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"New Homeland Security Chief veteran FBI agent beloved by Muslims"

July 12, 2006,0,3097493,print.story?coll=ny-region-apnewjersey New Homeland Security Chief veteran FBI agent beloved by Muslims July 10, 2006, 2:34 PM EDT

NEWARK, N.J. -- When a respected elder in Paterson's Muslim community was detained at an airport in Dubai for a reason authorities wouldn't tell him, he took out his cell phone and started dialing.

But Mohamed Younes wasn't calling his embassy, his travel agent or his wife. Instead, he called John Paige, a good friend who was the supervisory special agent at the FBI's West Paterson office.

Paige didn't know exactly why Younes had been flagged at the airport last December, but offered to get on the phone with officials in the United Arab Emirates and vouch for Younes' integrity. Younes was grateful, but declined the offer.

"Who would believe I really had the FBI on the phone?" he asked.

Anyone who knows Paige would believe it. The 26-year FBI veteran has worked tirelessly to build bridges to New Jersey's Muslim community.

It is a closeness that will serve him well in his new job as deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security. Paige will handle operations and intelligence matters for the department, reporting to Director Richard Canas.

"My job will be to interact with the state and local police, FBI and intelligence agencies to make sure we're working together on intelligence matters," Paige said. "It also involves gathering intelligence information that directly affects New Jersey."

Paige has either investigated or presided over teams of agents that investigated government corruption and crooked business deals in New Jersey, including the Crazy Eddie and Cendant cases. He also was involved in the Sept. 11 probe, the anthrax investigation and other cases.

But it's his work with New Jersey's Muslim community that the Hasbrouck Heights resident is most proud of. Since 1999 _ two years before the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon _ Paige has been meeting with Muslim community leaders, getting to know them, taking their calls and giving them his direct phone number.

He's looked into instances where Muslim travelers felt they were being profiled, and has been rewarded for his efforts by being invited to Muslims' homes and mosques on important religious holidays. Several community leaders even attended his recent retirement party from the FBI.

"I would call him a pioneer in terms of establishing relationships with the Muslim community," said Sohail Mohammed, a Clifton immigration lawyer and community leader. "This guy has a vision that most other people don't. He's someone we can call 24/7."

Paige said the community _ estimated to be about 450,000 people _ needs to feel comfortable dealing with police and investigators.

"A lot of new immigrants are terrified of law enforcement," Paige said. "But they're beginning to see that we're different than those in the countries they grew up in. I'm a firm believer that the only way we're going to keep our nation secure is by communities making observations and not being afraid to talk to law enforcement."

Paige reported Monday for his first day at his new job at the state's Homeland Security center in Hamilton. At 55{, Paige was nearing the FBI's mandatory retirement age of 57, and decided to apply for the state job. His contacts and experience made him the most attractive candidate, Canas said.

"His reputation precedes him, that and his background on important investigations," said Canas, who was impressed by Paige's warm relationship with the Muslim community.

"It resonates both ways," he said. "He very much enjoys working with that community."

Paige's former boss, New Jersey FBI chief Les Wiser, said Paige "will provide a great benefit to the citizens of New Jersey in his new role. He's served his country well for 26 years with the FBI. We will miss him and his contributions, and wish him well."

Paige earned a master's degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Pace University. He also worked for 6{ years as an agent with the Internal Revenue Service in Newark.

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