By Joshua Marks
Think organized crime, and Hollywood fare like The Godfather or Goodfellas might come to mind. But for Department of Justice trial attorney Adam Small, getting the bad guys isn’t fantasy.
It’s all in a day’s work.
The 33-year-old born-and-bred Baltimorean joined the DOJ’s Criminal Division, Organized Crime and Gang Section in the fall of 2011 and has been traveling the country investigating and trying cases ever since.
Small lives in Silver Spring with his wife Rachel Gildiner, director of Gather the Jews, an organization that connects young Jewish adults to social, religious and learning opportunities in the Washington area, and their two children, Samuel, 5, and Vera, 3.
A 2004 graduate of Columbia University with a B.A. in history, Small taught history and English for two years at an independent school in northern New Jersey before attending Georgetown Law School, graduating in 2009. Small then clerked for a United States District Court judge in Baltimore.
We recently caught up with Small to talk about taking on a member of the mob, the differences between D.C. and Baltimore and his love for the Orioles and Ravens.
What is it like working at the DOJ?
It’s good. It’s busy. I’m a trial attorney, which means that my job is to travel around the country assisting United States attorneys who are working on organized crime and gang cases in their districts. We’re considered subject-matter experts and we help in any way we can. Usually we join a case early on in the investigation and we help prepare all the different documents that go into an investigation, whether that’s grand jury subpoenas, or search warrants, or orders to get cell phone information, that type of thing. We interview witnesses, we put witnesses in the grand jury, which is part of the process to indict a case. Ultimately, if the evidence is there, we’ll seek an indictment and continue to work on the case all the way through resolution, whether that’s by a plea agreement or a trial.
Is dealing with organized crime and gangs glamorous like in the movies?
No. It’s like any other aspect of practicing law. There’s a fair amount of — I don’t want to say drudgery — but there’s just a fair amount of solid work that goes into it. It’s not all swaggering around in the courtroom pointing fingers. Most of the time you’re reviewing documents or meeting with FBI agents or agents from other agencies and reviewing their reports, reviewing their files, and thinking and making decisions, thinking strategically about the case. It’s a lot of fun and it’s challenging, but it’s not like the movies.
Describe the most compelling case you have been involved in at DOJ.
I was very fortunate to be a part of a case that you could say was a little bit like the movies. It was a case in Camden, N.J., involving a made member of what’s called La Costra Nostra — or commonly in pop culture the mafia or the mob — who was involved with taking over a publicly traded company in Texas and then looting it for about $14 million over the course of nine months. I joined that case late in the game, right before it was about to go to trial. I participated in every aspect of the trial and the preparations for the actual trying of the case. The trial lasted for about six months, which is very long for a federal criminal trial. But it was a great experience, and it’s a really interesting case because it involves aspects of organized crime. It involves a financial crime, a fraud. And it also involves obstruction of justice, lying to the court, lots of different twists and turns.
What is it about hiking and skiing that you like?
I love to be outside, and I like the physical challenge aspect of it. You’re looking at a long hike to the top of the mountain or a difficult ski run, so it forces you to put aside what you’re doing and really push yourself to accomplish that goal, whether it’s climbing to the top or skiing down or avoiding a tree or whatever it is.
Tell us about your passion for the Orioles and Ravens.
Baltimore has the blue-collar mentality and so the Orioles and the Ravens are at the forefront of the city. There’s nothing better than going to a big Orioles game late in the season or a Thursday night game against the Steelers. Everybody’s in their purple or their orange. Everyone’s excited, talking it up. I love doing that.