WASHINGTON -- Back in the 1980s, Timothy McNally concocted an innovative scheme to net members of the Medellin drug cartel.
As one of Miami's top federal drug investigators, he set up a fake store front to sell cellular phones and beepers, monitored the calls and 6l then intercepted cocaine shipments to dealers.
The agents were so successful that the drug squad was able to videotape suspects as they returned to the shop to complain about their lost drugs.
The investigation produced indictments against more than 100 people, including several key members of the Colombian cartel, and confiscation of more than 110 tons of drugs.
Mr. McNally, 47, Baltimore's new FBI chief, has no intention of resting on his crime-fighting successes, which have been many. He expects to continue launching such aggressive investigations when he arrives in Baltimore for his new job next month.
"Whatever good reputation you may have had in the past, it's TC meaningless until you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in the next job," he said in an interview yesterday.
His colleagues expect the same. "It's important that you have a manager who knows the pitfalls and is not afraid to take a chance in going with an exotic investigation to catch the big fish," said Richard Garcia, who first worked with Mr. McNally inMiami in the mid-1980s and is now a supervisor here.
"He's not a bureaucrat, he's a doer," said Chris Swecker, a special agent in Miami, who worked with him for four years.
An acknowledged risk taker, Mr. McNally has particular success in combating organized crime and the drug trade. Colleagues say he understands drug organizations and inner-city problems "from top to bottom" and regularly comes up with imaginative ideas for zeroing in on suspects.
Mr. McNally also has taken an aggressive approach to draining drug dealers of their proceeds and helped organize a squad that did nothing but pursue such assets.
In one year, say those who worked with him, forfeitures his office netted rose from $2 million to $49 million. The program, the first of its kind in the country, has been copied in many other cities.
And in 1992 he helped establish the National Drug Intelligence Center, which collects drug intelligence from various agencies to spot trends and crack drug organizations.
The center has grown from a staff of six employees based outside of Washington, to about 130 at its current headquarters in Johnstown, Pa.
Mr. McNally's priorities line up precisely with those of his predecessor, Danny Coulson, who has returned to his native Texas to run the FBI's Dallas office.
Violent crime, drugs and white-collar cases, such as health care fraud and public corruption, are the areas he believes deserve the most attention.
And the current trend, which has law enforcement agencies teaming up and pooling resources, is nothing new to Mr. McNally, who most recently headed the Washington field office criminal division. Years ago, as many FBI offices competed with the Drug Enforcement Agency for high-profile cases, Mr. McNally was forging an alliance between the two agencies in Miami.
Such teamwork "only makes sense," he said.
"As good as the FBI can be at investigating, we don't have the number of people the police have working neighborhoods. We need all the help we can get from police, and certainly the reverse is true, too.
"We have to solve these problems together."
Mr. McNally resists latching onto many of the new crime-fighting programs that have received national lip-service, however.
"There are so many new political initiatives, we're bouncing back and forth," he said. "Some have value, but many of them don't."
Patient, knowledgeable and an excellent teacher, he also is described as an "agent's agent" -- a supervisor who takes time to listen to the concerns of his investigators and takes quick action to resolve problems, say colleagues.
"The old open-door policy is definitely him," Mr. Garcia said.
Despite an obvious dedication to his job, those who have worked with him say he carves out lots of time for his wife, Patricia, and three children. He encourages his staff to do the same. In Miami, he coached basketball, was a regular at his children's soccer games and was active at his Catholic church.
His associates in Miami say they never gave up altogether on their efforts to try to get him out on the golf course, though.
"We gave him a driver for a going away present," said Mr. Swecker, the Miami special agent. "I'll bet it's still in his closet."