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Pretty as a picture and looking more like a homemaker than an FBI agent, Jeanne James – a petite, mere sliver of a woman in a bright yellow dress and high heels – recently enthralled the Prospect/Goshen Rotary Club with stories of mobsters and godfathers.
“After my 32 years of service, I like to say I know little about godparents – but I know lots about godfathers!” James laughed.
James chalks up much of her success as an FBI agent to the friendly, PTA image she portrayed.
But James said the persona came naturally.
Originally from Tennessee, James attended Florida State University, where she was selected as a fraternity’s sweetheart.
After an internship with the police department in which James said she’d experienced more fun than she’d ever had in her entire life, she decided to join the police academy at age 20.
Within a few years, James was on her way to becoming one of the first female FBI agents in the country.
“I don’t care what they say. In those days, they made training for female FBI agents even tougher than they did for men!”
At 26, she found herself stationed in Kansas City, Missouri where she’d spend the next two years working under the cover name ‘Lilly Bell’ as a waitress in a local restaurant.
Her targets were olive-skinned, exceedingly good-looking Italian mafia men.
Charming and flirtatious, charismatic and dangerous, these men were enamored with Lilly Bell.
Many of them tried to court her and a few of them even offered her jobs.
As Lilly Bell, James soon discovered that the easiest way to get to the dirty secrets was to befriend the mobsters’ girlfriends and wives.
Often, their trust in Lilly Bell led to Agent James’ entrapment.
James’ cover as a waitress was replaced with that of a high scale jewelry-store owner when she made the move to Los Angeles.
While there, she was also part of the team that convicted the first FBI spy, Richard Miller, in 1984.
Ten years in L.A. were followed by 20 years of service in Louisville where James has served as head of the task force and as a hostage
James has covered bank robbers, murderers, fugitives and stalkers.
Retirement has left James with larger-than-life stories.
After her talk, Rotary president Jo Ann Hepperman presented James with a token Rotary pin.
“We were just so happy Jeanne could be here today. We got a big kick out of her,” Heppermann said.
The Prospect/Goshen Rotary club is currently comprised of 38 members.
Membership is open to all with an annual fee of $160. Last year, the club raised more than $17,000.
While Rotary club members may not have stories as fascinating as former FBI agents, they are also dedicated to service and have helped with notable causes.
“Our club is in service solely to service others and to make the world a better place,” Hepperman said. “Rotary clubs have been credited internationally with defeating polio in developing countries as well as providing clean water and healthcare to single mothers and children.”
Also on the agenda for the meeting was the induction of new member Chris Hibbard.
“I’m very happy to become part of this organization,” Hibbard said. “While there are many different clubs and organizations, I’ve really come to value what the Rotary club stands for.”
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