Remembering John E. Otto
                        
                                  Remembering John E. Otto, Acting Director (1938-2020)
 

John E. Otto served in the FBI from 1964 through 1990 achieving the level of Acting Director of the FBI in May of 1987, when FBI Director William Webster was appointed by the President to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Otto had been serving since 1981 as the Executive Assistant Director of Law Enforcement Services when Director Webster chose him to lead the FBI in an acting capacity. He led the FBI until William Sessions was confirmed by the United States Senate as Director of the FBI in November of 1987.

The Honorable Judge Webster has prepared remarks regarding Mr. Otto that he would like to share with our members:

Statement from William H. Webster, Former Director, FBI

April 24, 2020

This morning, I received the profoundly sad news that John Otto, a career FBI Special Agent, who capably served as Acting Director when I moved over to the CIA, passed away this week.  John was one of the most decent, loyal, and dedicated professionals with whom I had the privilege to know in public life.  He gave real meaning to the attributes of “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

John’s dedication and conduct at the FBI were splendid examples to follow and his “can do” approach made all the difference in some very tough assignments and challenges facing the Bureau. 

I shall treasure the memory of this extraordinary and talented colleague - and treasured friend.  My wife, Lynda, joins me in sending our deepest condolences to John’s loving wife, Marilyn, and their family and to John’s very special FBI Family, who have lost one of their finest.

 See below for memories shared by our members:
 

John came to my son’s home in Baltimore to interview him as part of his application process for the Bureau. You may know, or have heard, that this was not unheard of for John as he was always very interested in the applicants for the Agent position. My son, Matt, was a Baltimore City Police Officer at the time. He has now been with the Bureau for more than ten years, assigned to the Boston Division and assigned to the Aviation Unit as a pilot. You can only imagine how shocked Matt was to unexpectedly see John Otto at his door. At that particular moment, he was in the middle of plastering wallboard in his townhouse.

Daniel J. Knight
1971-2000

 

I was a first office Agent (FOA) in the New Orleans (NO) office in late 1978. Typically, we FOA guys were not given case assignments of any particular significance. Just learning the Bureau way of doing things. I had been a Police Officer/Detective in the City of Atlanta Police Department for five years and obviously needed "re-training" in the Bureau way of conducting investigations.

I had been assigned an "old dog" Armed & Dangerous Fugitive matter and was working in the Gretna, LA, area conducting interviews. I had received what turned out to be a credible lead that eventually led to the arrest of the subject. Right in the middle of this fast moving investigation, the NO Field Office radio advised all Agents to return to the office ASAP for a visit by an AD. I had no idea who he was or the importance of the visit. When I got to the office, I stopped by the coffee room to get my umteeth cup of Joe. There was an Agent in the coffee room that I did not know. I still had not met all of the office personnel. The Agent asked me if I was here for the "visit." I said I was and told him it was a shame to interrupt an investigation just to listen to some "asshole" from Headquarters give a speech. He laughed and said "Hi, I'm John Otto, the "asshole" from Headquarters." There I stood, dumbfounded, a nothing FOA who had just called a Deputy Director an "asshole" to his face. I could see my relatively short Bureau career already sliding down the proverbial toilet. Mr. Otto probably saw my distress, laughed again, and told me not to worry about it, said he had been called a lot worse. I never heard anything about this episode and never mentioned it to anyone for several months. I tell this story now simply to point out the quality of the man John Otto was. I always considered him to be a "class act" and will forever be grateful for his "humanness" and kindness. 

William (Bill) Pitts
1978 - 2000
NO, NYO, CO

 
 

I was deeply saddened by the news of John’s passing. My sincere condolences go out to Marilyn and John’s family.  In our interactions, John spoke regularly about John Jr., Jody, and Marilyn and they were always on his heart and mind.

I can only echo the comments of many others on the quality of John’s service to the FBI. He was truly among a handful of leaders who had a profound and lasting impact on the mission and role of the FBI in our Nation.He exemplified the personal and professional competence, courage, and integrity to which all FBI managers and leaders should aspire.

In my role as a Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) attorney and, later, Assistant Director of the Legal Counsel Division, I worked with John on many issues over the years.Both when he served as the Executive Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Services and, later, when he was appointed Acting Director following the departure of Director Webster.

I particularly recall a few things that John was passionate about: (1) Taking actions to support and protect our street Agents and to advance the mission of the FBI, (2) Preserving the independence of the FBI from political influence, and (3) Doing the right thing regardless of whether it was popular with other managers or leaders inside or outside the FBI.He was simply and fiercely loyal to principals and not to personalities.

One example of his feeling for our field Agents and employees was his steadfast support for the FBI Critical Incident Trauma Program, managed at the time by SSA Jim Horn.The program was focused on helping Agents and employees who had suffered physical and/or psychological trauma in the course of their duties or encountered other tragic events in their families.John personally attended virtually every session of this program and listened to the employees’ concerns.He not only listened, but he took prompt action to adjust policies and procedures to assist them.I attended many of those sessions with John and was consistently impressed with his care and concern for our employees and their families on a personal and professional level.

