The Washington Weekly
May 12, 1997
Once in Mena itself, you're rewarded, first, with a feeling of being as far away from the rest of the world as, say, Nepal. There's an almost eerie sense of being outside of the ordinary scope of everyday existence, a feeling that must have been felt by the renegades, bandits, moonshiners and civil war irregulars who have called these densely forested hillsides home. When we pull our dusty crew van piled to the top with video gear into the asphalt parking lot outside the Sun Country Motel (the biggest of three in town) its empty of cars. And there's not much traffic on the main drag either. ...
The facts of the Mena story, already much reported in venues from CBS to the Wall Street Journal, have somehow failed to catch the nation's attention. The reason, some analysts feel, is that the playing field on which the Mena story takes place has been incredibly muddied by political operatives of both the left and right, attempting to use the case for partisan advantage. Welch and the other players and eye-witnesses are chary, wary, and, in some cases, downright scared for their lives when microphones begin poking in their faces. And not, according to the story we're about to hear, without good cause. ...
The Train Deaths: Don Henry and Kevin Ives
The Train Deaths, they're called in Arkansas, and our first stop on our 'conspiracy' shoot in Arkansas had been right outside Little Rock, to visit the site of the murders of Kevin Ives and Don Henry, two high school students who were murdered in 1987.
Avenging their deaths has been a cause celebre for local citizens and news people for nine years. Its one of those small town cases where every one in town--except the people with the handcuffs--seem to know who was responsible for the murder of two youths whose presence complicated or compromised a drug and/or money drop. It took place in Saline County, in the bedroom suburbs of Little Rock, in an area where nearby neighbors had often registered complaints to police about low-flying aircraft-- presumably on drug and money drops--that would buzz their homes at night with their lights off.
We had first learned of the story, as one finds out about so many non- establishment-sanctioned things these days, on the World Wide Web. (For a complete telling, check out www.idfiles.com, and, by all means, order the compelling documentary available from the site.) ...
And the story we discovered online, and soon became fascinated with, concerned two high school seniors, Don Henry and Kevin Ives, who were run over in the middle of the night by a Union Pacific train on August 23, 1987. All of the engineers on the train reported that the boys were lying motionless beneath a tarp, bodies laid out identically across the tracks, with almost military precision.
Despite this, the Arkansas State Medical Examiner ruled the deaths accidental. The mother of one of the two boys, Linda Ives, sensed foul play. So did others in the community. Almost immediately suspicions among the local citizenry focused on speculation that the boys' deaths might have resulted from their stumbling upon a drug drop. Just what--in 1987--would have made the local population spring to such a conclusion?
This speculation leaped out at us as being more than slightly curious. "Death by Drug Drop" is not a common cause of death, at least not where we live. And the citizens of Saline County, where the deaths took place, seem anything but a conspiracy-mongering bunch. They live and work in mostly bedroom communities 30 minutes outside the State Capital of Little Rock, with all the anonymity of middle class people everywhere. They go to church. They pay their taxes. They mow their lawns. They sew.
Linda Ives is the mother of one of the slain boys. She graciously allows us to invade her well-kept suburban home with all the detritus--lights, camera, cables, donuts--a video crew brings along.
Today she speaks of the death of her son, and the crusade which has transpired, with a detachment borne of regular retelling of the tragedy. Still, her composure breaks at almost regular intervals, as the import of what she has to say sinks home. At those places her narrative loses its third person feel, and become a simple story of a mother losing a son.
"To be the mother of a boy killed in one of the most vicious and notorious murders in Arkansas was, and is, not something easy," she begins slowly. "When this happened, in August of 1987, I was a teller at a local credit union. The very first thing we heard was that the boys had been shot, and then tied to the train tracks. Then we're being told, no, the coroner is saying the boys consumed massive amounts of marijuana, then fell asleep on the tracks."
The evidence pointing towards murder, and away from accidental death, was almost immediately apparent. "There were suspicions immediately in the community," she continues. "We were hearing things from Kevin's friends, and then from people who'd been at the scene. Everyone was saying that the ruling of 'accidental' death was just ridiculous. We got word from one of the paramedics at the scene that the boys blood wasn't right, that it was dark and tar-like, that it indicated the boys had been dead for some time when the train arrived."
And then there was the matter of the tarp.
"The engineer and crew on the train all said the boys had been under a tarp on the tracks. But the sheriffs office said there had been no tarp, that it had been an optical illusion. They even went so far as to tell us they had conducted tests on the boys clothes, and had found no fibers that would indicate they had been under a tarp."
The deceit began to unravel, said Mrs. Ives, partly owing to the fact that her husband, Larry Ives, has been a Union Pacific engineer for 31 years. He knew the crew that had manned the death train well. "They (the crew) told Larry that they had even taken the sheriffs deputies back to where the tarp had landed," she says grimly. "They pointed it out to them."
"Later we found out that the sheriff's' had done no tests on the boys' clothes; it was just another in a long string of lies."
Thus the political education of a grieving mother began.
"At first we were just very confused, and frustrated with local law enforcement. We discovered that the first deputy on the scene immediately ordered it worked as an accident. When other officers showed up, they argued strongly that it should be treated as a crime scene. They were overruled by higher authorities. So, we learned that it had then been worked as an accident. Learned that the scene was never even roped off, and that the supposedly thorough investigation they told me had been done had left my son's foot in a sneaker lying in plain sight for over two days."
So Linda Ives began a struggle--still ongoing--to bring the boys' killers to justice. For killers there are, or at least appear to be, in this story. And like so many of the monstrous sociopaths that have heavily sprinkled American society for the past thirty years (I'm thinking, now, just of the ones who conveniently kept diaries) these killers are still on the loose. They have never been brought to answer for their crimes, despite seven separate local, state, and federal investigations into the case.
"As a parent, when I would hear about the "drug problem," I thought about local kids," states Mrs. Ives. "You never think the "drug problem" concerns local law enforcement, and public officials. But slowly, over time, that's what I came to believe."
First there were the uncooperative state officials.
"We held a press conference, and laid out everything. The media was very supportive, and that, along with public outrage, helped get the case to a grand jury. But from state officials, we got absolutely no cooperation. We ran into brick walls everywhere."
The stonewalling even included refusals to obey court orders to turn over documents and test results on the part of the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
"The Little Rock Crime Lab defied a court order to supply the things we were requesting in order to have a second autopsy done. So we called the State Attorney General's Office. They said it was illegal for the crime lab to defy our court order, but that they would not intervene in any way. When I asked--given that they wouldn't help enforce the court order--what recourse I had, they said, 'none.' "
But 'murder will out,' as the Bard said. The parents' crusade resulted in a grand jury investigation, which ruled the deaths criminal. The second autopsy, done by a noted Atlanta forensic pathologist, showed that the face of one of the boys had been smashed in before death, and that his cheek still bore the imprint of a rifle butt. The other boy had been stabbed in the back.
All of which the State Medical Examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, had failed somehow to ascertain.
"There have been now a total of seven local, state, and federal investigations into the murders on those train tracks. And over the course of those seven investigations I've learned some amazing things," Linda Ives states.
"We've learned the sheriff's lied about testing for fibers on the boys clothes. We've learned that Don Henry was stabbed, that Kevin's face was crushed with a rifle butt, that the weight of their lungs, filled with blood, was clear proof from the beginning that they didn't die from the impact of that train.
"But the most amazing thing we learned was that Kevin and Don were killed because of a very large drug smuggling operation that involved public officials and public corruption, even in the murders themselves.
"There were witnesses to my son's murder; witnesses who have passed FBI polygraphs, placing government officials on the train tracks with those boys before they were murdered. And this information is also corroborated by other witnesses."
Mrs. Ives' pauses, and we call a halt to shooting. My crew and I sit in stunned silence at what we have been hearing. Linda sees this, and smiles, almost for the first time. When we had arrived, we'd made much of the 'small-town-y' nature of the directions she had given us to her home, directions a little in the old 'Turn left where the old Ben Franklin used to be' school. Now the tables have been turned. Linda looks bemused at our cityboy naiveté.
"Its all true," she states matter-of-factly. "Just ask Jean."
The "Jean" she is referring to is Jean Duffey. Today Jean Duffey is a high school algebra teacher in a suburb of Houston Texas, a handsome woman with short-cropped brown hair, a woman who looks just like the soccer moms we heard so much about before the recent election. But six years ago she was the prosecuting attorney of a federally funded Drug Task Force in Saline County Arkansas, whose undercover agents began to come to her with revelations about the murders of the two boys.
And no soccer mom encounters I'd ever had prepared me for what she told us right at the beginning of our interview.
