The FBI Background Check

Posted on May 4, 2012 

            In 1986, the Federal Bureau of Investigation did a background check on the then incumbent District Attorney of Centre County, Ray Gricar.  The reason that FBI was looking at Mr. Gricar was not because of any criminal activity.  It was that the Mr. Gricar would be named as a Special Assistant United States Attorney.

            In bureaucratize, an “assistant” outranks a “special assistant.”  The more “special” the title is, the less special the assisant is.  Mr. Gricar was sworn so he could prosecute federal cases that came across his desk and that were presumably involved the standard state cases he’d prosecute.  It may have also permitted him access to federal investigative records when prosecuting state cases.  This was part of a program, the Cross Designation Program, established by the US Department of Justice, and was nothing unusual.  It also is usual for the Federal government to check out someone, especially if the position involves law enforcement.  I’ve had a neighbor working for the Bureau of Prisons who went through the same process.

            The report itself was extensive.1  It looked at any criminal records in all jurisdictions where Mr. Gricar resided, including college; he didn’t have any.  They looked at his credit record; there was nothing adverse.  They looked at his academic records. Well, Mr. Gricar got a “D” once in college, and his law school GPA wasn’t anything to write home about.  He was doing an internship at the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s Office, which might have been his focus.

            As noted in the prior blog, Mr. Gricar did travel to Europe twice, about a decade apart, to his ancestral home, Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia).

            They talked to his former supervisors (but interestingly, not to his coworkers from the Centre County DA’s Office while he was an assistant district attorney).  They uniformly said that there was no indication of drug or alcohol abuse.  They also indicated that he was “hard working,” and showed no biases or prejudices.  They praised his work ability and honesty.  They also talked to Judge Charles Brown and Judge David Grine, who said the same things.

            Yet, there was a pattern that was seen.  While people praised Mr. Gricar, they didn’t know about his private life.  Herman Marolt, the Chief of the Trial Division in the Cuyahoga County, indicated that he didn’t know Mr. Gricar on a social basis.  Only one person, a coworker from that office in 1974, even mentioned his family life, calling him “a good family man.” 

            As time moved on, this pattern was repeated.  The two judges indicated that they didn’t socialize with Mr. Gricar.2  That would include Judge Grine, who was the District Attorney who initially hired Mr. Gricar.  His former supervisor, former District Attorney Robert Mix, indicated that he knew Mr. Gricar socially, indicated that he was “friendly” but “somewhat reserved.”  He indicated that he generally associated with attorneys, law enforcement personnel, and professionals at Penn State.

            They also talked to his neighbors.  It was the same thing.  Mr. Gricar, and his family, were well regarded but they didn’t socialize.  One neighbor indicated that in five years, she had only been in the Gricar residence once.

            There was also a “close personal associate,” in the words of the FBI report, a woman named Sims (they forgot to redact her name at one point), who had known Mr. Gricar since he moved to Centre County.  She described him as “quiet and competent,” as well as “trustworthy, reliable, and discrete,” along with complimenting his neatness and grooming.   She also noted that he tended to associate with attorneys and people from the university (I think we can assume that this would be Penn State).

            Well, what does all this tell us?  It confirms some things we knew.  Mr. Gricar traveled to the then Yugoslavia and was interested in his heritage.  He was someone that very strongly compartmentalized his private live and his professional and his public life.  The people that worked with him generally didn’t know him.  His “close personal associate” talked about his competence and grooming; there is no real doubt that was a competent prosecutor and well groomed, but those are not the words my “close personal associates” would use to describe me.  It would be much more personal.  My co-workers knew more about me, and I knew more about them.

            I’m struck with the more social contacts with Penn State people.  Mr. Gricar’s wife, at the time, was (and is) a professor there.  It makes sense that, through her, he would know people, within her department (which wasn’t the athletic department).  Just due to the pervasive nature of Penn State in Centre County, he would not be completely isolated from it.  It intruded into his social life as well.  He would become divorced from his wife in 1990 and he wasn’t known for his strong ties to the University, even socially, by 1998.

            Still, the image of Ray Gricar as the man that was hard to know, by neighbors, employees, co-workers, superiors, and even “close personal associates,” is reinforced by this background check.


End Notes



All the comments are from this report.


2 Judges, in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality, often do not associate with attorneys that will be appearing before them.


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