A second example was during his tenure as Acting Director in 1987. At that time, there were (as they often are) some serious pending personnel and legal matters that were coming to a head and would soon need decisions by the Director. I recall John specifically asking me and other senior FBI managers if there were pending legal or personnel actions or decisions that might be controversial and possibly unpopular within the FBI or externally. He said if there were, he wanted to make those decisions during his tenure as Acting Director to avoid leaving them for the new Director. He, in fact, proceeded to make some hard calls that were the right things to do. This example of leadership and professional courage was inspirational to me and one I never forgot.

John will be missed and never forgotten by those of us who were privileged to have him as a trusted colleague and a friend.

Joe Davis
Assistant Director- Legal Counsel (Retired)

 
 

On the evening of January 21, 1986, Detective Anthony Venditti, a member of the Joint NYPD/FBI Organized Crime Task Force (JOCTF) was shot and killed by members of the Genovese LCN Family while he and his partner were conducting surveillance of their illegal activities in Queens, NY. The shooting death of Detective Venditti, a loving husband and father to four daughters, was a shock to task force members and reverberated throughout the entire New York law enforcement community.

In May of 1987, the Venditti Family traveled to Washington, DC, for the Police Memorial Week events which would honor Detective Venditti for his sacrifice. Acting Director John Otto was made aware that the family was present in Washington, and a request was submitted for him to receive the family at FBIHQ, citing that Detective Venditti had been a member of the first ever JOCTF,  targeting the Genovese LCN family. Mr. Otto readily agreed and cleared his afternoon calendar for the Venditti family. Subsequent to their meeting, Mr. Otto asked them where they were going next, and they indicated their interest in visiting the American History Museum located blocks away on the DC Mall.

Mr. Otto personally escorted the family to the museum while continuing to engage them in conversation as they reminisced about Detective Venditti. The time spent with Mr. Otto made a lasting impression on the Venditti family.

I was a witness to these events, and have never forgotten the compassion and sympathy Mr. Otto conveyed to the Venditti family that day.  It certainly made an impression on me that the Acting Director of the FBI would be so giving of his time to pay due respect to the family of a fallen law enforcement officer.

 

Steve Steinhauser
1978-2003

 
 

One of my experiences with John is probably different than most. I had the pleasure of taking him fly fishing for trout on the Chattahoochee River, just north of Atlanta. We shared a wonderful day of fishing and an even better day of conversation and storytelling.  A great memory.

 

Kenny Powers
Retired FBI

 
 

John Otto had a rare presence. Whenever he entered a room, everyone took notice of him. John never shied away from making the tough decisions and he always chose the right path. While John was serving as SAC in Chicago I had the honor of working with him. He took great pride in the Bureau, its history, and all of the agents. We were fortunate to have had John Otto as part of the FBI family.


Bob Long

 
 

John Otto and I had a hot and cold relationship. He lauded me on occasion and scolded me rather severely on others.

He was hard to predict, but I believe accepted the fact we could screw up even when our heart was in the right place. There was a time maybe 7-8 years before I retired where I found myself between a rock and a hard spot when he called me on the carpet. Fearing the worst, I explained the sensitivity of a situation that he quickly comprehended, analyzed, and dismissed me (in the better sense of the word.)

Rest in peace, John, you contributed all you could in the best way you could.

William Y. Doran, Retired
SAC, NYO Criminal Division

 
 

I first met EAD John Otto while I was assigned to the Criminal Investigative Division at FBIHQ in 1985.

After two years detailed as the Bureau’s liaison to Interpol’s National Central Bureau in Washington, I was allowed to stay on at Interpol as part of the planning group for the Interpol General Assembly, which took place in Washington in the fall of 1985.

John Otto headed the Bureau’s participation in the General Assembly, which included a day long tour of Quantico by the foreign delegates.

In my first face to face meeting with Mr. Otto, he quickly set the tone of our professional relationship by abruptly and forcefully reminding me never to interrupt him while he was talking. It was a lesson I have never forgotten, and which set the tone for a very smooth several months in planning the FBI’s role in the annual Interpol conference. He later ensured I received a letter of commendation for my efforts.

Later, when I was transferred to the Cleveland Division as SSRA in Akron, OH, I scheduled a meeting with Mr. Otto and asked for his suggestions and guidance on handling my new position. Of all that he told me, I will always remember his advise to take care of my staff and their welfare.

After a year or so in Akron, two of my Agents were involved in a shootout during an undercover drug transaction. Within hours, Mr. Otto called me to check on the Agents who, thankfully, had not been injured. He asked about both Agents and, later that day, called them. He did as he had advised me to do and I will always remember him for that and his professionalism and dedication to the Agents of the FBI.

 

Charlie Colitre, Ret.
1972 -1998
NK, NYO, FBIHQ, CV

 
 

As sad yet heartening as it is reading all the tributes following the passing of FBI legend John Otto, whom I did not know or ever meet, I am also sad and regret that I never had the opportunity to know or work with him.  It is men, and women, like John Otto that cement the greatness of the FBI.