"The FBI has eyewitnesses to the slayings," she tells us in that matter-of-fact tone affected by those who, for professional reasons, are forced to cultivate as much detachment as they can. "One witness at the scene even passed a polygraph. But still, to this date, nothing has been done. It's been this way from day one, with seven separate investigations, each one stopped."
The initial hue and cry by local citizens and the media, Duffey explains, was directed at the unbelievable verdict of the State Medical Examiner, who ruled the boys' deaths accidental. This forced the second examination we'd heard about from Linda Ives. Remember? The one showing that one boy had been stabbed in the back, while the other's face had been smashed in, bearing the imprint of a rifle butt?
Hearing this stomach-wrenching information related to us on camera for a second time in two days, I had a curious reaction. I felt slightly giddy. There was a disconnect between the events being related, and my reaction. I was tempted to ask: "What could Dr. Malak have been thinking about, that day those boys' lifeless bodies crossed his examining room table? Lunch?"
Later I was to feel that my feelings were not as inappropriate as they appeared at first blush. How can one react in the face of what feels like sheer malignant evil? As I listened further, the threads of--dare I say it?--conspiracy--began to weave tighter, and I began thinking of Dr. Malak not as of someone merely incompetent, but as of someone both incompetent and sinister, sort of a backwoods Joseph Mengele.
"Fahmy Malak was bulletproof in Arkansas; he was completely protected," states Duffey. "And that was true, even in the face of incredible adverse publicity from the media after the second examination showed how clearly ridiculous his ruling of accidental death was. We are way beyond the bounds of incompetence here; we are into criminal intent."
So, I asked, was Dr. Malek an accessory to murder? Ever the prosecutor, Duffey considered her words carefully. "Accessory to murder," she said slowly, "is different from conspiracy to cover up, which is what I believe Dr. Malak was involved in."
But we are getting slightly ahead of ourselves. I ask how Ms. Duffey's Drug Task Force came to be involved in the Train Deaths murder investigation.
"I had hired seven undercover investigators," she explains. "Their job was to make drug buys, and work their way up the ladder to drug suppliers. That's who we were after. But the connections began to lead almost immediately to public officials, who were either protecting the drug trade or actively involved in the drug trade themselves."
"And the person whose name came up most often was also the person who had been the special prosecutor in the initial grand jury investigation into the Train Deaths, a nearly year-long proceeding that did nothing but establish that the cause of death was not accidental, but was indeed homicide."
"His name is Dan Harmon. It became apparent almost immediately that Dan Harmon was a key player in the drug trafficking activity taking place in Saline county."
Duffey pauses, remembering. "About three months after we were up and running, one of my undercover investigators asked if he could open the Trains Deaths case, which was, at that point, two-and-a-half years old, and perhaps Arkansas' most famous unsolved mystery. It had been featured twice on the TV program, and people who were possible witnesses were turning up dead."
"I asked him why he thought that we should get involved. 'Two reasons,' he told me. 'First, because it's drug related. And second, because we can solve it.'
"Why, I asked him, did he think we could solve a crime that other investigations had been unable to? Because, he said, the other investigations were cover-ups. No real investigation had yet been conducted thoroughly and forthrightly."
Duffey's Drug Task Force investigators proceeded to develop startling evidence that had previously been ignored. First, on the drug-related aspect of the crimes.
"One of the first things my investigator did was to interview people living in the vicinity of where Kevin and Don were murdered. He discovered that drug drops had been rumored in that area over the six months before the boys murders, that citizens had filed reports of low-flying aircraft buzzing over in the middle of the night with their lights turned off.
"When a citizen made one of these complaints, an officer would go out and take a report, and then do nothing. No investigation was done. These reports were sitting in the sheriff's office when Kevin and Don were murdered. But the connection between the planes and the deaths was not made."
Duffey allows herself a wry smile "I found it very hard to believe that my undercover officer could see the obvious, while no one else could."
Duffey continues speaking in her prosecutorial monotone, telling how a confessed drug dealer had testified that she had, as part of her participation in an "officially" sanctioned drug ring, picked up cocaine that had been 'dropped' on the train tracks in the same vicinity.
Apparently, cocaine was raining from the darkened night skies over Arkansas.
"The system kept me from prosecuting," she continues. "Our Drug Task Force was actually doomed from the beginning. On the very day I was appointed to head the drug task force, Gary Arnold, my boss, walked into my office, stared at me hard, and instructed me not to use the Drug Task Force to investigate any public officials."
There was a massive cover-up, Duffey states in an even tone. "My drug task force was shut down cold. Because we were getting too close. We were not allowed to get there."
What happened next? "I got smeared," says Duffey. "There was a massive smear campaign against me, led by Dan Harmon, who fed misleading and untrue information to the local papers."
So Jean Duffey's career began to follow a familiar trajectory, one often seen in those who refuse to look the other way. Doug Thompson, a local reporter on the main Little Rock paper, the Arkansas Democrat, led a campaign against her, while being fed information by the man who would later became the focal point of suspicions.
And, at that point, Duffey says, she realized she could do no more, and took the case to the US Attorney.
And the smear campaign? The one that ran courageous and crusading prosecuting attorney Jean Duffey right out of state? What about it?
Duffey almost smiles. "Today I realize, after working with the FBI for eighteen months beginning in March of 1995, what the basis was for Dan Harmon's viciousness. I now know that Dan Harmon was on the tracks with the boys the night that they were murdered."
This was the point during the shooting of this story at which I began to feel like the Greek Chorus at an outdoor play. I was thinking of a writer from the heartland of America. I was thinking of Kurt Vonnegut, who gave us a refrain so constantly-repeated that it seemed to have become a mantra in the 60's. 'So it goes,' his characters would say. 'So it goes.'
But I started this tale in Mena, and the alert reader may be forgiven for asking, how does Mena connect with two unfortunate murders which, let's grant for the sake of argument, may well have been committed in the course of drug smuggling activities in Arkansas, and may well have involved corrupt officials?
- What does Mena have to do with the Train Deaths, events that occurred half a state away?
Well, this, for starters: if the drug smuggling in Mena, Arkansas was widespread and pervasive, it would still just be the tip of the iceberg, albeit a very big tip. What Russell Welch, acknowledged as the expert in Arkansas drug smuggling, even by his drug-smuggling foes in those times, such as Barry Seal's brother-in-law Bill Bottoms, (who has lately discovered a highly vocal mission to portray Mena as a myth) could tell us, was simple: was Mena an anomaly, an isolated incidence in an isolated place?
Or did what happened there bespeak a larger corruption of the Arkansas bodily public in those heady years of the 80's, years before the American public at large began to wonder whether the drug policy of its government was Just Say NO...or Just Fly Low.
After all, cocaine had never been known to rain from the skies anywhere I lived during the 80's. And I lived in Los Angeles.
We were on a journey, we now realized, to see the Wizard. But we had two brief stops first.
Our first stop was to visit with the reporter whose fingerprints are all over the case, Doug Thompson of the Arkansas Democrat, the state's main paper, since it bought its competition. It's located in a handsome gray stone building near the heart of Little Rock.
Thompson seemed happy to see us, and agreed to talk, but not on-camera. "Of all the TV people who have been down here to cover Mena," he told me. "You're the first one to stop by to see me. And my name's on all the clips."
Indeed it was. Thompson is a burly affable man, easy to like. He had covered the Train Deaths through most of its permutations, over almost a seven year span. But his easy manner seemed at odds with what Jean Duffey had told us about him, that she had been hounded out of state at least partly by his coverage of her. We asked about his role.
"Driving that woman out of state is the thing I'm proudest about in my years at this paper," he stated. "Did you know, while she ran the task force, her 18-year old daughter used her mother's position to obtain a drivers' license stating she was 21?"
I did my best to look shocked. Shocked! And I was. As soon as he retailed this innocuous-enough but still faintly scurrilous piece of information, I became uneasily aware of being in the presence of someone who might not turn out to be a disinterested information broker to the out-of-state truth-seeker.
An 18-year old girl procuring fake ID did not seem like a capital crime to me. Maybe it is to you. But it did strike me as just the sort of thing someone attempting to prove a point might dredge up. Suddenly it seemed an agenda had reared its ugly head.
"She's crazy, Jean is," he continues. "Jean Duffey and Dan Harmon are both crazy, they both belong in a lunatic asylum, just in separate wings."
Ah-Hah! The plague-on-both-your-houses defense. We smiled. Doug smiled. Later, when we did stand-up on our story, on the sidewalk just outside the paper's offices, security guards stood uneasily just inside the main door.
That left just one stone left unturned. Billy Bob "Bear" Bottoms is a genuine Louisiana piece of work, as anyone with two nicknames can be safely assumed to be. He is also the former brother-in-law of Barry Seal, and one of his drug pilots during the 80's, as well as a former US Navy pilot.
