FBI shorthand for La Cosa Nostra.)

The officer's "only explanation for the conduct of these actors is that he might have disrupted a possible drug deal the night of Puskar's arrest," the complaint stated.

In an interview the agency conducted with Puskar on Feb. 6, 1986, a year after his arrest, he said that he had been "ill treated" by the officer that night and that he had considered suing for violation of his civil rights but had not followed through.

Puskar also told the FBI that he was convicted of DUI following his arrest, and had filed an appeal "in order to protect the reputation of his company."

An FBI memo dated Feb. 24, 1986, said the agency's investigation into the possible death threat was being closed.

The second investigation stemmed from Puskar's DUI arrest by a West Virginia state police trooper near Morgantown in December 1987.

According to the arresting officer's handwritten notes contained in the file, he discovered Puskar stopped in the road on the Exit 7 ramp of then-U.S. 48 [now I-68] around 5:45 p.m. with the engine running. Puskar told the officer he was "snoozing," according to the report.

After Puskar failed a field sobriety test, he was taken to the state police office in Morgantown, where his blood alcohol level registered at more than twice the legal limit, the officer wrote.

According to one document, a West Virginia state trooper "advised [redacted] that he had heard that Monongalia County, W.Va., [redacted] was to receive $10,000 in cash or in kind payments for disposing of the DY [sic] case against Milan Puskar."

Documents indicate the alleged bribery target was a judge, and show the investigation was being aided by a cooperating witness and included electronic surveillance.

"A DUI case against subject Puskar has been continued in local court and it is anticipated that further contacts between the judge [redacted] will occur within the next thirty days," the FBI wrote in March 1988 requesting an extension from the U.S. Department of Justice authorizing electronic monitoring of private conversations between Puskar and others, whose names were blacked out in the reports.

It was unclear from the file when the investigation ended. The most recent document, a one-page log with the notation "notes made," was dated March 6, 1989.

More investigated

Among the other FBI files obtained by the Post-Gazette:

• Andy Warhol. The world-famous artist and Pittsburgh native became known in the 1960s for his role in New York's underground culture scene. The FBI began an investigation into possible "interstate transportation of obscene matter" in 1968 after the filming of his movie "Lonesome Cowboys" at a guest ranch in Arizona generated complaints from locals disturbed by the nude scenes.

The agency interviewed a number of spectators at the ranch, some of whom termed the scenes "vulgar" and "hippish," and sent two federal agents to review the film. Apparently, they were not impressed, reporting that "there was no plot to the film and no development of characters" and that "many of the cast portrayed their parts as if in a stupor."

Nevertheless, U.S. attorneys in Arizona and New York declined to prosecute, concluding the movie did not meet the Supreme Court's definition of obscene.

Warhol's file also contains a news report from June 1968 when he was almost killed after being shot at his New York studio by an associate, Valerie Solanas. Warhol died nearly 20 years later following gallbladder surgery.

• Jimmy Stewart. The file on the Indiana, Pa., native' includes a series of brief letters between him and then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover concerning Stewart's family vacations to Europe, Africa and elsewhere in the 1950s and '60s.

Hoover instructed agents to afford the movie star "all possible courtesies" during the trips, such as expediting him through customs and driving him to his hotel.

Stewart got to know Hoover while starring as an FBI agent in the 1959 film "The FBI Story," which Hoover praised in a letter to the actor as "magnificent" and "a wonderful tribute to all the men and women in the FBI."

In a deal with the Warner Bros. studio, the agency had final approval "on all matters of policy" concerning the movie, including the script and selection of Stewart for the lead role.

• Gene Kelly. During the 1940s, the dancer/actor/singer and Pittsburgh native was investigated for possible membership in the Communist Party or affiliation with "communist front and alleged communist infiltrated organizations." According to his file, Kelly publicly denied being pro-Communist.

An FBI memo from 1960 states "no reliable evidence of [Kelly's] membership in the CP."

• Jonas Salk. The New York native who became a national hero for developing the first successful polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1955, Salk was the subject of a "loyalty investigation" in 1950 and 1951 related to his appointment as a consultant to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Most people interviewed considered Salk to be a loyal U.S. citizen and he passed the review, although a few associates offered that he was "outspoken in praise of Russia."

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Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066. First Published April 14, 2013 4:00 AM


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