FBI field division head leaving after two years

The head of the FBI's Columbia Field Division is leaving after a two-year stint that saw a host of major investigations including the indictment of the state treasurer on cocaine charges and a secret, undercover investigation of the Gangsta Killer Bloods.

Brian Lamkin, 50, begins work later this month as assistant director of the FBI's training division in Quantico, Va.

The former high school band director started working for the FBI 20 years ago after seeing a bureau recruiting table at the University of Louisville and thinking, "Ah, what the heck?"

He came to Columbia in August 2005 as the special agent in charge. The Columbia field division covers all of South Carolina and is one of 56 field offices nationwide.

During his time here, the bureau has pursued:

• Cocaine and conspiracy charges against former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel. The Charleston Republican resigned from office in July and agreed to plead guilty later this week.

• The indictment earlier this year of 23 people associated with the Gangsta Killer Bloods, a Columbia gang federal officials described in court as a major cocaine distribution group in Columbia.

• The indictment of John Rickenbacker, chairman of the Orangeburg County Council. Rickenbacker pleaded guilty last year to accepting bribes in connection with bids for a new county hospital. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

The Rickenbacker and Ravenel cases came after the FBI partnered with various federal, state and local agencies to form the Public Corruption Task Force last year.

Lamkin wouldn't discuss the Ravenel case because it is pending.

However, in an interview with The State newspaper, Lamkin spoke at length about public corruption in general, calling it the No. 1 priority for the FBI's criminal division.

"It doesn't walk in off the street and say, 'Hey, this is what I am, '..." Lamkin said. "It is something that you have to work at finding and checking out, and you try to run down every report.

"A lot of times, many times, these things have no legs to them at all."

Agents chase down a handful of leads every year, Lamkin said, but he could not provide specific numbers.

"We run those things in the ground as much as we would do a terrorist, suspicious activity kind of thing," he said.

Despite all the attention given to the Ravenel and Rickenbacker cases, Lamkin said, South Carolina does not have a problem with public corruption mainly because residents don't accept that behavior.

"If (people) become complacent and take the attitude of, 'Well, that's just the way things are, and I guess I'll just have to live with it,' if they take that attitude, it can become a grass fire," he said.

Fighting gangs

The FBI's success in fighting gangs in Columbia has brought national attention to the Columbia field division, as well as local and state law enforcement agencies, Lamkin said.

"I mean, they're here," Lamkin said. "Maybe not in the numbers you would see in a major city some place, but every bit as active in some of their behavior, and a lot of it can have the interest from groups outside the state."

In 2006 and the beginning of 2007, the FBI worked with state and local agencies to target the Gangsta Killer Bloods, a Columbia gang with ties to New York's United Blood Nation, which is the East Coast cousin of the infamous Los Angeles gang, the Bloods.

So far, 23 people who are either gang members or associated with the gang have been indicted.

"We approach it from an organizational standpoint, trying to dismantle the leadership," Lamkin said.

"This last year, we've really focused in on the leadership."

moving on

At Quantico, Lamkin will be in charge of a host of departments, including the firearms training program.

"There's just a ton of moving parts," Lamkin said.

But he hopes to continue his passion for playing in church orchestras. His 20-year career has landed him at First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Va., and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, among others.

For the past two years, he played trumpet in the orchestra at Shandon Baptist Church on Forest Drive in Forest Acres.

"It's just something I've been doing since I was 8 years old. It's kind of hard to put it away," Lamkin said. "Being involved in a church ministry of some type is important."

Lamkin's successor in the FBI's Columbia division has not been named, but should be by the end of September, he said.

"I've loved every minute of it," Lamkin said. "As far as professional development and accomplishments, I couldn't think of a better place to interact professionally with my counterparts with other law enforcement agencies.

"There is a lot to be done, but that's what makes it worth it."

Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405.