He once chased fugitives heading to the Texas border, studied Mexican drug cartels' leadership and helped indict a powerful Texas sheriff on corruption charges.
In Southwest Florida, he helped prosecute a utility responsible for dumping sewage into Sarasota Bay, busted deputies in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office's infamous Delta Division, investigated 9/11 terrorists who operated out of Venice, assisted with the Clay Moore and Carlie Brucia kidnapping cases and unraveled one of the biggest flipping fraud conspiracies in Florida history.
Now Leo Martinez is taking on a different challenge.
After 25 years as an FBI special agent, he is opening a private investigation firm in Sarasota -- Executive Assessment Group -- that will work with criminal and civil attorneys and conduct background investigations and surveillance.
The transition will not be easy, says Tim O'Rourke, president of the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators.
First, there's the competition. Nearly 7,800 private investigators work for 2,800 firms in Florida -- at least 62 firms in just Sarasota. What's more, Martinez will no longer have access to all the tools he used while with the U.S. government.
"There are a lot of resources available to an FBI agent," O'Rourke said. "But when you make the transition to the private sector, those resources are no longer available."
But Martinez has a lot going for him.
Affable, easy-going and modest, he was the most popular person in the room during the Craig Adams flipping fraud trial. Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense felt he was fair and open minded. Even the defendants had little bad to say about him in spite of the fact that he was the one who gathered evidence against them.
"He's a first-class guy and very professional," said Todd Foster, a Tampa defense attorney who represented Adams.
And Martinez won't be flying solo.
Mark Flint, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent who worked the Delta Division investigation, and Don Wenger, a retired Sarasota County Sheriff's Office detective who supervised the Sheriff's intelligence unit, also are joining Executive Assessment Group.
"We want to make a go of this thing," he said. "It's what we all know how to do. It's part of who we are."
THE BORDER YEARS
Born in 1963, the son of Cuban immigrants, Martinez grew up in Miami and graduated from Florida State University's College of Criminology & Criminal Justice. His goal was to join the FBI. But because the agency rarely hires recent grads, Martinez spent just over a year as an insurance fraud investigator with Aetna in Atlanta before the bureau hired him.
"They liked my language skill -- my being fluent in Spanish," Martinez said.
He felt sure he would be posted in Miami. But the FBI sent him to McAllen, a city of about 90,000, seven miles north of the Mexico border.
There he worked on two main Justice Department objectives: To disrupt major drug-trafficking operations on both sides of the Rio Grande and to prosecute corrupt South Texas officials.
One of his first big cases involved Eugenio Falcon, the popular sheriff of Starr County, Texas, who was suspected of taking bribes from a bail bondsman.
Martinez had to sneak videotaping equipment into the building that housed Linda's Bail Bonds and periodically sneak back to change the tapes in the hope of catching Falcon in the act of accepting a bribe.
That was no easy task. Roads in and out of the dusty, backwater town of Rio Grande City were watched by local residents who tipped off the sheriff when federal agents from McAllen were about to pay a visit.
"We had to find different ways to get in and we had to come up with excuses for why we were there," Martinez said.
Martinez and his partner finally caught Falcon on tape accepting thousands of dollars for referring inmates to the bail bondsman. Falcon pleaded guilty to corruption charges and resigned from the job he had held for 16 years.
Martinez was not always successful, though.
In another case, he helped indict a judge and seven other top Hidalgo County, Texas, officials on charges that they accepted bribes and kickbacks from vendors for arranging public contracts worth more than $1.1 million.
But after gathering 18,000 documents, 1,500 pieces of evidence and sitting through two lengthy trials, five of the suspects were acquitted.
"Three co-defendants pled guilty to the same charges and testified at trial," Martinez said. "We always suspected that something wasn't right about the decision."
TERRORISTS AND CORRUPT COPS
After a decade in South Texas, Martinez was transferred to Sarasota, where he continued to unearth public corruption.
With help from Flint, then still with the FDLE, Martinez plunged into the investigation of the Delta Division, an elite Manatee County anti-drug task force that broke the law while trying to enforce it.
Among Delta's many misdeeds, task force members beat up and stole money from suspects, searched homes and cars without warrants, planted evidence, paid informants with crack cocaine and conspired to cover up their actions.
To break the case, Martinez and Flint convinced a Delta Division member to wear a wire to record conversations, which resulted in six indictments and six convictions.
Martinez also investigated murders, environmental crimes and mortgage fraud during his first years in Southwest Florida. But his routine -- like that of every FBI agent across the country -- was disrupted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
For the next two years, he spent practically all his time piecing together the lives of the 9/11 hijackers who had learned to fly in Venice. He looked into where they lived, who they associated with and where the next terrorist threat might be coming from.
"Everything else just shut down," he said. "It was all hands on deck."
REAL ESTATE FLIPPING FRAUD
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By 2003, 9/11 investigations began to clear and Martinez started looking into another trend that came to dominate the criminal history of the region -- real estate flipping fraud.
Former Sarasota mortgage broker Todd Kolbe and his circle of friends and family had organized at least 30 fraudulent deals. Group members bought homes in the Lakewood Ranch area and flipped them to other group members, at higher prices, to maximize the amount of money that they could borrow from a New Jersey mortgage brokerage. On the advice of his attorney, Kolbe turned himself in and provided information that Martinez used to indict six other members of the group.
Five years later, another notorious flipper -- Craig Adams -- did the same thing. Adams' attorney contacted Martinez out of the blue and Adams laid out one the biggest flipping fraud cases in Florida history.
Together with Sarasota County Sheriff's Detective Jeff Harris, Martinez interviewed all the suspects in the massive case.
"We sat for hours and hours with Craig, getting him to give us the most glaring examples of fraud," Martinez said. "Then we developed a plan for who we needed to go after first."
The investigation resulted in 22 arrests, 19 guilty pleas and three guilty verdicts after months of trial.