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Byline: Emma Grace Smith

It was a pair of platform shoes that gave it away to the private detective who uncovered one of America's biggest political scandals.

And, almost 40 years on, New York investigator Joe Mullen still gets a kick out of his part in the story.

He played a central role in the FBI's famous Abscam sting which has inspired American Hustle, a new Hollywood blockbuster starring Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence.

In the late 1970s, the FBI – desperate to snare government officials taking bribes – hired a conman to pose as an Arab sheikh to offer thousands of dollars to politicians in return for political favours.

Joe, who has worked for Judy Garland, Donald Trump, Johnny Carson and Walter Cronkite, was hired by a suspicious congressman.

He traced the mystery Arab and his associates to their safe house to discover they were really government agents – and the FBI shoes of choice had given the game away.

Joe, whose mother is from Motherwell and is proud of his Scottish roots, said: "It wasn't hard to figure out who those sheikhs were. They all wore Flagg Brothers shoes."

The story – dubbed Abscam, short for Abdul Scam after Abdul Enterprises, the front firm set up by the FBI – caused a political storm just four years after Richard Nixon's resignation.

The Feds' sting operation led to one senator and six other congressmen being convicted of bribery and conspiracy.

The most senior politician caught, Senator Harrison "Pete" Williams from Ohio, was given three years in jail.

But for Joe, 78, the case is just one of thousands that he has taken on during his 45–year career in Manhattan, making him one of the US's longest–working private eyes.

He said: "To be a good private investigator, you need common sense, imagination, a sense of humour, good memory and you have to know people. What serves me best is my imagination and intuition."

His first job was as Judy Garland's bodyguard and he has also tailed Donald Trump's wife Ivana during their divorce and traced Fidel Castro's daughter after she went into hiding.

He said: "I was hired to look after Judy. Her husband, Sid Luft, was trying to keep her career going.

"She was very nice. I remember we came out of a bar and the press spotted us. She said to me, 'Tell them you're my new boyfriend'. I was only 30."

He added: "It's hard to pick my biggest case – there have been so many. I was Johnny Carson's private eye for more than 30 years. I also broke the Abscam case in four days. I'm looking forward to the movie coming out.

"I found a runaway teenager in Florida – after six other private eyes had given up. I sent photographs and cash to a local cab company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Within two days, we had her."

Joe began his career as a private investigator at 16 when he learned the trade from his ex–banker father.

He was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award in 1999 for completing 25 years of background checks of employees for the Children's Aid Foundation.

Joe's five children were all private eyes at some point in their lives and his two sons still work with him.

He said: "My dad was a banker but then he joined a private eye firm. He got tired of the bank business so he got involved with investigating someone they thought was stealing money from the bank, "One day, I forgot my apartment keys so I went to see my father, who was on surveillance in a car. All of a sudden, a subject came out. My dad told me to follow him so I did – for eighthours,toarestaurant,ahoteland into a cab.

"When I jumped into a cab, I told the driver he was my father and he was cheating on my mother. I made it up. We didn't lose the subject.

"When I got back, I reported what I found out – addresses, licence plate numbers etc. My dad thought I had done great work.

"At 16, my friends were delivering groceries but I was following stars and other high–profile people."

Despite his age, Joe still works a 10–hour day – charging $200 a hour – to get on top of his case load. His

always have lots of emails to respond to. I also have my two sons, Tom and Mike, working for me."

Joe credits his Scottish roots for keeping his feet on the ground. His mum, Beatrice Mulvey, was born and bred in Motherwell before the family emigrated to the US.

He still keeps in touch with his family here, including football pundit Peter Martin.

He said: "I have a real affinity with Scotland. My mother was a very special woman.

"She taught me how to look after myself and that's important in my line of work. She was the first person who showed me how to box. Everyone in the neighbourhood loved her.

"I love Scotland. The people are so friendly and kind. In 1997, I went to Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William. It was beautiful.

"My car broke down on my visit but the locals were so helpful trying to get me on the road again."

Joe's second cousin Peter, from Motherwell, said: "When we were growing up, my mum used to talk about him all the time.

"He is a brilliant man and we are all proud of him. He came to Scotland when I was a young boy. I must have been six. He was really charismatic.

"I met up with him again in 2006 when I ran the New York Marathon.

"He never discussed his business – he was very evasive. I guess he has to be in his line of work. But it was great to meet him again."

Inside track on Joe's undercover work


Joe is credited with breaking the insider trading scandal. In 1983 he was hired by law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to check out employees who had access to sensitive information on stock trades.

He told his men to follow a key suspect on motorbikes so they wouldn't lose him in traffic.

The scenes were recreated in the movie Wall Street, starring Michael Douglas.

The evidence Joe's firm gathered helped to convict two of Skadden's attorneys. He said: "We caught everyone who was selling information out. They made mistakes and we managed to gather evidence. One of them talked to a cab driver about stocks."


Joe tracked down Alina Fernandez to Spain after it was revealed that she was the love child of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Castro, who has six sons, had an affair with Natalia Revuelta in the early 1950s.

Alina fled Cuba in 1993 after her role in a political dissent movement.

Born during her father's 32–year reign as president, Alina began life as a member of the Cuban elite.

But she became increasingly critical of the political climate and left Cuba in disguise for Europe.

Joe tracked her down to Spain where she was working in a shop. She now lives in the US. He added: "This was a simple case. I located her with some luck."


Donald Trump hired Joe to tail his wives Ivana Trump and Marla Maples during both of his divorces.

In 1977, Trump married Ivana Zelnickova and they had three children. And in 1990, rumours began to circulate that Trump was having an affair with former Georgian beauty queen Marla.

While the family were on holiday in Aspen, Colorado, that Christmas, Ivana met Marla on the ski slopes.

In 1991, she filed for divorce, seeking a greater amount of the family fortune than had been set out in her prenuptial agreement.

Their divorce was settled in 1992 and, although the settlement remains sealed by the courts, it is rumoured that Ivana received $20million.

In 1993, Trump married Marla and they had one child. But they got divorced in 1999.

Joe said: "I met with Donald but the attorney called the shots. Donald's sister, Liz, has been one of our best friends for 30 years.

"Donald is very sharp and is very fair to his ex–wives Ivana and Marla."


One of Joe's first jobs was as bodyguard for singer Judy Garland, once described as the greatest entertainer who ever lived.

Joe said: "I was working with a friend, another private eye, to help him. Judy's attorney had hired him. She was a really nice woman. It was a great first job."

"At 16, my friends were delivering groceries – but I was following stars and other high–profile people


IN DEMAND Joe was bodyguard for Judy, left. Below, Trump with Ivana

LEAD ROLE Jennifer Lawrence, below, in new movie American Hustle.

ROOTS Joe's mum, left, and, above, in Motherwell

STING Above, Senator Williams is caught in the FBI's Abscam operation. Right, a pair of Flagg Brothers shoes and Time magazine in 1980

EYE SPY Joe, on left, and colleague Shane Williams keep watch a building in New York. Below, Joe in his younger days
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 10, 2013

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