A Retired Agent

 
 

I had the honor and distinction of working directly for Executive Assistance Director (EAD) John E. Otto for about five years, as the co-founder and first manager of the FBI’s Critical Incident and Peer Support Program. It was the highlight of my career, while serving in the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. In my 25 years of service, I have never seen a more competent and caring manager within the ranks of the FBI. I witnessed Mr. Otto roll up his sleeves at each and every one of my Critical Incident In-Services, over many years, and address the "hard and often hidden issues" facing Agents who were involved in traumatic incidents. Mr. Otto made things happen to assure that the streets were better, safer, and more bearable for every FBI Agent in the country. I learned very quickly that he expected nothing but perfection when it came to the welfare of his Agent’s and support personnel, and that helped to make me a better Agent and supervisor throughout my entire career and thereafter. 

May John E. Otto rest in peace...

 

Robert B. Schaefer

 
 

On a very few occasions, I was a participant in meetings with Mr. Otto. Some of these meetings were not very pleasant and left us to slink out of the room and consider where we might be sent shortly. He had a way of expressing himself and then, when I would see him the next day, he would be very pleasant and sociable. That was then and this is now.

When I became the Acting Director in 2001, he called me to congratulate me. He then gave me two pieces of wisdom. The first was he hoped that no employee would die on my watch (no one did) and the second was be ready for the politicians to believe they can do what they want with you and the FBI. Do not let them try to run over you and the FBI. Sure enough, on my first day, a Congressman called asking for a favor. I declined and he ended the call by saying, in a loud voice, that he would have my job.

I called Mr. Otto later and told him about how clairvoyant he was. He laughed and said it has only just begun. He was right again.

 

Thomas J Pickard
January 13, 1975 to November 30, 2001
NYO (3 tours) WFO, WMFO, FBIHQ (3 tours)

 
 

John was a fair, compassionate, and effective administrator. I am honored to have been his friend and to have been with him on hunting and fishing adventures. He left a proud and honorable legacy.

 

Joe Stehr

 
 

I first met John when he was in the Camden RA and I was on the Bank Robbery Squad in the Philadelphia Office.  We had many contacts in the following years, some personal and many professional. I told him him you could rearrange the letters in his name and it would be pronounced TOOT. His comeback would always he WELLxx...

God bless John and his family.

 

James Weller

 
 

Acting Director John Otto was a close friend of mine. When he was a Street Agent from New Newark, NJ, and I was a Street Agent in Philadelphia, PA, we worked together on criminal cases. When he became Acting Director, I would come by his office early in the morning once a week and bring him up to date on what was going on in my life and the Government Crimes Unit/Program. A first-class Agent and friend. I was sorry to hear of his bad health the last few years. His death was a blessing.

 

Al Meyer

 
 

John Otto and I entered the FBI the same month and year in November of 1964, we were also the same age. We got to know each other at Quantico and, since we were both Marines, we had a lot in common. Later in our second offices, he in Newark and I in Philadelphia, we actually worked leads on each other’s cases, and we both became supervisors at about the same time in 1968.

We were both transferred to FBIHQ in 1971 and moved our families to Fairfax County where our wives and children also became friends.

We traveled on the Inspection staff together and had frequent discussions on what was happening to the Bureau after Director Hoover’s death. We served as ASACs and SACs at approximately the same time. We then were destined to work together as Assistant Directors and Executive Assistant Directors on Director Webster’s staff.

During this extended period, I never met or knew a more dedicated and professional member of the FBI. John was very focused on the betterment of all Bureau personnel, and, no matter the issue, he always wanted to know what the implications for FBI personnel would be. John took the lead on supporting cost of living raises for employees in high cost areas. After the terrible shootout in Miami, John and I teamed up to ensure that FBI Agents had the very best available sidearms. When John was appointed Acting Director, John Glover and I were his EADs and found John to be superbly capable of carrying out the entire range of duties required during those difficult days. 

John was an Agent’s Agent and made remarkable contributions to the betterment of the Bureau during his entire career.

It was Sharon’s and my privilege to know and work with John, and to be friends with John, Marilyn, John Jr, and Jody.

Rest in Peace, brother… your tour is done. Semper FI!

 

Buck Revell
1964-1994

 
 

I first met John when he was the ASAC of the Portland office and was back visiting his family in the St. Paul area. John struck me as such a nice guy who showed a genuine personal interest in all he met while stopping in the Minneapolis Field Office. When he was subsequently transferred to Minneapolis as the SAC, he remembered everyone by name and greeted us all as friends, not subordinates. This familial attitude endured during his whole tour in Minneapolis.  Combined with all his other leadership skills, John became a beloved and highly respected SAC.  I was fortunate to maintain my friendship with John during the remainder of our FBI careers and into retirement.  The FBI and all of us who knew him are all better off having profited from his contributions as a leader and true friend.  Rest in peace John.

Dag Sohlberg
1971-1998

 
 

I first met John in the late eighties when I was assigned to NCIC at FBIHQ. I worked with his wonderful daughter, Jody, and our paths crossed! John and I had many personal conversations about the importance of family in our lives! Though he was dedicated to the FBI, his real love and passion was his family!

On one occasion, John and I rode together to attend the funeral of a colleague’s wife near Quantico! We talked a lot about our similar experiences as local law enforcement officers in our pre-Bureau lives. He shared stories about his family and I shared stories about mine! He didn’t discuss or complain about the pressures of his position as Acting Director of the FBI. It was like he and I just enjoyed not talking about work, so we didn’t!

A great leader and an even greater family man! My prayers have been with he and his family since I learned of his illness! My thoughts continue to be with his family!

