NEW YORK — Neil J. Welch, a maverick FBI official who helped mastermind the political corruption sting operation that ensnared a senator and six congressmen and negotiated the surrender of the escaped killer of Kitty Genovese, died on June 29 in Omaha, Neb. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his son, Brien.
Welch joined the FBI after law school, seeing it, he said in a 1979 interview, as “a good place to start my career.” He stayed for nearly three decades.
As the special agent in charge of field offices in Buffalo, Detroit, and Philadelphia and the supervisor of the biggest office, in New York, where his title was assistant director, he won the respect of agents as an innovator and motivator.
But he often vexed his bosses in Washington by focusing his investigations not on bank robbers and draft dodgers but on organized crime and corruption.
Welch preferred to focus on wrongdoing by public officials. His most spectacular corruption case was the multiyear Abscam investigation, which he oversaw with Thomas P. Puccio, head of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force for the Eastern District of New York.
The case culminated in 1980 with charges against federal legislators and local officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for accepting bribes from agents posing as Arab sheikhs and businessmen in return for political favors.
Defense lawyers argued that their clients had been entrapped, but the courts disagreed.
The convicted defendants included Democratic Senator Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey, and Representatives John Jenrette, a South Carolina Democrat; Richard Kelly, a Florida Republican; Raymond F. Lederer and Michael Myers, Pennsylvania Democrats; John M. Murphy, a New York Democrat; and Franklin Thompson, a New Jersey Democrat.
In 1968, Welch conducted nearly an hour of gun-to-gun negotiations that led to the surrender of Winston Moseley, the convicted killer of Kitty Genovese, 28, whom he had stalked and stabbed to death in 1964 near her apartment in Queens, N.Y. Her murder shocked the nation’s conscience after The New York Times reported that 38 of her neighbors ignored her screams for help — although years later The Times acknowledged that the number of witnesses and what they had perceived had been overstated.
After escaping from a hospital where he had undergone minor surgery while serving life sentence, Moseley took five hostages, raped one and holed up in a suburban Buffalo apartment.
“He kept cocking and re-cocking his gun, holding it dead center on my chest,” Welch recalled in “Inside Hoover’s FBI: The Top Field Chief Reports” (1984), written with David W. Marston.
“He didn’t realize it,” Welch recalled, “but I had a small snub-nosed revolver pointed at him too, although it was in my weak left hand, in my overcoat pocket.”
Asked in 1980 in a Boston Globe interview how he negotiated with an armed convicted killer who, given his life sentence, had nothing to lose, Welch replied, “Very carefully.”