Lately Bob Bottoms seems to have discovered a new vocation: destroyer of what he calls the "Mena Myth," first in a Penthouse article, widely quoted by debunkers of the San Jose Mercury News "Dark Alliance" series on the CIA, the Contras, and Cocaine. And then he has surfaced suddenly to become a highly visible presence at those meeting grounds on the Internet where topics like these are bandied about, inspiring heated discussion in forums and information lists like CIA/Drugs and alt.current.events.clinton.whitewater (Yes, there really is such a 'place.' Isn't cyberspace grand?)
The clear consensus about Bottoms was that he was, at some third party's behest, supplying disinformation to lead investigators seeking an intelligence agency hand in drug smuggling in Arkansas off the scent. He admitted smuggling massive amounts of drugs (and had the newspaper clippings to prove it). And he also admitted to working for the DEA for six years (more clippings). What he didn't admit was to ever having gotten caught smuggling drugs, a fact which normally precedes contrition in drug smugglers. On this point most knowledgeable observers see a hole in the bottom of Mr. Bottoms curriculum vitae.
We were also warned about the dangers of meeting with him. A dispatch reached us alleging that Bottoms has been known to plant drugs on innocent people and then turn them in.
So when we arrived for our meeting, at a hotel in Baton Rouge, we eyed him a bit nervously. But he has a disarming smile, and intelligent blue eyes to go with a brown bomber jacket, jeans and a heavily-weathered if handsome face.
The thrust of Bottoms' argument is that Mena was a small airfield from which a small drug operation took place over a small period of time during the 1980's. Period. During our conversation over breakfast, we took no notes, but gauged, as best we could, the man.
And to our chagrin, we found we liked him. He seemed more a swashbuckling type than the kind of sleazeball we've all seen in movies like "Scarface."
He made much of the fact that several of the principals in the Mena story, including, most notably, Terry Reed, were liars, people for whom he shared, along with Russell Welch, a fine contempt. He had even posted to the Internet his correspondence with Welch, from which one could glean a wary mutual respect.
I took two things from our inconclusive encounter. First I realized what true 'babes in the woods' most of us would-be truth-detectors must appear to people schooled in the arts of dissemination, as Bottoms has been. And, second, I wanted, despite the chill temperature, to crawl under our crew van to check for packages that weren't there before.
Russell Welch arrived unannounced and without ceremony at our motel in Mena. He looked every inch the undercover investigator he no longer is: alert green eyes, slightly slouched, nondescript clothing. The man seems born to skulk.
What he agreed to do with us was this: go to dinner, but not eat dinner, at a local place called the Cutting Board, which served hamburgers the size of small flying saucers. Or of small fedoras, if you're one of the few who has not yet seen (or been aboard) a saucer. He would talk to us, he said, but not with cameras present.
At this point, perhaps a word or two about Russell Welch for those of you tuning in late might be in order. Although hundreds of thousands of words have already been written about him, his story is not yet a well-known one.
Trooper Russell Welch of the Arkansas State Police was assigned to investigate drug smuggler Barry Seal in the early '80's. Seal had made the small Interregional Mountain Airport in Mena his home field. Thinking this not an entirely peachy idea, the State Police put Welch on the case.
Seal had been in Special Forces in the 60's. In 1972, as a TWA pilot, he had been arrested for smuggling explosives for anti-Castro Cubans. Seal's C-123K cargo plane, "The Fat Lady," was procured by Seal from Air America, the known CIA subsidiary.
After Seal 'sold' the plane, it crashed in 1986, with Eugene Hasenfus on board. This marked the first public exposure of Oliver North's secret contra war, set up in contravention of a Congressional Act, the Boland Amendment, which made such activity illegal.
There has been much talk about interference in Welch's investigation, and about prosecutions which were subverted. Welch himself has been quoted to this effect. He had his career ruined by his seemingly quixotic quest to bring drug smuggling to a halt at the Mena airport. He is either a pitiful Dudley Do-Right, or an American hero of the first order.
After spending the briefest possible amount of time with him, I'm clear about where I come down on that question. I'd name my kid after him, had I one to name.
From this brief outline, several things should be clear to any meathead with the slightest hint of gray matter beneath his cap. A secret government operation was run out of this remotest possible outpost of the Empire. A "Bamboozle in the Boondocks." Some of it involved drugs.
And nobody bothered to let Trooper Welch in on the joke.
The punch line was not too funny for Russell Welch. He 'contracted' anthrax, the military warfare biological agent variety. His doctor told him someone had sprayed it in his face. Then an FBI agent was about to arrest him for illegal wiretapping, but a local sheriff dissuaded him, on the grounds that Welsh had been in the hospital dying of anthrax at the time. (If you're not Welch, some of this seems funny.)
Finally, Welsh retired from the Arkansas State Police. Alive. But not through lack of trying.
Today Welch is an understandably wary man. At dinner he outlined for us the way things went at Mena.
"The whole method of smuggling was an excellent system that Seal's men had been carefully instructed in. Flying back, they would 'kick drugs' at a previously unknown spot. After the drugs were 'kicked,' the coordinates of the spot were given to a ground or a helicopter crew and they would then go to a remote area and pick them up. Then the planes would land back in Mena, and they would be clean."
Welch pointedly mentions that Barry Seal was neither the first nor the last drug smuggler to call Mena home. We coaxed him, "So you're saying there were smugglers here before..."
"Sure. Oh yeah. Before Seal and after Seal. And I assume there are smugglers here right now."
Be still my beating heart... This is the first reference I've heard to current drug smuggling out of Mena, Arkansas. Russell grins. He's got a good sense of humor. "Its legal here."
He goes on to relate a story about a local radio station with a Howard Stern wanna-be who had announced one morning that the big news that day was that the local prosecuting attorney had legalized cocaine out at Mena airport. You could tell Welsh was trying to be funny, but his heart wasn't in it.
"Did it come as a surprise to you," we asked him, "when the CIA finally admitted that they had conducted training at Mena?"
"That was something you knew?"
"Yeah, that was commonplace. But long long ago."
"Are they telling everything?"
"No they're not," Welsh answers slowly. "They just mentioned this one two-week operation they had here, which I suspect was testing of an airplane. They had some top-secret spy plane out there, and the deputies caught them, and everyone at the airport knew what was going on, word got around, and so they eventually went to the local sheriff and gave him one of those little coins that they give to people who discover them."
Here's news! Coins! Ferret out a black op somewhere, and you'll get a commemorative medallion.
"When the deputies drove up on them at the airport one of them swept the area with his flashlight and saw people standing around wearing those labsuits that look like spacesuits. It caused a bit of fear."
Welsh is grinning again. "Part of that operation's still here."
But that's it. Nothing more is clearly forthcoming. We change our tack. "The FBI tried to frame you for an illegal wiretap?"
"Yeah. Fortunately I was in the hospital dying at the time and muffed their case up a bit."
"You were dying of anthrax, correct?"
"Yeah. That's what I was diagnosed and treated for."
"How did you find that out?
Welsh doesn't grin this time. "Doctor says, 'you're dying,' or words to that effect..."
We ask him about Bill Bottoms, and get another taste of reality, covert-style.
"Old Billy Bottoms is a liar. But Billy tells a lot of truth. Billy Bottoms is who he says he is."
Ah. The art of disinformation.
"One of the biggest things Billy Bob is doing wrong is not saying in posts that he's limited, that he doesn't know everything. This operation with Barry Seal isn't the limit of what took place here. Barry Seal was very limited. Barry is a cocaine smuggler, he got busted, he rolled over, he got burned and then he got killed. Barry Seal wasn't in charge of nuthin.'
"From 1984 on, Barry Seal is trying to stay out of prison. Struggling to keep his importance, struggling with Billy Bottoms' buddy Jake Jacobson that he (Bottoms) stayed with after Seal was dead, begging him for something to keep him important. Something that will keep him important in the DEA's eyes, and then they dumped him in July of '84, and that's when he really started struggling--he's trying to help them find Pablo Escobar.
"And when Duncan and I interviewed him in December of '85, he was a scared desperate man. He wasn't in charge of nothing. He is trying to stay alive. He knew a contract was out on him then. He talked about it. He's trying to stay out of prison. And he's scared to death of Arkansas. Because he wasn't protected; he was protected everywhere, except at the state level in Arkansas."
"Was that because of you?"
"Because of me. He talks about it in the transcription of my and Duncan's interview with him. It was almost a defeatist attitude. Like, I'm a dead man anyway. And two months later, he was a dead man."
Welsh was passionate now, and he went on to talk about the numerous congressional subcommittees, "every subcommittee that's been through here--four or five of them--are independent hotshot investigations to expose everything--and all they end up exposing is witnesses."
He mentioned the name of one, relating how she had been exposed to peril after being assured of something he referred to as "a congressional umbrella." He snorted derisively. "I'm not sure that there is such a thing. They dumped her, they forgot about her, but she was exposed for what she did."
Welch stands angrily. We're uncertain what comes next. Its getting late. Maybe we've had our interview. "C'mon," Welch says. "I'll give you a tour of the airport."
We have no tape recording of what follows, so paraphrases are inexact. Even if we had been carrying a recorder, Welch pulled the old trick of cranking the radio up in his car as he drove us around the outside of the Interregional Mountain Airport.
But we caught, clearly, the gist of what he had to say. Mena is not about just things that went on in the early 80's. Mena is about things that are going on right now.
"See that hangar?" he would say, pointing out this, or that building looming in the darkness. "That's owned by..." And then there would be an anecdote.
"That's owned by ______, who today owns almost half the airport," he said at one stop on our tour. "He doesn't exist in history back past a safe house in Baltimore in 1972."
Or: "That hangar's owned by ____ ___ . He smuggled heroin through Laos back in the Seventies."
Or: "That hangar's owned by a guy who just went bankrupt. So what's he do? Flies to Europe for more money. Don't tell me crime don't pay!"
He shows us a half dozen lumbering Fokker aircraft parked on an apron. "The DEA's been tracking those planes back and forth to Colombia for a while now."
It goes on like this for a while. At the end, he seems spent, but satisfied. He looks over across the car seat at me. "You know how many nights I spent out here in the dark, watching planes take off and land?" he asks softly.
Then he tells me one of his secrets. He illustrates by getting out of the car, and walking over to a parked plane. As he exits, I notice a revolver lying on the drivers' seat he's just vacated. It seems that one of Trooper Welch's few pleasures, back in those days when he was attempting to bring drug smugglers to heel, was, when the call of nature overcame him on his lonely night vigils, to relieve himself on the side of a plane that flew drugs in and out of American airspace with impunity.
It seems a perfect gesture. They may get you in the end, but, fuck it--piss on 'em. A rebel gesture, purely American. As American as--well, lets save that for the big close. Trooper Welch's eyes grow solemn, even in the dark.
"I could tell you what's going on, but when you leave here, I'm still here with my family. And just the fact that you're going to do a television show, that may not even mention me or anything you got from me...just the fact that you're going to do it is gonna cause me a bunch of shit. It always has, and it always will. Its gonna cause me problems that you can't even define."
We had made our pilgrimage to Mena. And we felt duly chastened by what we think we learned. But the tale we set out to tell, after all, was a little story that should belong to its two main protagonists, Linda Ives and Jean Duffey.
Linda Ives, mother of one of the slain boys, has made a crusade out of finding his killers and bringing them to justice. She thinks she's fulfilled the first of those two objectives. Its the second one she wonders about.
"This is not just a case of local corruption," she says with quiet determination. "We knew that early on because the state police just weren't doing their job. Then there were Federal investigations, and we were promised indictments would come out of them. But they were shut down too.
"Who has the power to shut down a federal investigation?" she demanded.
"We too had heard about Barry Seal's operation dropping drugs and cash around the state. We made contact with a pilot who claimed to have many times flown the drop at the place where my son died. Local law enforcement was in charge of securing those drops, he told us.
"And just prior to Kevin and Don's deaths a drop at that location had gone missing...so local law enforcement was on Red Alert. They were waiting for somebody to try to steal their next drop. And Kevin and Don happened by. Several witnesses place two police officers beating up two boys at a little grocery store right by where they found the boys' bodies...
"I believe that Kevin and Don were grabbed by these two officers, interrogated, and subsequently killed."
"These two officers, whom I believe to be Kirk Lane and Jay Campbell, are Pulaski County narcotics officers. They are good friends with (former Clinton friend and convicted drug distributor) Dan Lasater, and have flown in his jet many times.
"I believe the reason these investigations have gone nowhere is because of the connections of the two officers seen beating and kicking those boys, Kirk Lane and Jay Campbell, to Dan Lasater, and on up to Bill Clinton, and I also believe these connections filter down to the criminals and thugs that are public officials to this day here in Saline county.
"I believe that the evidence is overwhelming that Bill Clinton knew what was going on in Mena, Arkansas and made no effort to investigate or eradicate it."
In a more measured but no less impassioned way Jean Duffey largely concurs.
"Did you ever in your wildest dreams while you were in law school," we asked her, "entertain the idea that the U.S. Government condoned smuggling drugs?"
"No," she responds. " I did not."
"Who is responsible, ultimately, for those boys' deaths? Where did the chain of command end?"
She hesitates. "In my opinion, I believe it began with the CIA smuggling drugs, so whoever was giving the command might be who is ultimately responsible."
"Is there any explanation you can think of for seven thwarted investigations into the Train Deaths other than government complicity in drug smuggling in Arkansas?"
"Absolutely no other explanation."
"Was Barry Seal a big enough drug smuggler to conduct a drug smuggling operation that involved drug drops near those train tracks with the regularity to provoke citizen complaints about low flying aircraft?"
"But you clearly believe the people responsible for those two boys' deaths were working for someone else?"
"And that they were involved in a criminal enterprise of surprising scope and sweep?"
"Where does that lead you to speculate?"
"As a prosecuting attorney I had to stick to the facts. But prior to getting to a jury I'm allowed to speculate, and process all the information I have from whatever direction it comes. What in my opinion has been involved is a CIA or rogue CIA operation, conducted by the CIA or CIA operatives. To smuggle drugs into the United States from South America, using Barry Seal's drug smuggling operation in Mena."
Duffey stopped a moment, surprised, I believe, at the thoughts she was voicing. Then she continued. "I believe there is a possibility that Oliver North was involved with the National Security Council; that Oliver North was working for...."
A noise startled her. She stopped. I called for the cameraman, in some exasperation, to stop tape. Jean looked at me, and although we had been having a conversation for over an hour now, it was as if she saw me for the first time.
"I have not talked about this before," she protested.
"But everyone else has," I answered.
"I'm not the one to answer questions about Oliver North smuggling drugs in the Iran/Contra affair," she stated tentatively.
Then, I witnessed something that felt extraordinary. I watched as she let herself go... Her voice grew stronger as she continued: "Again, sticking to the facts, I know that when North was before Congress in the Congressional Hearings about the Iran/Contra affair, two questions came up about Mena, Arkansas. And both times, the investigation went into closed door session...
"Now, if Oliver North had not been involved in Mena, wouldn't he have simply said, 'No, I don't know anything about Mena?"
"Why did the committee go behind closed doors? That's a fact that can't be ignored."
"This is an opinion now I'm asking for," I told her. "If Oliver North, or someone on Oliver North's level, had not been involved in Mena, there would not have been a Mena, would there?"
"That's a reasonable assumption that I would have to agree with."
"And if there had been no Mena, there would have been no train track deaths either, would there?"
She blinked. I wasn't sure if she knew where I was leading with these questions, but she sensed it was somewhere she wanted to think very closely about first.
"That's not as clear cut," she said slowly. "There could still have been the murders."
"Let me try it this way," I said. "Was even a powerful drug smuggler like Barry Seal big enough to have conducted a drug smuggling operation with the regularity to provoke citizen complaints about low flying aircraft?"
"Probably not. And in fact, it wasn't until the time frame after Oliver North got involved in Mena that there was so much drug activity, low flying planes, over those train tracks."
I took a deep breath. "So, does it seem at all possible to you, that if Oliver North had not been charged with flying guns to the contras and bringing back cocaine that could be then sold to finance the contra war,that those two boys might still be alive today?"
There was a long silence. Then, almost in a whisper, she replied. "It seems apparent that they would be."
So, we'd stared into the Heart of Darkness. The Heart of Darkness had stared right back.
Allegations and speculation are not proof. The truth, indeed, is still out there.
But, for what little they're worth, here are my speculations about our journey into the secret history of our life and times.
I don't believe that the 'drug smuggler' Billy Bob Bottoms is any more a drug smuggler than you or I. I believe him to be a paid representative of the government of the United States of America acting under the doctrines of plausible deniability. Why? Just a hunch. I liked him too much. He was a Navy pilot. His brother in law Barry Seal was a Special Op guy. These were our best and our bravest men.
Here's what I would like to know. Who convinced men like Bear Bottoms that what they were doing was in the best interests of our country? What valid reasons might there be for our country's national security apparatus to be involved in the drug industry? Unless someone steps forward to make the argument for why this might be in our national interest, I'll wonder.