 

Don Johnson

 
 

I was the Violent Crimes Supervisor in Atlanta for my last ten plus years in the FBI. During this time, I was contacted by Acting Director John Otto on two occasions.

The first time, I had been in a fight with a bank robber named Anthony Adams who had been a very successful boxer prior to taking up bank robbery. During the fight, I was cut several times which required numerous stitches. On the evening of the fight, I was recuperating at home and Mr. Otto called me at my house to see if I was okay. We spoke for several minutes with him showing great interest in how badly I had been hurt. I was deeply impressed with his concern for my well-being.  

The second time, one of the members of my squad had been injured in the line of duty and Mr. Otto contacted me showing his concern for the well-being of one of my men.

I will never forget his thoughtfulness for Agents on the street. He was truly a great leader.

 

G. Patrick Johnson
Retired - FBI

 


I was truly saddened to hear of Mr. Otto's passing. When I entered on duty in 1984 as a Telephone Operator, I had no idea what doors would be opened to me because of my position. As a Telephone Operator, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the FBI executives. One of those executives was Mr. John Otto. He was one of the kindest people I ever met. He had the best smile ever that would put you at ease. As I got to know him, he became one of my mentors within the FBI. He lis
tened as I shared my aspirations of becoming an FBI Agent. Mr. Otto made himself available for me and shared his FBI journey, thoughts of leadership, and importance of focus. In sharing his journey, I had begun to shape my own. He was a key force that was part of the shaping of my Bureau journey. As I promoted throughout the FBI, we stayed connected, and in each correspondence, he was so encouraging.  In September 1988, the day finally came when I started New Agents Class and we stayed connected where Mr. Otto continued to inspire me to stay the course. Over the years, I lost touch with Mr. Otto, but thought of him, his words, and his letters of encouragement.

Rest in peace, Mr. Otto. I will miss you and your smile.

Rhonda M. Glover
EOD FBIHQ 08/1994 ~ NAC 88-14 ~ Retired 09/2018   

 
 

I remember John as a night supervisor when I was assigned to the Newark Division in 1970-72. I worked tractor trailer hijackings and knew John well as we were both Minnesota natives and shared many experiences of the Northwoods. He was the one that would call me in the middle of the night when I had to go out on a hijacking. I remember him as being extremely polite, apologetic for having to wake me and send me out. As has been mentioned, he was a "street agent's" man, appreciative, and considerate.  May he rest in peace.

Stephen M. Hennessy

 
 

John Otto and I have been friends since 1969 both professionally and socially. 

Professionally, I knew John as a street agent assigned to the Newark Division. He was one of the best! Thereafter, I followed John as he progressed in his outstanding Bureau career to the time he retired.

Socially, I knew John as a family friend and an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. John, two other Agents, and I spent a spirited long week-end in May of 1970 fishing for Brown Trout on the Manistee River near Grayling, MI. Throughout the years, we had many laughs about the good time we had on the Manistee River. We also had a mutual friend who owned a farm near Penn’s Grove, NJ. For years, this would be our gathering location to fish, have fun, and lots of laughs.

I will always remember John for his love of life, love of his family, and his positive attitude. John was a good man. He will be missed.

 

Frank Grant
1961-1985

 
 

John E. Otto was truly a remarkable leader.  He was dedicated to the FBI and to the men and women who served our country so proudly. There has been no one in the Bureau that cared more or contributed more to the success of the “street agents”.  His daily practice of personally writing letters to Agents and their families to recognize, reward, congratulate, extend support, and condolences was extraordinary. I had the opportunity to work directly for Mr. Otto on the Career Board and several projects to include the Bureau’s Post Critical Incident Program. John championed and demanded the very best each and every day. He took a great deal of pride in the accomplishment of all of us. His personal and professional oversight of the Training Division, the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), and the whole Bureau as Acting Director reflected his leadership and dedication. As a Professor at John’s alma mater, St. Cloud State University, where he was recognized as a Distinguished Graduate, it was a challenge to share with aspiring young criminal justice students that “you can get there from here.” From the classroom seat once occupied by John to the Acting Director of the FBI. What an extraordinary ride. John shared of himself and his family with the whole world. He was a role model throughout his life and has left us in a better place. God bless his soul and be with Marilyn and the Otto family. It has been an honor and privilege. Semper Fi!

 

John Henry Campbell

 
 

Mr. Otto was a very important person in my life as a role-model, mentor, and friend, but I admired him more for his incredible leadership and service to the FBI. As some have already described, Mr. Otto was able to identify a problem or an issue - whether an uniquely complex case, a crime pattern, or an administrative obstacle. Once identified, he enlisted the help and support of experts and stakeholders to find solutions and then implemented them. He recognized and addressed the pay-disparity and retention issues, the need for more women and minorities in leadership positions, and he always found ways to support Bureau cases while insisting on the highest standards of investigative work.  

Mr. Otto's care and concern for others was as constant as his ready-supply of toothpicks and his warmth was evidenced by the treasured handwritten notes he would send to congratulate or to console. He always found time to see an employee, a friend-of-a-friend, or a family member visiting the FBI.  He valued the opinions of all employees - regardless of status - and he naturally knew the right thing to say to restore the confidence of persons who had that "one bad day".

On a visit to FBI Headquarters during the time he was Acting Director, my parents visited Mr. Otto in his office. He invited my mother to sit at his (the Director's) desk and called for a photographer to take a picture of the moment. My parents proudly displayed that photograph of themselves with Mr. Otto in their home for the remainder of their lives as a reminder of his graciousness and the importance of the FBI to our country.  


Kathleen McChesney
1978-2002
SF, ORA, FBIHQ, LA, DE, PD, CG, TD

 
 

The best job I ever had in 25 years with the FBI was managing the FBI Critical Incident Trauma Program under John Otto when he was Executive Assistant Director. John's priority was always the street agent and he insured that FBI management around the country knew just that so that they supported this program or had to answer to him. He did more for FBI Agents than anyone I ever saw in the FBI. He was a pleasure to work for. As a Marine, police officer, and FBI Agent, John was simply outstanding.

May he rest in peace.

 

Jim Horn

 
 

Someone, I don't remember who, remarked that the true character of a man is often seen in the manner in which he treats those who can nothing for him in return. What follows is such an example, as show by John Otto to me. A notice of my retirement from the FBI, in March 1990, inviting employees to attend a farewell dinner had been distributed throughout FBIHQ. Within a week or so, a fellow Agent in the unit at the Academy approached me with a big smile on his face. You can only imagine my astonishment when he told me that one of the first persons to accept the dinner invitation was the former Director, John Otto. How was it that he even knew me? Our paths had crossed two or three times and, each time, briefly. Not only did he appear at the dinner, meeting and chatting with my family, he made a number of gracious comments about my Bureau career during his after dinner speech. For him to devote this evening on my behalf (when I'm sure he had many more important matters to handle) was an indication of his true character. For me, it was an unforgettable experience. Thirty years later, I still remember. 

Rest in peace, John E. Otto.

 

J.M. Barko
1964-1990

 
 

I first met John when I was assigned to the OC Section at FBIHQ in 1981.  At that time, several of the matters I was responsible for were priorities within the Bureau.  One of those cases John took on to oversee personally.  Consequently, as a mere Supervisor, I was in constant contact with him via written communications or personally several times a week.  Sometimes multiple times a day.  Additionally, if he saw me in the cafeteria, he would often join me for lunch to discuss various issues of the day.

In a short period of time, I got to know John well.  I learned that he, as the second in command of the Bureau, had a lot of issues on his plate.  At times, he could be upset if things were not going as he would have hoped.  Even so, I found him to be fair and dedicated to his job and the FBI.  He was untiring in his work and diligently applied himself 24/7.  The fact that he personally kept one of the cases, on which I was assigned, on the credenza behind his desk for easy recall shows his diligence.

During this time and throughout his career until retirement, I found John to be the epitome of an Agent.  Hard working, demanding, and always pushing for excellence.  His retirement left an institutional gap in the Bureau’s upper management that was difficult to replace.

Jim E Moody
Deputy Assistant Director (Retired)

 
 

With the passing of John E. Otto, I lost a friend and America lost a patriot. I will always cherish the time we spent together. Throughout his life, John epitomized the qualities of loyalty, dedication, and commitment to duty. He was a former Marine, an Agents' Agent, and an FBI executive. John was a “straight shooter" who did not equivocate. You always knew where he stood on the issues. Most of all, he ensured that every decision he made was in the best interest of street Agents, who he was honored to serve.

After Judge Webster departed for the CIA, and before William Sessions was confirmed, John was appointed to the position of Acting Director. He stepped into this position with ease. All of his previous investigative, supervisory and administrative experiences had prepared him for the job. He was insightful, focused, and decisive - qualities that we admired in John.

A good heart has stopped beating, a good soul has ascended into heaven. May God give him eternal peace.

 

John D. Glover
Executive Assistant Director, FBI (retired)

 
Back in 1987, while working on SO-9 in the NYO, I was returning from a 48 hour surveillance that went from NYC to Northern Virginia and, while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, I stopped to assist a stranded family with three small children. After contacting the NYO and having a tow truck arrive, other family members alerted, and the stranded family finally safe and sound, I returned to New York. Anyway, the father contacted his congressman and told him how much I helped his family. Attached is a letter that Mr. Otto sent to the congressman, with a handwritten note to me.  For the Director of the FBI to take his time to do this was very impressive and I was deeply touched.  


Mike Oyler

 
 

John and I were second office Agents in Newark, NJ, in the late 60s. John was initially assigned to theCamden RA, but handled cases off of our C-2 squad. John was interested in administrative advancement and was transferred to Newark as the night supervisor. After his stint on the night tour, he was designated as the supervisor of our C-2 squad and I became his relief supervisor. We had a great working relationship and became good friends. In the early 70s, John was transferred to HQ and I had the opportunity to get a transfer to Dallas as a Legal Advisor. When I first arrived in Dallas, legendary SAC J. Gordon Shanklin called me in his office and pulled open a desk drawer and stated that one of the Inspectors, who had just inspected the Dallas Office, had left something for me. I was a little nervous forI expected perhaps something like a letter of censure. SAC Shanklin pulled out a bottle of champagne and said, "Welcome to Dallas on behalf of Inspector Otto." John and I stayed in contact over the years as he the rose through the ranks in the Bureau, but he never forgot his friends who chose to spend their careers in the Field. I last had a pleasant telephone conversation with him on his 80th birthday, where he first advised me of his medical prognosis.  John will be missed and my deepest sympathy to his wife, Marilyn, and the entire Otto family.   Rest In Peace, My Friend.

