Richard T. Bretzing, head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office for the past six years, announced Wednesday that he is retiring to become security chief for the Mormon Church.
Bretzing, who will assume his new post at the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters, will retire July 1, shortly after he reaches his 50th birthday, concluding a 27-year career with the agency.
“I had other opportunities here in Los Angeles that I was contemplating during the last few months in a number of fields,” said Bretzing, whose current position pays $72,500 a year.
He declined to discuss any details about his new job, referring such questions to officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bretzing said he conveyed his resignation by telephone to FBI Director William S. Sessions on Wednesday and then told his supervisory staff in person.
Bretzing was appointed bishop of a Newbury Park unit of the Mormon Church in Ventura County shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1982. He was later elevated to the position of church counselor for Ventura County.
In his twin roles as a Mormon religious leader and a top FBI official, Bretzing came under fire in 1984 when some fellow Los Angeles agents alleged that he headed a “Mormon Mafia,” which protected Richard W. Miller, the first FBI agent ever charged as a spy.
At the time, there were about 50 Mormons among the 450 agents in the Los Angeles office, the nation’s second-largest after Washington. Fueling allegations of Mormon coddling and favoritism was the 1983 promotion of another Mormon, P. Bryce Christensen, to the Los Angeles office’s No. 3 position.
The Miller case, Bretzing recalled in a telephone interview Wednesday, “was a real tragedy for the bureau.”
“It caused great pain and anguish to see one of our own charged with the crime of espionage,” he said.
Considered the “low point” of his career, agents in Los Angeles and Washington privately speculated that Bretzing’s head would roll because of the embarrassing Miller case. In 1986, Miller was sentenced to two life prison terms and excommunicated from the church.
But Bretzing survived. He said in an interview with The Times last year that he never considered resigning.
“Active Mormons don’t step down from anything,” he said.
Although accusations of Mormon favoritism did not actually surface until the Miller case, a Bretzing adversary--an agent in the Los Angeles office--was making such charges shortly after Bretzing’s arrival from New York City, where he had been in charge of the local agency’s criminal division.
The charges had been raised by Bernardo (Matt) Perez, a Roman Catholic Latino agent, who had been assigned to be the administrative special agent in charge directly under Bretzing. In 1983, Bretzing rated Perez “minimally acceptable” in two categories in his annual performance assessment. Perez then filed the first of a series of personnel complaints, accusing Bretzing of discrimination.
By the time the Miller case was in federal court, Perez had complained to both the FBI and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Bretzing was biased against Latinos and Catholics. Eventually, Perez was transferred to El Paso amid an intra-office controversy over the allegations. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission official ultimately ruled that Perez’s charges were unfounded, but Perez since has filed a federal discrimination suit against Bretzing.
Bretzing declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.
Bretzing was born in Salt Lake City to Mormon parents, but his family moved to Phoenix when he was 10.
After service as an Army paratrooper, he enrolled first in business and then in political science at Arizona State University. He worked as a Phoenix police officer before joining the city’s FBI office as a clerk in 1960. He became an agent four years later.
Since then, his career has taken him to both coasts and in between. He was transferred 13 times, with major areas of assignment including San Francisco, Detroit, New York City, Washington and Los Angeles.
Early in his career, Bretzing learned to speak Italian, including the Sicilian dialect, and developed into a specialist on the Mafia, later handling investigations of major organized crime.
In 1973, while assigned to the FBI headquarters in Washington, he played a role in the bribery investigation that resulted in the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Two years later in Detroit, he was assigned to head the FBI’s probe into the disappearance of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa.