From History’s “Hunting Hitler” to CBS’ new “Hunted,” Lenny DePaul has pursued people literally dead or alive. And while the former head of the (deep breath) U.S. Marshals Service’s New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force now does his job from a comfy command center on the new manhunt competition, he says your instincts can’t tell the difference between reality show and real life.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a reality show or not — we were hitting on all cylinders just the same, connecting the dots, trying to find these people,” says DePaul, 59, of Lake Grove. “There was tension, there was stress, there was anxiety. We were up against a clock, adrenaline flowing when leads came in.”
There’s less danger with unarmed contestants than with real-life fugitives, of course, but that comes with a trade-off. “With the Marshals Service, you’re trying to get violent predators in custody — but no one says to do it in four days or else!” he quips.
“Hunted,” debuting Sunday after the AFC Championship Game then airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m., follows former military and law-enforcement officers as they track nine two-person teams trying to evade them within a 100,000-square-mile region encompassing South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and parts of Florida. Each team that avoids capture wins $250,000.
On “Hunted,” DePaul is a deputy commander, handling Operations. Theresa Payton, who oversaw IT for President George W. Bush, is his Intelligence counterpart. Working with other specialists, they coordinate with hunters in the field — “downrange,” in parlance.
Two other hunters are also Long Islanders (and partners on the show): Vinny Senzamici of West Babylon, a senior parole officer with the New York State Division of Parole’s Bureau of Special Services and supervisor within the U.S. Marshals New York/New Jersey Regional Task Force; and John Picciano of Kings Park, a retired NYPD detective who was appointed to the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force and deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service.
DePaul and his wife, Ellie, have been in Lake Grove since 1999. Born and raised in Utica, DePaul went to high school in nearby Vernon, and joined the Navy after graduation. “I worked with the ‘gator navy,’ we called it — amphibious assault.”
When DePaul got out, a friend in the Secret Service’s uniformed division — the guys not in suits, who protect the president’s outer perimeter — suggested he join. DePaul did and gradually became a criminal investigator there. Later he became intrigued by the Marshals Service. “I thought, what do the U.S. Marshals do? They ride horses?”
He quickly learned they track fugitives, handle prisoner transport and operate the Witness Security Program. Joining in 1989, he rose to command the regional Fugitive Task Force and was featured in episodes of A&E’s 2008-2011 reality show “Manhunters.”
During DePaul’s time with the Marshals, from which he retired in 2013, he lived in Brooklyn, Queens and Levittown at various points. He has children from his two marriages, but asks that no further details be given. “I’ve locked up a lot of people in my career,” he explains.
And, yes, he’s seen 1993’s “The Fugitive,” which he liked. “Except the difference between Tommy Lee Jones and us is the director can yell, ‘Cut!’ during a shootout!”