Michele Leonhart’s first criminal case involved a blue Huffy bike with a white basket and pink streamers. It was stolen when she was a little girl growing up in the Selby Avenue neighborhood in St. Paul. She scoured the neighborhood and got it back.
Now, she’s President Obama’s pick to be the nation’s No. 1 drug cop as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Leonhart, a 1978 grad in criminal justice at Bemidji State University, has come a long way since she plied the mean streets of Minneapolis as a DEA agent in the early 1980s.
The late, legendary DEA chief Jim Braseth, who mentored a generation of drug agents in the Twin Cities once said, “If you could look in the dictionary for the definition of a federal drug agent, you’d find Michele’s picture.”
She was elevated to the No. 2 spot in the DEA in 2003 under President George W. Bush. Now Obama has nominated her to become the top narc in the nation.
Since the 2007 resignation of former DEA head Karen Tandy, Leonhart has been serving as acting administrator.
Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, it would cap off a 30-year DEA career that included stints in Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington.
As Leonhart noted in a 2003 interview with the Star Tribune, it wasn’t an obvious career choice for a nice girl who grew up going to Catholic school in St. Paul. “The way I grew up, I should have had no street smarts,” she said.
Before she joined the DEA, she was a rookie cop in Baltimore. There, she was alternately called “Mickey” or “Alice,” as in Alice in Wonderland – a play on her sheltered Midwestern upbringing.
Now she not only knows the streets, but the mean corridors of power in Washington.