Raymond P. Donovan ’93CPS
St. John’s Alumnus Gives Back by Fighting Crime
Years before he oversaw the dramatic capture of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán while working as an agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Raymond P. Donovan ’93CPS was a freshman at St. John’s University, pondering a career as a pharmacist.
But he quickly realized his true calling after spending an hour in an introductory course on criminal justice, held rapt by Phil Alleva, who was invited to the class that day in 1989 to talk about his then job as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division.
“It was standing-room-only in class that day, and Phil really held my attention,” Mr. Donovan recalled. “He gave us a global perspective on what it was like to be an agent for the DEA, and described executing undercover operations and investigative cases from a different point of view than what I would have known as a first-year college student. After that class, I knew I was going to follow a career in law enforcement, with the DEA.”
The New York Division (NYD) is responsible for the federal prosecution of illegal drug trafficking in New York State, including Long Island and New York City. It is also the same division Mr. Donovan helms today as Special Agent in Charge, leading it in its mission to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering organizations around the globe.
Mr. Donovan was Section Chief of the Special Operations Division (SOD) when, in 2015, he directed an exhaustive manhunt for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in history, that ended with his capture on a Mexican highway. Mr. Guzmán was convicted on February 12 of all 10 drug and murder conspiracy charges against him following a nearly three-month trial that was held in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, NY.
Mr. Guzmán’s apprehension is a major source of pride for Mr. Donovan. “Going after him, capturing him, extraditing him from Mexico to the United States, and prosecuting him is very fulfilling to me,” he said.
“He is one of the world’s most notorious criminals,” he added of Mr. Guzmán, “who was flooding the streets of New York and America with drugs.”
Mr. Guzmán’s capture and trial have also fulfilled a core mission that Mr. Donovan, born and raised in the Bronx, NY, can trace back to his childhood. “I always wanted to do good. I wanted to give back. I wanted to serve the public and do the right thing.”
The first in his family to graduate from college, Mr. Donovan said his mother, a widow for several years before she remarried, often struggled to feed and clothe her four sons, at one point holding down three jobs.
“I think the struggles that came early on in my family helped me get to where I wanted to be,” he said. “But it was St. John’s that really opened up my mind to new possibilities and experiences.”
Mr. Donovan chose St. John’s because he wanted to continue the Catholic education he received throughout grammar school and high school. “I also loved the Men’s Basketball team, and I was always following them,” he said.
Mr. Donovan found his niche within the University’s Greek life on the Queens, NY, campus and eventually became President of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. His membership enabled Mr. Donovan to develop his passion for giving back by helping to plan and run fraternity-sponsored events to assist people in need.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, Mr. Donovan started his career in law enforcement as a US Border Patrol Agent in San Diego, CA. Two years later, in 1997, he joined the DEA as a Special Agent assigned to the federal agency’s New York Drug Task Force, the largest and oldest task force in the country.
Mr. Donovan’s work for the DEA included a stint with the Special Operations Division in Virginia that coordinated efforts to target national and international narco-terrorism organizations in such countries as Mexico, Central America, and Canada. He was promoted to Section Chief at SOD in February 2015, taking charge of the operation that ended with Mr. Guzmán’s arrest.
Mr. Donovan returned to New York in April 2016, where he was named to several high-ranking supervisory posts before he was selected as head of the DEA’s New York Division.
He is glad to be home again. “It was important for me to come back to New York City. This is where my heart is.”
That sentiment extends to his alma mater.
“I have great memories of my college experience—how the fraternities and sororities put on performances during Greek Week, cramming for exams in the University library, the Spring Fling,” Mr. Donovan said. “Some of my closest friends today are people I met at St. John’s when I was a student.”
“St. John’s,” he added, “gave me the confidence, the foundation, and the vision to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”