And here's what I've learned. Some things we'll never know for sure. The opposition's way too good for that. For example, I'm convinced, to the depths of my heart, that there was a coup d'etat in the United States of America in 1963. That the bad guys never got caught. And that, chances are, they still run things.
I will never, as long as I live, forget our 'Midnight ride to Mena,' seated beside tour guide and American hero Russell Welch. I'm convinced that what I saw there that night was a fully functional and operational secret government installation.
By that, I do not mean a secret installation of the government of the United States of America. Unh-uh. What I believe I saw, and what I believe exists in Mena, Arkansas today... is an installation of the secret government that runs the government of the United States of America.
And here's what I suspect: that today, long after Oliver North has become nothing but a minor league radio DJ... and long after the contra war is just a fading memory of yet another minor league war, our government--yours and mine--is going about the lucrative worldwide business of drug production and distribution.
It's the secret heartbeat of America. And it's as American as apple pie.
[Daniel Hopsicker has now finished the TV documentary mentioned in this story, as well as a book. A tape of the documentary as well as a pre-publication version of the book are available through the Washington Weekly web site at http://www.federal.com.]
Published in the May 12, 1997 Issue of The Washington Weekly. Non-commercial reposting permitted with this message intact.
New York Times
February 23, 1997
The [Clinton death] lists make sad reading, and ridiculous reading, but not entirely -- and here one can glimpse how a legitimate question gets spun into a conspiracy. Notable on all the lists are ''the boys on the tracks.'' This is the case of two small-town teen-agers in Saline County, just outside Little Rock, who were killed late one night in August 1987. They were clubbed and stabbed and their unconscious bodies were laid on the railroad tracks to be mutilated by a train. Their murders have never been solved. One theory given a lot of credence by those who have looked into the case is that ''the boys on the tracks'' had wandered in on a drug drop.
The medical examiner under Governor Clinton, Fahmy Malak, did a terrible disservice in the matter. He said that the boys' deaths were accidental, that they lay down on the tracks in a marijuana stupor. It took years for the families to undo this ruling.
Clinton's own connection to the murders in Saline County is plainly indirect. But he did stand by Malak, even as The Arkansas Democrat and a group of enraged citizens called for his dismissal. (Malak left the job for a state health department position in 1991.) Linda Ives, the mother of one of the boys, says: ''My agenda is not Bill Clinton. The only goal I have is arrest and conviction in my son's case.''
Parks, who is 26, says he has been in Clinton's company three or four times. ''He's a fun guy to hang out with, a real person,'' he says. One of the strangest things about Arkansas is just how many people in the small, poor state have led a life, or part of one, that brushed against Clinton's or was brushed by it.
''Till I was 19, I lived in the right place, I knew the right people, I got invited to the right parties, I dated the right girls,'' Parks said. ''I grew up with all the people in the state that had all the money. But that was the good-old-boy system. I would compare Arkansas politics to Chicago politics in the 30's.'' ...
Parks cooperated with the makers of a Clinton-bashing mail-order video [The Clinton Chronicles]. ''I feel that Bill Clinton had my father killed,'' Parks says on the tape, offering no evidence. Parks now feels he got carried away: ''I'm the first to admit some of the things I said on the video were wrong. I'd just come out of my trance. I don't think my head was completely back on straight.''
Even so, he continues to believe that politics was behind the killing and that the authorities don't care.
Binder felt invaded and manipulated [by The Clinton Chronicles producers Pat Matrisciana and Larry Nichols. ''The political system here is crooked, and nothing would have pleased me more than to call it a Clinton conspiracy, but you can't look at the facts emotionally,'' Binder told me.
THE ORAL DEPOSITION OF WILLIAM C. DUNCAN, a witness produced at the request of the Attorney General's Office, taken in the above styled and numbered cause on the 21st day of June, 1991, before Jeff Bennett, C.C.R., Certificate ~19, of BUSHMAN COURT REPORTING, INC., Notary Public in and for White County, Arkansas at the Office of the Attorney General, 323 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas at 11:40 p.m.
the witness hereinbefore named, having been previously cautioned and sworn, or affirmed, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth testified as follows:
2 BY MR. ALEXANDER:
3 Q. Would you state your name, age, and address, please?
4 A. William C. Duncan, age forty-four, 513 Pine Bluff Street,
5 Malvern, Arkansas.
6 Q. Mr. Duncan, briefly would you tell us your educational
7 background, for the benefit of those who might read your
9 A. I graduated from the University of Arkansas at
10 Fayetteville, December 1983, BS/BA marketing.
11 Q. And what was your first- job that you received after having
12 graduated from college?
13 A. Special agent with the U.S. Treasury Department,
14 Intelligence Division.
15 Q. Did you receive any special training with the Treasury
17 A. Yes, I did. A variety of Criminal Investigation Division
18 training and Internal Revenue Service training.
19 Q. You were a criminal investigator for the U.S. Treasury
21 A. Yes, perpetually from December of '73 through June 16,
23 Q. And as a criminal investigator for the Treasury Department,
24 did you have occasion to investigate matters surrounding
25 activities in Mena, Arkansas?
1 A. Yes, I did.
2 Q. And were you assigned to Arkansas for that purpose?
3 A. I was already stationed in Arkansas at the Fayetteville,
4 Arkansas post of duty when I became involved in those
6 Q. Would you describe the nature of your instructions and the
7 manner in which you carried out those instructions as they
8 relate to activities surrounding the Mena Airport matter?
9 A. I was assigned to investigate allegations of money
10 laundering in connection with the Barry Seal organization, which
11 was based at the Mena, Arkansas airport.
12 Q. And can you -- how long a duration were you involved in
13 this investigation?
14 A. I received the first information about Mena and illegal
15 activities at the Mena Airport in April of 1983, in a meeting in
16 the U.S. Attorney's Office, Fort Smith, Arkansas. Asa
17 Hutchinson was the U.S. Attorney then. Also present at that
18 meeting was Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Jim Stepp,
20 Q. Did you discover what you believed to be money laundering?
21 A. Yes, I did.
22 Q. Who was the object of your investigation, and what
24 A. Rich Mountain Aviation, Incorporated based at the Mena
25 Airport. Barry Seal was not actually a target. We had targeted
1 the employees and cohorts of his which operated out of the Mena
2 Airport, including Freddie Lee Hampton, Joe Evans, Rudy Dale
3 Furr, and there was a banker that was also involved in
4 allegations of the money laundering, his name was Gary Gardner,
5 vice-president at Union Bank of Mena.
6 Q. Now, all these persons that you mentioned, were they
7 residents in and around Mena, Arkansas?
8 A. Yes, they were.
9 Q. What did you do with the evidence of money laundering that
10 you gathered from your investigation?
11 A. Presented it to the United States Attorney's Office,
12 Western Judicial District, Fort Smith, Arkansas.
13 Q. And what were your recommendations to the U.S. Attorney?
14 A. That those individuals and corporation -- the corporation
15 be prosecuted for violations of the money laundering statutes,
16 also there were some perjury recommendations and some conspiracy
18 Q. Did you present to the U. S. Attorney a list of prospective
19 witnesses to be called?
20 A. Yes, I did.
21 Q. For a grand jury?
22 A. Yes.
23 Q. And do you have the names of those witnesses?
24 A. There were a variety of witnesses. There were some 20
25 witnesses. He called three witnesses. The witnesses including
1 -- included the law enforcement personnel who had participated
2 in the investigations, Barry Seal, members of his organization,
3 people who were involved in the money laundering, and various
4 financial institution officers who had knowledge.
5 Q. Mr. Duncan, the money laundering to which you refer, did
6 that arise out of an alleged drug trafficking operation managed
7 from the Mena, Arkansas airport?
8 A. It did.
9 Q. And it has been alleged that the Central Intelligence
10 Agency had some role in that operation. Is that the same
11 operation that you investigated?
12 A. Yes.
13 Q. And when you submitted the witnesses, the names of the
14 prospective witnesses to the U. S. Attorney in Arkansas, are you
15 referring to Mr. -- what was the name of the U. S. Attorney?
16 A. Asa Hutchinson.
17 Q. Asa Hutchinson. And what was his reaction to your
19 A. It had been my experience, from my history of working with
20 Mr. Hutchinson, that all I had to do is ask for subpoenas for
21 any witness and he would provide the subpoenas and subpoena them
22 to a grand jury. His reaction in this case was to subpoena only
23 three of the 20 to the grand jury.
24 Q. Now, of the three witnesses, who were -- what was the
25 nature of the evidence that would have been elicited from those
2 A. Direct evidence in the money laundering.
3 Q. And did those witnesses testify for the grand jury?
4 A. Yes, they did.
5 Q. Were you present at the time of the grand jury?
6 A. No, I was not.
7 Q. You were not?
8 A. I was in the witness room, but I was not in the grand jury.
9 Q. I see. What was the result of the testimony given by the
10 three witnesses to the grand jury?