 

U.H. (Woody) Specht
1965-1990

 
 

I was sad to hear of the death of John Otto. I had the good fortune to be assigned to the Chicago Division during the time period John was the SAC of the Chicago Division. He was a dynamic personality who had the best interests of the Bureau as well as those of the Special Agents and Support staff in mind.

He was approachable and willing to listen to the Special Agents and their concerns. He was a decisive leader in those major cases such as kidnappings and extortions, yet willing to accept suggestions from the troops during these sometimes, very tense situations. He was, in my mind, what you want in a leader in those type of events.

I was assigned to the bank robbery squad during his tenure. Because commuting was a pain, several members of the Squad would come in very early to avoid the traffic, get a cup of coffee from Bill Dyson’s coffee stand and sit in the Squad area to plan our day, toss a few jokes back and forth and get ready for the day’s events. John would show up, get a cup of coffee, put his feet on a desk and proceed to discuss investigations, our families etc. There were several veterans on the Squad who were not shy about expressing their opinions  (Ray Stratton, to name one).  John was a willing listener. He was not pretentious, but just another agent at work although we all knew he was the boss.

There was an occasion when I learned that the San Diego Division, was looking for two Special Agents for the El Centro Resident Agency. Being from San Diego, I was interested in the assignment. I approached John and expressed my interest in a transfer to the San Diego Division and the RA. He asked why I would want to go to a place like El Centro and did I understand what the area was like. I explained that I was from San Diego, was familiar with El Centro, having lived in the Valley as a child. He then immediately took me to his office , picked up the telephone,  and call FBIHQ. He told them he had a good candidate for the RA. He made me look good which I appreciated. They told him they wanted Spanish speakers and he told them I was willing to learn Spanish. He tried to persuade them, but they were adamant on Spanish speakers. I certainly appreciated his effort on my behalf.

 

Jim Biers
Houston, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Diego Divisions

 

I met SAC John Otto during my first winter shoot after Quantico, at the Chicago PD indoor range. Much to my surprise, the Agent who was shooting next to me was, yes, my new boss! Luckily, I was a good shot and that day scored near perfect. He was thrilled and called me “Annie Oakley” back at the office, which caused quite a stir as I was one of a few female SAs in the Division. I soon learned of his training program for new Agents which involved 2-month rotations through three criminal squads and then a 6-month RA assignment. It was a great way to get a solid start in the Bureau and be ready to work the assignments that were ahead. He announced that all new Agents must first learn and be familiar with the work on all criminal squads before being permanently assigned. So, that included assigning the first female Agents to the Bank Robbery squad and some other criminal squads. He expected nothing but the best work from everyone and did not have time for slackers or complainers. At all Agent conferences, he told everyone, “If they did not like the work in Chicago, they should take out the newspaper and find another job.” He always believed that Chicago had the best work in the Bureau.

I then married an Agent at WFO and transferred a year later. Much to my surprise, John Otto had just been promoted to HQ. He missed everyone from Chicago and did not hesitate to want to talk and seek out Chicago Agents. He also liked to get a ride from Agents he would run into as he did not have a Bucar. One day, I was in line at the bank down the street from HQ and I hear someone hailing me. He needed to be uptown at some important meeting and needed a lift. It was during the reminiscing of his Chicago days that he always asked about the street Agents. I think he always missed being in the Field Offices.

Over the years, he frequently would call me from HQ at WFO for my opinion on various Agent matters and policy development involving female Agents, married Agent couples, and street Agent programs. One day, he caught me in the HQ garage and point blank fired off some very important questions. He always wanted answers right away and sought street Agent opinions. Despite the fact that I and other Agents gave him opinions sometimes that he did not like, we stayed friends through the years.

I think Mr. Otto will be remembered for giving all Agents the opportunity to succeed as a street Agent. He was always thinking and asking questions about what was at the core of being an Agent. He expected only the best from Agents and strove to enhance programs so that Agents would succeed at what he believed was the best job anyone could have. On that, we totally agreed. May he rest in peace and know he made a difference in the FBI.

 

Retired SA Eddie Marie Allen Tuttle
CG, WFO & TP
1978-2000

 
 

I first met John in 1976 when he headed up an Inspection Team while I was assigned to the Seattle Division. My father passed unexpectedly in Southern California at age 58. I was on duty when I received the news. It hit me very hard. When John learned of my loss he, whom I had never met, unsolicited came up to me, offered his condolence, and asked if there was anything he or the Bureau could do. I never forgot that and, years later, when ever he and I would cross paths, either at Quantico or at a FBI National Academy function ( I was the Seattle FBI NA coordinator from 1984-1999 ) he would always ask how I was doing. The country has lost a true patriot and I offer my condolences to his family.

 

Rick Mathers
1963-1999

 
 

I am truly saddened to hear of John's passing. To me, and I'm sure to many others, he was one of the most decent, honest, and straight forward senior executives that I had the pleasure of interacting with. My sincere condolences to his family.

