POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 28, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 04:02 a.m. HST, Jun 28, 2011
The trail had grown cold on fugitive mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger when FBI Special Agent Greg Comcowich helped create a nationwide ad campaign that led to the capture last week of one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted fugitives.
On June 21, the day after $50,000 worth of FBI-produced commercials on Bulger's fugitive girlfriend — Catherine Elizabeth Greig — began airing on "The View," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Live! With Regis and Kelly" and other daytime television programs across the country, the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force captured Greig and Bulger in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run.
"I never thought in my FBI career I would have ever been involved in something like this," said Comcowich, a 42-year-old FBI special agent from Kailua who works in the FBI's Boston field office.
Comcowich graduated from the University of Hawaii Lab School in 1988 with the modest goal to briefly experience life on the East Coast, then return home to Kailua.
Instead, Comcowich found himself in the middle of a calculated gamble by the FBI last week to air television commercials about Greig in 14 media markets nationwide.
Bulger, 81, was once in charge of South Boston's violent Winter Hill Gang and had been indicted for extortion, racketeering, money laundering and for his roles in 19 murders, among other charges.
Bulger reportedly was an inspiration for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film, "The Departed."
"The genius of the (television commercial) idea was that we tried to emphasize Greig as a way to find Bulger," Comcowich said. "She was less known and always seemed to be second fiddle."
ON THE AIRThe 30-second commercials were aimed at female viewers who might associate with Catherine Greig, the girlfriend of James 'Whitey" Bulger, one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted fugitives. The commercials aired June 20 on the following shows. Greig and Bulger were arrested the next day.
» "The View"
TARGETED CITIESThe 14 cities where the 30-second PSA commercials aired were chosen because the FBI knew or suspected Greig or Bulger had ties in those areas.
» Albuquerque, N.M.
The commercials were aimed at female viewers in the same age group as Greig, 60 — viewers believed to be the most likely group to interact with Greig, whether as friends, co-workers, neighbors, hairstylists, doctors or dentists.
"In terms of publicity, the FBI knows that combining the reach and power of the media with alert citizens is a successful formula for catching fugitives," Richard Teahan, who led the Bulger task force, said on the day of the ad launch. "So we are taking the next logical step and continuing our focus on Greig, who has been on the run with Bulger since 1995."
Although he is the spokesman for the FBI's 400-member Boston field office, Comcowich does not like to be photographed and — in a telephone interview with the Star-Advertiser on Monday from his office — downplayed his role in the national TV campaign that led to Bulger's capture.
"Certainly, my parents are proud," Comcowich finally said. "To single out any one person is a disservice to not only the Boston members of the FBI, but also to hundreds of FBI personnel and analysts around the world who tracked down the case and knocked on so many doors over the years. I was pleased to do my little part."
Comcowich grew up in Kailua, the son of retired UH professor Jerome Comcowich. Greg's brother, Kevin, is a Houston investment executive who in January 2008 spent $9 million on a beachfront home in Kailua that has since been used by President Barack Obama's entourage during Obama's annual winter vacations on Oahu.
Growing up in Kailua, Greg Comcowich had no specific educational or career goals in mind.
"I certainly never gave the FBI a thought," he said.
After graduating from the UH Lab School, Comcowich obtained an undergraduate degree in political science, then went on to a master's degree in public administration from George Mason University.
For much of the 1990s, Comcowich worked as a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., where he gained insight on America's global war on terrorism.
He joined the FBI in 1998 as an analyst on terrorism issues, became a special agent in 2002 and joined the FBI's Boston field office in 2003.
Comcowich's predecessor as the field office's communication specialist had overseen a campaign last year that placed print ads about Greig in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal and in the American Dental Association News. Greig, a former dental hygienist, had undergone multiple plastic surgeries.
Comcowich won't say how many tips were generated from the trade industry print ads, "but we thought we were onto something."
Then last week the FBI launched the television commercials it had produced in house.
"It was unique, something the FBI had not done before, at least in recent memory," Comcowich said. "No one in the FBI ever said no. That was the most enlightening thing. Everybody encouraged it, from FBI headquarters to the people here (in Boston). There was unanimity that this was a good idea."
The commercials coincided with a social media campaign looking for tips about Greig and Bulger, as well as digital billboards in places that included Times Square in New York.
"As the word spread (of the arrests), there was elation throughout the whole office," Comcowich said.