11 A. As two of the witnesses exited, one was a secretary who had
12 received instructions from Hampton, Evans, and I think on some
13 occasions had discussed with Barry Seal, the methodology. She
14 was furious when she exited the grand jury, was very upset,
15 indicated to me that she had not been allowed to furnish her
16evidence to the grand jury.
17 Q. Which witness was this?
18 A. Kathy Corrigan Gann.
19 Q. Kathy Corrigan Gann. Do you know her address?
20 A. She is in Mena, Arkansas.
21 Q. Mena, Arkansas. Now, she was a witness?
22 A. She was the secretary for Rich Mountain Aviation, who
23 participated in the money laundering operation upon the
24 instructions of Hampton, Evans.
25 Q. You talked to her about her evidence given to the grand
2 A. Yes. I had taken two sworn statements, recorded sworn
3 statements prior to the grand jury, and those transcripts were
4 furnished to the U. S. Attorney.
5 Q. And what did she say about the evidence that she was
6 allowed to give the grand jury as it might have been different
7 from the evidence that you wanted her to give to the grand jury?
8 A. She basically said that "she was allowed to give her name,
9 address, position, and not much else.
10 Q. Mr. Duncan, are you saying that the prospective witness was
11 not permitted in your judgment to give evidence of the money
12 laundering to the grand jury?
13 A. That's what this witmess told me.
14 Q. And there were two other witnesses, I believe you made
15 reference to, did you talk with them?
16 A. I talked to another one, his name was Jim Nugent, who was a
17 vice-president at Union Bank of Mena, who had conducted a search
18 of their records and provided a significant amount of evidence
19 relating to the money laundering transactions. He was also
20 furious that he was not allowed to provide the evidence that he
21 wanted to provide to the grand jury.
22 Q. And was there a third witness?
23 A. There was a third witness, I don't recall her name
24 off-hand. She was an officer at one of the financial
25 institutions in Mena, and she did not complain to me.
1 Q. She did not complain?
2 A. No.
3 Q. What was the result of the grand jury inquiry into the
4 money laundering investigation which you had conducted?
5 A. There were never any money laundering indictments.
6 Q. There was no indictment?
7 A. No.
8 Q. Did you have occasion to talk to any of the jurors that
9 were impaneled on the grand jury that heard the evidence?
10 A. At a later date, I came in contact with the deputy foreman
11 of the grand jury, who had previously given testimony to an
12 investigator for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime,
13 concerning her frustrations as the deputy foreman of the grand
15 Q. Do you remember her name?
16 A. P. J. Pitts.
17 Q. Do you know her address?
18 A. She's in Mena. I don't have her current address.
19 Q. And could you relate to us any other conversation you might
20 have had with her concerning her appearance before the grand
22 A. Well, she was perpetually involved in the grand jury as it
23 heard evidence concerning the Barry Seal matter, and she related
24 to me the frustrations of herself and the entire grand jury
25 because they were not allowed to hear of money laundering
2 Q. Do you recall any statements that she made to you
3 concerning that grand jury, her service on the grand jury?
4 A. .She stated to me that they specifically asked to hear the
5 money laundering evidence, specifically asked that I be
6subpoenaed, and they were not allowed to have me subpoenaed.
7 Q. What was her reaction to the unavailability of you as a
9 A. She said the whole grand jury was frustrated. She
10 indicated that Mr. Fitzhugh, who at that time was the U. S.
11 Attorney, explained to them that I was in Washington at the time
12 and unavailable as a witness, which was not the truth.
13 Q. Mr. Duncan, are you saying that the grand jury that was
14 impaneled to hear your investigation, hear evidence of the
15 investigation that you had conducted for the U.S. Treasury as a
16 special investigator, was compromised?
17 A. The evidence was never presented to the grand jury. The
18 evidence gathered during that investigation was never presented
19 to the grand jury.
20 Q. What was your reaction to the failure of the grand jury to
21 receive the evidence?
22 A. Well, I was frustrated for a long period of time because I
23 expected to be called and expected to summarize the evidence
24 over several years there that we gathered with respect to the
25 money laundering to the grand jury.
1 Q. There were no indictments?
2 A. Never any indictments.
3 Q. There were no prosecutions?
4 A. None.
5 Q. In effect, the evidence that you gathered has not been
6 acted on by the U. S. Attorney's Office?
7 A. Not to my knowledge.
8 Q. Did you complain to your superior?
9 A. Yes.
10 Q.What was his name?
11 A. Paul Whitmore, Chief of Criminal Investigation. I also
12 complained to my group managers, Tim Lee, Charles Huckaby and
13 Max Gray.
14 Q. And what did they -- what was their response?
15 A. They were very frustrated, also. Mr. Whitmore, in fact,
16 made several trips to Fort Smith, Arkansas to complain to the
17 U. S. Attorney's Office.
18 Q. Did he relate to you the conversation he had had with the
19 U. S. Attorney?
20 A. On several occasions, and also related to me that the U.S.
21 Attorney wrote him a letter telling him not to come to his
22 office anymore complaining, that that was unprofessional
24 Q. What was the conclusion of Mr. Whitmore concerning your
25 investigation and the manner in which it was handled by the U. S.
1 Attorney in Arkansas?
2 A. That there was a coverup.
3 Q. Are you saying -- do you agree with his-with Mr.
4 Whitmore's conclusion?
5 A. Absolutely.
6 Q. Are you stating now under oath that you believe that the
7 investigation in and around the Mena Airport of money laundering
8 was covered up by the U. S. Attorney in Arkansas?
9 A. It was covered up,
10 Q. Would you state that succinctly for the record in your own
11 words, so that we might -- to have the benefit of how you would
12 state your opinion and conclusions as a result of your
13 activities as a special investigator -- as to this
15 A. I was involved from April of 1983, really to this date, in
16 gathering information, gathering evidence, until 1987-1988. I,
17 on a perpetual basis, furnished all the evidence, all the
18 information to the U. S. Attorney's Office. In January of 1986,
19 a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney from Miami, I believe, who was
20 a money laundering specialist, came to Fort Smith, met with then
21 U. S. Attorney Fitzhugh and myself and drafted a series of
22 indictments. I think there were 29 indictments, charging the
23 aforementioned individuals and Barry Seal, as I recall, as an
24 unindicted co-conspirator in the money laundering scheme. At
25 that point in time I had every indication that the cases would
1 go to the Grand Jury, that the evidence would be presented to a
2 grand jury. We experienced a variety of frustrations, mid '85
3 on, not able to obtain subpoenas for witnesses we felt were
4 necessary. I had some direct interference by Mr. Fitzhugh in
5 the investigative process. Specifically he would call me and
6 interrupt interviews, tell me not to interview people that he
7 had previously told me were necessary to be interviewed.
8 Q. Did you have any interferences or interruptions from anyone
9 within the U. S. Treasury Department that would interfere with
10 your investigation?
11 A. They interfered with my testimony before the House
12 Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime.
13 Q. Would you tell us about that?
14 A. In late December of 1987, I was contacted by Chief Counsel
15 for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Hayden Gregory,
16 who told me that they were looking into the reason why no one
17 was indicted in connection with the Mena investigations. The
18 Internal Revenue service assigned to me disclosure litigation
19 attorneys, which gave me instructions which would have caused me
20 to withhold information from Congress during my testimony and to
21 also perjure myself.
22 Q. And how did you respond to the Treasury Department?
23 A. Well, I exhibited to them that I was going to tell the
24 truth in my testimony. And the perjury, subornation of perjury
25 resulted in an -- resulted because of an allegation that I had
1 received, that Attorney General Edwin Meese received a several
2 hundred thousand dollar bribe from Barry Seal directly. And
3 they told me to tell the Subcommitte on Crime that I had no
4 information about that.
5 Q. What is this about Meese? Where did you get that
7 A. I received that from Russell Welch, the State Police
9 Q. Mr. Welch will be deposed subsequently by -- in this --
10 during this line of questioning.