 

Jesse C. House
Retired SSA 1988

 

Having just Entered on Duty, as a Support Employee in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Unit of the Crime Records Division, it was in the last months of J. Edgar Hoover’s life, and all my shirts worn were heavily starched and white.  It was a practice I had maintained when first meeting a young SSA John Otto in his UCR Office.  Having just entered, I recalled my first impression of being closely scrutinized by steely dark, focused eyes that made me snap into a military bearing.  But, it was the warmth of his smile, his laughter, and his high-spirited personality in that crisp white shirt of his, that made me feel most welcomed in the FBI.

As an SSA myself, I visited John when he was the SAC of the Minneapolis Division, and later in 1988, when presenting for approval, a new employee recognition, Honorary Medals Program, to him and other Assistant Directors.  I vividly recalled that steely, focused scrutiny, but, most importantly, thank goodness, the warmth of his smile, his laughter, and his high-spirited personality, and that crisp white shirt of his.

Retired SA Larry K. Knisley
1972 to 2003


 
 

It was a September evening in 1988. I was a first office Agent in San Diego with all of three years under my belt. That evening, I was a member of an arrest team tasked with arresting two heroin dealers following a buy-bust, the culmination of a months-long Title III.

As I was to be reminded many times later in my career, things do not always go as planned. After being confronted by other Agents, the subjects slammed on the gas of their Chevy Camaro and rammed my and another agent's Bu-cars. To make a long story short, I fired my shotgun at the driver of the Camaro, hitting him in the arm.

I thought my career was over. Although the incident was later ruled a clean shooting, I played every possible ugly scenario in my head for hours on end. 

My fears spilled over when I was called into the SAC's office the next morning. He informed me that John Otto was on the phone and wished to speak to me.

Petrified!!

I expected harsh judgement and painful questions on the subject of "why". Instead, I was met with genuine compassion and concern. Bottom line - John Otto called just to see if I was OK.

That was my one and only interaction with John Otto, and one I will never forget. In one short phone call, he fulfilled everything I was told from Day 1 about the FBI "Family". And, as my career progressed, that moment always reminded me of the importance of passing that notion on to younger Agents.  

Rest in peace, John Otto, and I sincerely thank you for helping cement my life-long devotion to the FBI.

 

Jeff Iverson
6/4/1984-1/31/2007
San Diego, San Francisco, Legat Almaty, Legat Moscow

 
 

I have had too many SAC's to count in my career. Their talent and dedication level ranged from abysmal to John Otto. He talked to each of us as Agent to Agent. Thus, he captured the original meaning of Special AGENT in Charge. I know his like will be sorely missed.

 

Bob Spiel
1968-1988

 
 

I served with John on the C-1 squad in Newark. We worked hijackings and bank robberies and a few odds and ends.  He was an excellent street agent and a fine administrator as he moved up the ladder to eventually serve as Acting Director.

He had a great career and his death is a big loss for all who knew him.

Later on, long after Newark, I had the pleasure of renewing our acquaintance when I served as counsel to the FBI Agents Association.

RIP dear friend.

Ed Bethune

 
 

John was my night supervisor at the Newark Office in 1970. John was to me the finest Agent I ever met. 


Jim Browne

 
 

I had the honor of serving as a Resident Agent under John when he was the SAC of the Minneapolis Division.  We had several opportunities to visit, always on very pleasant terms.  When I saw in the Grapevine that he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I sent them a congratulatory card.  A few days later, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from him thanking me for my thoughtfulness.  That is the kind of a class gesture that one never forgets.  The Bureau could have used more leaders of his caliber.

 

Ivan W. Nicholson
1971-1999

 
 

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Otto. I reflect back with many fond memories of John and his many outstanding and meaningful contributions to the the FBI. He was truly a unique leader in the Bureau who embodied “Fidelity - Bravery - Integrity”. He was my Boss, my Colleague and my Friend - and I treasure each part of that relationship. He was tough, compassionate, and loyal, and always had the best interest of the Bureau at the forefront of his decisions.  John is among a handful of truly strong and outstanding leaders who have had a meaningful and lasting impact on the Bureau. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be associated with such such a great leader and dear friend.   

My deepest condolences go out to Marilyn and the Otto family.  His memory will be forever etched into the history of the FBI as one of its outstanding leaders. 


Floyd I. Clarke
Former Acting Director, FBI

 
 

I first met John when he became the SAC in Chicago where we became friends.  He spent way too much time trying to persuade me to transfer to FBIHQ when he was promoted there from Chicago.  In 1988, I received a top DOJ award and took my wife and two grade-school children to DC for the award ceremony at the DOJ, where John and AG Meese made the presentation.  After, John invited us to FBIHQ and to his office, which was, at that time, the Office of the Director.  We have some wonderful photos of my children sitting together at the desk of the FBI Director, which, I believe, at that time, was the desk used by Director Hoover.  My children were asking about leaving to have lunch and John, instead, took them to the FBIHQ cafeteria, which to them was the Disneyland of food.  Neither they nor my wife and I will ever forget that moment.  I know that they will both be saddened to hear about John's death.  It was just so like John to be kind and considerate and his attention to my children is and will always be an indelible memory of my friend John.  John will always have a special place in our hearts. 

