A Bright Student, a Quiet Neighbor

White House Suspect's Acquaintances
Tell of Job and Money Troubles

by Eric Lipton and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

Leland William Modjeski drifted in and out of a community college for a decade before settling in at George Mason University, receiving a bachelor's degree with distinction in 1989 and a master's over the next three years.

But two years later, Modjeski was delivering for Pizza Hut. Then he was fired. For the last six months, a neighbor said, the man who allegedly climbed over the White House fence Tuesday night apparently has been unemployed.

Residents of the one-block street in Falls Church where Modjeski has lived fro years with his wife and their blue parakeet say modjeski was quiet and polite. Although his former professors remembered a bright, motivated student who liked jazz, federal investigators said the 37-year-old son of a military family had a history of mental problems.

His wife, Rosemary Modjeski, told federal agents he was depressed over the recent closing of streets around the presidential mansion.

He was born in Italy to Robert L. and Maurine Richardson Modjeski. The young man whose nickname was Lee graduated from Fairfax County's Mount Vernon High School in 1976.

He married Rosemary Decicco five years later and lived with her in Annandale apartment until 1982. Then they bought a new three- bedroom town house on Prince Albert Court in Falls Church for $86,875. Neighbors estimated the current value of the house at $170,000.

From 1976 to 1986, Modjeski enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College's Annandale campus three times, taking classes for six months or a year at a stretch. He entered George Mason as a sophomore in the fall of 1986.

Three years later, Modjeski secured a spot in George Mason's doctoral program by finishing his bachelor's degree with distinction - an honor conferred by the faculty based on grades and professors' recommendations. Faculty members who taught him said he appeared headed toward a solid career, either in academic life or perhaps in a corporation's personnel department.

"He was a great student. One of the best," said Lee Friedman, a former George Mason professor who had Modjeski in a small 1991 seminar titled Techniques of Industrial Organizational Psychology. "He seemed to have all the potential to be a great doctoral student."

But after receiving his master's degree in 1992, Modjeski told his adviser, Associate Professor Louis C. Buffardi, that he was dropping out, in part because of the financial strain of staying in school.

"We did not small-talk very much, but he was not so quiet that he seemed unusual," said Buffardi, who directs the industrial and organizational psychology program that Modjeski attended.

Buffardi and other professors said they didn't hear of Modjeski again until yesterday, when his name was read on radio and television news broadcasts and reportersbegan flooding the Fairfax County campus.

On McNair Drive in Mount Vernon yesterday, a man who identified himself as Robert L. Modjeski told a reporter, "I'm sorry, we're not speaking to anyone." A neighbor, Melody Buckley, said that Robert Modjeski is a retired lieutenant colonel int he Marine Corps and that Leland is his son from a previous marriage.

No one answered the phone yesterday at the Baton Rouge, La., home of his mother, Maurine Richardson Modjeski. Her late father, Edwin Leland Richardson, was a Washington-trained lawyer from a prominent Louisiana family.

At Leland and Rosemary Modjeski's brick-front town house, one of eight on the dead-end block, no one answered the door. The couple's lawn is carefully manicured, with rhododendron bushes and pansies out front and a six-foot-tall wood fence in back.

Neighbor Roy E. Eberhart, 42, said that he often was Leland Modjeski sitting on his fron troop smoking a cigarette but that he knew little about the man.

"We would talk about my garden," Eberhart said. "I gave him some vegetables one summer."

Eberhart and other neighbors said they wondered how the Modjeskis could afford their home and two Honda automobiles. Rosemary Modjeski once ran a day-care operation out of her home, a neighbor said, and she appeared to have had a day job since then.

Leland Modjeski never talked about government or President Clinton, Ebergart said, and did not seem to havemuch interest in the political world. Fairfax voting records show he has been registered to vote in the county since at least 1980 and has boted in every presidential election since then. Virginia voter records do not list party affiliation.

County records show no sign of financial stress or legal troubles. Modjeski, who apparently never served int he military, took out a $24,000 loan last year from the Navy Federal Credit Union, using his town house as collateral.

Modjeski worked for five months last year as a delivery driver for a Pizza Hut inthe 7600 block of Lee Highway. A company spokesman said Modjeski was fired Nov. 11 but refused to say why until after a meeting today be3tween Pizza Hut officials and Secret Service investigators. Workers at the Pizza Hut, in a strip shopping plaza near Merrifield, said they had been told by their bosses not to comment.

No one claimed to know exactly why Modjeski would try to enter the White House grounds. One of his former professors, John Riskind, said a good student's failure to succeed professionally could lead to mental instability.

"That kind of decline in fortune, drop in stature can really be a terrible blow," Riskind said. "When people are going through tremendous stress like that, it can affect their self-esteem and basis for self-worth, which can alter their behavior."

Staff writers Steve Bates, John Fountain and Lan Nguyen and Metro staff resource director Margot Williams contributed to this report.

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