11 Mr. Duncan, did your experience at the Mena -- in the Mena
12 case interfere with your employment with the Department of
14 A. Yes, it did.
15 Q. Could you tell us what happened, how it affected it?
16 A. I received a subpoena, in July or August of 1983 from
17 Deputy Prosecutor Chuck Black from Mt. Ida, who was going to
18 present evidence that Mr. Fitzbugh and Mr. Hutchinson had not
19 presented to the grand jury for the purposes of seeking
20 indictments against the individuals at Mena. The Internal
21 Revenue Service Regional Office told me just to have him send a
22 subpoena, and that I would be allowed to testify or assist him
23 in his investigation. About the same time, I believe, that you
24 were making inquiries also attempting to interview me. The
25 Internal Revenue Service told me I would have to go back and
1 deal with the same disclosure litigation attorneys who attempted
2 to get me to withhold information from Congress and perjure
3 myself, and I refused to do that. At the time my
4 responsibilities were -- as Special Operations Coordinator for
5 the Southeast Region, my responsibilities included oversight for
6 aviation activities for the Criminal Investigation Division also
7 undercover and technical operations. They withdrew support for
8 the operations and basically kept me in the regional office in
9 Atlanta and did not allow me to fulfill my responsibilities.
10 This ultimately resulted in my resignation in June of 1989.
11 Q. Did you resign by forwarding any particular communication
12 to the Treasury Department; did you write them a letter?
13 A. Yes, I submitted a formal resignaton.
14 Q. Do you have a copy of that letter?
15 A. Yes, I do.
16 Q. Do you have it with you?
17 A. No, I do not.
18 Q. Would you make that part of this record?
19 A. I'd be glad to.
20 Q. Okay. We would ask that Mr. Duncan's letter of resignation
21 be submitted as a supplement to this record as Exhibit 1.
22 (Deposition Exhibit 1 was identified. )
23 MR. ALEXANDER: Let's go off the record a minute.
25 Q. (BY MR. ALEXANDER) Mr. Duncan, prior to your resignation
1 from the Department of Treasury, do you recall any other
2 conversations you may have had with your superiors concerning
3 the investigation of Mena?
4 A. With respect to what?
5 Q. With respect to the manner in which the case was attempting
6 to be covered up?
7 A. We had continuing discussions because none of us, my
8 managers nor myself, had ever experienced anything remotely akin
9 to this type of interference. I had a very good working
10 relationship with all the Assistant United States Attorneys and
11 the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western Judicial District, never any
12 problems. The office was open to me, and I visited with them
13 everytime I was in Fort Smith. And we couldn't understand why
14 there was this different attitude. I had found Asa Hutchinson
15 to be a very aggressive U.S. Attorney in connection with my
16 cases, then all of a sudden, with respect to Mena, it was just
17 like the information was going in but nothing was happening over
18 a long period of time. Mr. Hutchinson did not directly
19 interfere as did Mr. Fitzhugh. But just like with the 20
20 witnesses and the complaint, I didn't know what to make of
21 that. Alarms were going off. And as soon as Mr. Fitzhugh got
22 involved, he was more aggressive in not allowing the subpoenas
23 and in interfering in the investigative process. He was
24 reluctant to have the State Police around, even though they were
25 an integral part of the investigation.
1 For instance, when the money laundering specialist was up
2 from Miami, Mr. Fitzhugh left Mr. Welch in the hall all day
3 until late in the afternoon and refused to allow him to come in.
4 We were astonished that we couldn't get subpoenas. We were
5 astonished that Barry Seal was never brought to the grand jury,
6 because be was on the subpoena list for a long time. And there
7 were just a lot of investigative developments that made no sense
8 to us.
9 One of the most revealing things, I suppose, was that we
10 had discussed specifically with Asa Hutchinson the rumors about
11 National Security involvement in the Mena operations. And Mr.
12 Hutchinson told me personally that he had checked with a variety
13 of law enforcement agencies and people in Miami, and that Barry
14 Seal would be prosecuted for any crimes in Arkansas. So we were
15 comfortable that there was not going to be National Security
17 Q. Did you discuss the Mena investigation with anyone in
19 A. I discussed the Mena investigation with people in the
20 national office.
21 Q. And with whom did you discuss it?
22 A. With Joe Pagani, who was the Deputy Assistant Commissioner
23 for Criminal Investigation, with a variety of other of his
24 staff. Now, this was at the point of interference by the
25 disclosure litigation attorneys.
1 Q. Anyone else in the, say, the Commissioner's Office that you
2 discussed this with?
3 A. Peter Filpi.
4 Q. Peter Filpi?
5 A. Who was Mary Ann Curtin's supervisor.
6 Q. Now, did you discuss it with Mary Ann Curtin?
7 A. She was the briefing attorney. She was the one that I was
8-- was supposed to be involved in preventing disclosure of tax .
9 return information and grand jury information.
10 Q. Can you think of anyone else that you talked with up in
11 Washington? Did you receive any orders from any of the
12 higher-ups in Washington concerning this investigation?
13 A. None.
14 Q. Did you ever talk to a Mary Ann Curtin?
15 A. Yes, I did.
16 Q. What was her job?
17 A. She was the disclosure litigation attorney in Washington
18 assigned to counsel me, provide legal advice with respect to my
19 testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime.
20 Q.What was her advice to you?
21 A. Told me not to offer any opinions, even if specifically
22 asked for my opinion by the Subcommitte on Crime. Told me not
23 to volunteer any information. Basically did not want me saying
24 anything that would reflect badly on the U.S. Attorney's Office
25 in the Western Judicial District of Arkansas.
THE ORAL DEPOSITION OF RUSSELL FRANKLIN WELCH, a witness produced at the request of the Attorney General's Office, taken in the above-styled and numbered cause on the 21st day of June, 1991, before Jeff Bennett, C. C. R., Certificate #19, of BUSHMAN COURT REPORTING, INC., Notary Public in and for White County, Arkansas at the Office of the Attorney General, 323 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas at 2:30 p. m.
the witness hereinbefore named, having been previously cautioned and sworn, or affirmed, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth testified as follows:
2 BY MR. BRYANT:
3 Q. For the record, will you state your full name, please?
4 A. Russell Franklin Welch.
5 Q. And, Russell, where do you reside?
6 A. In Mena, Arkansas.
7 Q. And how old are you?
8 A. I'm forty-three.
9 Q. Would You briefly give us your educational background?
10 A. I'm a high school graduate, a college graduate. Was a
11 teacher in junior college prior to coming to Arkansas, at which
12 time I joined the Arkansas State Police and have been in the
13 Arkansas State Police for sixteen years now. And approximately
14 eight years of that have been spent in -- approximately ten
15 years of that have been spent in the Criminal Investigation
17 Q. Okay. Where did you go to high school?
18 A. Filmore County High School in Crescent City, California.
19 Q. And what college did you graduate from?
20 A. San Francisco State.
21 Q. Did you have a degree in --
22 A. English literature.
23 Q. English literature. Then you taught for approximately how
24 many years?
25 A. Approximately two years.
1 Q. And so you've been with the Arkansas State Police for
2 sixteen years?
3 A. Yes.
4 Q. Of which ten you've been an investigator?
5 A. Yes.
6 Q. Criminal investigator. And where have you been stationed
7 as a State Policeman?
8 A. I've been stationed in Foreman, Arkansas in Little River
9 County; Magnolia, Arkansas in Columbia County; and Mena,
10 Arkansas in Polk County.
11 Q. How long have you been in Mena, Polk County?
12 A. About twelve years.
13 Q. Russell, I want to direct your attention to Barry Seal and
14 the drug smuggling operations at the Mena Airport. Prior to
15 your testimony, Richard Brenneke has testified as well as Bill
16 Duncan. Do you know both of those individuals?
17 A. I know Bill Duncan well. I met Mr. Brenneke for the first
18 time a few minutes ago.
19 Q. I see. So you know Mr. Duncan well. How long have you
20 known Bill Duncan?
21 A. I've known Bill Duncan since about the middle of 1985.
22 Q. Russell, could you tell us in your own words just what
23 happened in Mena, and specifically at Rich Mountain Aviation,
24 beginning in the early 1980's, relating to Barry Seal and the
25 drug smuggling operations that allegedly went on there?
1 A. I was aware of Rich Mountain Aviation as a business at the
2 Mena Airport. I don't know exactly when the business started.
3 I became aware of possible illegal activity at this particular
4 location in -- sometime in 1984 when Jimmy Jacobs, Chief Deputy
5 for Sheriff Al Hadoway, who was the Sheriff of Polk County at
6 that time, came to me and told me that his boss, Sheriff Al
7 Hadoway, was involved in a criminal investigation of a cocaine
8 smuggler at the Mena Airport involving Rich Mountain Aviation,
9 and Freddie Hampton, and Joe Evans specifically at Rich Mountain
10 Aviation. He knew that the investigation involved somebody in
11 Louisiana. And that Sheriff Al Hadoway, working with an
12 auxiliary deputy and friend of his, Terry Capeheart, were
13 this investigation, communicating with some law
14 enforcement agency in Louisiana. He gave me this information to
15 let me know that the Sheriff was investigating this and wasn't
16 using the Arkansas State Police. That he was going directly to
17 federal authorities, which didn't concern me. I had plenty to
18 do. This went on for some time.