Art Pfizenmayer
8/25/1969 to 2/9/1996

 
 

Although I never knew John Otto personally, I as a native Minnesotan, knew him well by reputation.  Unlike most FBI leaders, I only heard words of adoration and praise about him, not only from the rank and file, but from ASACs, SACs, and FBIHQ chiefs whom I knew.  When I was assigned to the Minneapolis Office as Technical Advisor from 1980 to 2000, sometime in the '80s, before the advent of mobile telephones, I was assigned the challenging task of providing an alert system at Mr. Otto’s cabin in the north woods of Minnesota that would notify him of an incoming phone call while he was vacationing there and away from his telephone.  Ordinarily, for this type of assignment, my attitude would have been – this demand is totally unreasonable without any practicality, just to make some high level Bureau Official feel important.  However, concerning Mr. John Otto, who was important and who really needed this system, my attitude was – what an honor and privilege that he trusted me, basically unknown to him, with this very critical implementation.  I extended myself to the utmost to give him the best alert system possible.  To me, this is symptomatic of the effect John Otto had on all who worked for him or even just barely knew him.  He was a down to earth professional who led by example, never conceited or self-aggrandizing, but always considerate, forthcoming, and selfless, who inspired others to do their very best with pride because they were serving in the presence of true greatness. 

 

Dee Levin
January 1971 – June 2000

 
 

I was a fairly new Agent when I first had the occasion to spend time with Director Otto. He was in Nashville, TN, for the international Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention. At that time, he was an Assistant Director and the President of the IACP was a police chief who was currently under indictment. I was sent by our supervisor to accompany Mr. Otto to events as protection.

I couldn’t believe how personable, warm, and welcoming he was to an Agent in my position. After the week was over, he continued some small level of communication and even sent a picture of the two of us back to me. He certainly did not have to do any of that and I seldom experienced that kind of treatment subsequently from future interactions with those in his position.

I always had great respect and affection for Mr. Otto. I am saddened by his passing and would love to pass along my condolences. I always felt like he was a great man.

 

Russ Pulley

 
 

I worked closely with John when he served as SAC Chicago.  He was truly a caring and considerate professional.  He will be missed by so many friends.  Rest In Peace my friend.

 

Doug Eden

 
 

During my 26 year career as a Special Agent, I never met a finer man or more  dynamic leader than Mr. Otto.

He was the SAC of the Minneapolis Division when I was stationed at the Rapid City, SD RA in the late 1970s. These were dangerous times for us. He visited us numerous times. I can remember his smile and his words of encouragement. 

I have thought many times over the years how fortunate I was to have served under his leadership.

Please convey my sincere condolences to his family.

Al Garber

 
 

I was a Career Board Secretary under John Otto. While his nickname "the Hulk" was no doubt accurate at times when someone erred in some way, I never saw that occur. As Judge Webster accurately stated, Mr. Otto was a decent, loyal professional. His humility extended outside his capacity as an Executive. He could converse with the cleaning crew as easily as he could with the highest government official. His habit of sending personal notes was another example of his caring for the Institution and the people that worked for it. History is important to remember particularly for the FBI. We enjoy some of the benefits today because of the efforts of John Otto and others. We can’t forget the morals and principles that he demonstrated for all of those years in the Bureau. Semper Fi, John, Rest in Peace. You deserve it.

 

Robin Montgomery

 
 

If you’ve received Law Enforcement Locality Pay or participated in the New York Demonstration Project through lump sum payments, grade increases or adjusted seniority dates for your OP, you owe a debt of gratitude to John Otto.

As Acting Director he paved the way for support of the projects by Director Sessions and Attorney General Meese.  Because he cared and through his personal relationships, John rallied the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), all FBIHQ Divisions and members of Congress to examine the issues facing agents being transferred to high cost of living areas.  He saw the value of adjusting a pay system that created paupers in some places and barons in others.  He used the authority of his office effectively and we reaped the benefit.

In the mid to late 80’s when vast numbers of agents were being moved to “top 10” offices to fight the War on Drugs, the Bureau saw turmoil in keeping experienced personnel in place.  Many agents outright rejected transfers and left the Bureau.  Others slid over to other federal agencies for a more preferential geographical assignment.  Not since the 10-1-69 transfers had the organization faced such morale problems related to staffing major offices.     

In crafting a solution, John took to heart the statements of executives with regard to the program’s administration, but reached around them to hear the voices of the rank and file to ensure that the changes would meet the needs and be fair to those receiving benefit.  I know because, as a rank and file agent not assigned to HQ, I was in the rooms in which these issues were discussed.  John’s leadership was demonstrated in acknowledging that not all good ideas come from HQ.  He took to heart what he heard from NYO ADIC Tom Sheer and others as they explained their concerns and proposed solutions.

If you are a beneficiary of these changes, please take a moment to think of John, his impact on the organization and our lives.  And think of his family as they adjust to his loss.  

I’m proud to be associated with all of you who have served the FBI.  I appreciate those I worked with, those who paved the way for us and those who took up the mantle as we moved on after contributing our piece.

Thanks for the opportunity to praise a piece John Otto’s legacy.

    

Bob Lee ’83-’03
(Official Bureau Name:  Robert E. Lee, Jr.)
PH, DL, NY, QT

 
 
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