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As an undercover Internal Revenue Service agent playing the part of a money launderer, Michael Mullaney was traveling around the country with his main suspect in the late 1980s when the man casually mentioned the name Pat Swindall. Swindall, then a Georgia congressman, needed a quick loan to pay for his million-dollar mansion, the man said. He offered to set up a meeting between Swindall and Mullaney. Mullaney wound up bagging his highest-profile defendant ever. Swindall, a Republican, was caught on tape and ultimately jailed on federal perjury charges. That experience may serve Mullaney well in his new job: chief of public corruption in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida. The public corruption post is among the most prominent in the federal prosecutor’s office, responsible for such major investigations as Operation Courtbroom, in which four Miami judges were indicted on bribery charges, and Operation Greenpalm, one of Miami’s widest-ranging public corruption cases, which led to prison time for three city and county officials and a lobbyist. “This is one of the most important positions here, and you need someone who understands how to structure an investigation,” said first assistant U.S. attorney Barry Sabin, because the cases “go to the heart of the public’s confidence in their elected officials.” Said Sabin, “Mike brings a good temperament and is respected both in the office and the legal community.” Mullaney, 51, grew up in Chicago. His public service career began in 1978 when he took a job as special agent for the IRS in East St. Louis, Ill. He arrived in Miami in June 1980, spending nearly two years undercover as lead Miami agent during Operation Greenback, a nationwide money laundering investigation that netted 40 indictments. But whenever he testified in court — including his six days on the stand in Operation Greenback — Mullaney found himself intrigued. “Like all agents, I watched the prosecutors and the defense lawyers and said, ‘I could do that,’ ” he says with a laugh. “ Of course, I found out it’s not as easy as it looks.” Mullaney enrolled in night classes at the University of Miami School of Law. Many of the prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office whom he worked with knew of his plans and, upon graduating in 1988, he got a job in the Miami office. The new prosecutor slowly worked his way up the ranks, working in the narcotics, fraud, appellate and major prosecution units. Because of his work with both the IRS and the U.S. attorney’s office, Mullaney was tapped by the FBI to lecture on money laundering, public corruption and case management in countries that included Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Kenya. The experiences gave Mullaney new appreciation for the public corruption job, for which he says he was asked to apply. “I know there are governments out there where it’s impossible to investigate a public official,” he says. “What we do restores people’s faith in government.”

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