19 And then, a few weeks or months later, I don't remember
20 exactly, my immediate supervisor, Lieutenant Finus Duvall,
21 approached me and asked me why Sheriff Al Hadoway was not
22 involving me in an investigation that he had heard about that
23 involved Louisiana authorities. And I explained to him that the
24 Sheriff apparently, according to the deputy, felt that the
25 investigation was -- would be more expedient if he went directly
1 to those authorities. At some point later Sheriff Hadoway came
2 to me and stated that he had gone to these authorities because
3 he felt that it should be kept -- the investigation should be
4 kept secret, and that it was really beyond the scope of the
5 Arkansas State Police to investigate. Which satisfied
6 everybody, and we allowed him to continue whatever it was he was
7 doing. He never confided in me any part of the investigation.
8 And having had experience with narcotics and covert
9 investigations before, I didn't want to know anything. You
10 know, the less I knew about it, the better I felt.
11 At some point in late 1984, an individual by the name of
12 Rudy Furr began calling me, who's a person that I had known off
13 and on for years around Mena. He was a, I believe, business
14 manager of Rich Mountain Aviation. At that time Rich Mountain
15 Aviation was into -- he had run for Sheriff, and was having
16 problems with Sheriff Al Hadoway after the election was over.
17 They were having personal problems. And he's -- in my opinion,
18 was a kind of paranoid type of person, and everytime be thought
19 the Sheriff was following him or something spooked him, be would
20 come to me and just tell me for whatever reason. And they had
21 gotten into a lawsuit over some involvement with the FBI over a
22 plane that had been left there as a result of a sting operation,
23 which I had nothing to do with. And I was afraid that they were
24 trying to make a witness out of me, by everytime they thought
25 they'd come up with some evidence, tell me, knowing that I would
1 make a note of it, and later on get called into court to say,
2 yes, they made this information available to me at that time.
3 So around February 20, 1985, a person unknown to me before
4 that time by the name of Emile Camp, crashed an airplane near
5 Mena and was killed. I received a call first from Rudy Furr and
6 later, I think, from Freddie Hampton I don't remember the
7 exact order on that. But they were both concerned that this had
8 been a murder, because Barry Seal was going to court -- was in
9 court at that time in Miami, Florida on a -- testifying for the
10 government in an operation that he had helped them to perform .
11 They felt like this -- that the plane crash of Emile Camp was
12 somehow an assassination to expedite that trial, either for
13 Barry Seal or for the defense in the trial, stating that Emile
14 Camp -- that with out Emile Camp, Barry Seal was the only person
15 who could testify as to what was going on at that particular
17 Shortly after this I contacted my immediate supervisor and
18 -- who was Finus Duvall, and told him that I wanted a
19 clarification of what our role in all this was, because there
20 was an $11,000,000 lawsuit and it involved a-- a lot of tempers
21 were flaring. We had one death with a lot of allegations being
22 made about that. And I wanted my job and my position in all of
23 that defined. Lieutenant Duvall and I traveled to Little Rock,
24 met with Colonel Tommy Goodwin, Director of the Arkansas State
25 Police, explained the situation to him the best we understood it
1 at that time. And he advised us to open an investigation to
2 find out what's going on. And as well as I can briefly put it,
3 that's how I became involved in the Rich Mountain Aviation
5 From that time we found ourselves going through several
6 weeks and months of actually digging into other people's
7 investigations cannibalizing, if you would, other people's
8 investigation, to come up with -- just to find out where we
10 There was a lot of -- I'm just going to go over it
11 generally, and then we can go into specifics if you want. There
12 were a lot of allegations on the part of Freddie Hampton, Rudy
13 Furr, that they were involved in CIA activity, these are their
14 words, and they were involved in Defense Department activity.
15 But they had, in fact, not been smuggling as had been alleged by
16 Sheriff Hadoway.
17 When we began, I thought that that might well be the case,
18 not knowing anymore. As we were able to focus through other
19 people's investigations more and more, we were able to find out
20 that Barry Seal was in fact working for a government agency,
21 specifically the DEA and the CIA was alleged, and that was way
22 beyond our ability to comprehend or learn anything about, so we
23 just put that in parentheses. But in the process of finding
24 this out, we were able to find out that he began working for the
25 government after he had been busted at least twice and a third
1 investigation still going on. In cop talk, "he rolled over."
2 He became an informant to keep himself out of prison as much as
3 possible and to get whatever consideration he could for it.
4 It's very common in law enforcement, a very common tactic to
5 use, and a profitable tactic most of the time for law
7 So we looked at the period before he rolled over. We were
8 able to find out that Barry Seal came to Arkansas in 1981,
9 shortly after intense investigative pressure had been placed on
10 him in Louisiana. And that his operation continued and still at
11 this time in 1985, when we learned this, was still pretty much
12 intact. We were able to determine that after he moved to
13 Arkansas in 1981, that his system of operation at the airport
14 intensified, more planes, more people. But, yet, we still
15 didn't have a handle on, and led that up to a point in, I
16 believe, March 24, 1984. At which time, once we discovered that
17 date ourselves, we were able to get a confirmation that -from
18 the Drug Enforcement Administration, I believe, that he did in
19 fact work as an informant for them in covert activities, and
20 that the, had granted him immunity from anything on -- from
21 March 24th on in the future, but nothing before that. So we
22 focused our attention entirely on a date April -- or maybe
23 November -- no, April of 1982 through March of 1984 or Christmas
24 maybe even, just so we would have a margin. We tried to focus
25 attention strictly on Barry Seal's smuggling activities, not
1 Barry Seal. We didn't want to get involved in any immunity that
2 he might have. We concentrated strictly on Rich Mountain
3 Aviation and the employees who were knowledgeably performing
4 tasks necessary for Barry Seal's drug smuggling method. And
5 during that process when anything came up that looked like it
6 might have been involved in his current activity at that time in
7 1985, we ignored it. We kept it out of our file. We didn't
8 want to contaminate our case file with anything that he did
9 after the period of time that he rolled over and became a DEA
10 informant. So we had a very focused investigation for a lengthy
11 period of time.
12 Q. In your investigation, Russell, what specific evidence did
13 you find that would indicate to you as a professional law
14 enforcement officer that drugs were indeed brought into Mena?
15 A. We had a difficult problem actually showing that drugs came
16 into Mena. We learned that Barry Seal's method of operation,
17 from people who had been involved with it and from Barry Seal
18 himself at that time, he was telling committees in Congress and
19 newspapers exactly what his method of operation was, which was
20 to go to Colombia in a plane that has an altered fuel system,
21 bladder tanks to carry extra fuel, it would fly to Colombia,
22 load up with cocaine and come back to this country, get over the
23 mainland, drop his cocaine in a duffel bag to a previously
24 undisclosed area that nobody knew, give the Loran coordinates to
25 a ground crew in a helicopter, who would go pick up the cocaine.
1 The helicopter was essential to a great deal -- a great part of
2 what he was.doing.
3 We know that the planes that he was using, we know they
4 were the same planes because of the information that we were
5 getting from Louisiana, were parked at the Mena.Airport at Rich
6 Mountain Aviation. We knew those planes approximately every
7 week or two would leave, be gone a day or two, would come back.
8 We knew that those planes had bladder tanks in them. We knew
9 that those planes had blankets covering their -- over the
10 instrument panels in the cockpit to keep strangers from looking
11 in there and seeing the sophisticated equipment that was in the
12 cockpit, radios and Lorans and things that I don't know a whole
13 lot about. But I was told that they were -- had pretty specific
14 uses. And we know that -- we had an informant who at that time
15 gave us at least some information that could be corroborated.
16 Unfortunately, the informant later became hostile. But at that
17 time the informant made statements to either Sheriff Al Hadoway
18 or Terry Capeheart that there was in fact cocaine at the
19 airport. We couldn't confirm that, so -- by "the airport," I
20 mean Rich Mountain Aviation. We couldn't confirm that, so that
21 didn't become a major contributor to our investigation. But
22 most important in that aspect was that we know that Barry Seal's
23 helicopters, two of them, were at Rich Mountain Aviation for a
24 period of time. But they had a rolling plank for lack of a
25 better word, that the helicopters would land on, they'd be
1 rolled into the hanger. And the only thing that Barry Seal
2 needed those helicopters for was to pick up drugs after the drop
3 from the plane itself. We know that -- and we knew that Joe
4 Evans helped Barry Seal license a flatbed truck with a large
5 fuel tank on the back of it in a fictitious business name. And
6 we know that this truck was used to purchase fuel, large
7 quantities of fuel at different areas surrounding Mena, also in
8 a fictitious business name, using fictitious tail numbers. This
9 led us to believe that possibly cocaine had been brought into
10 the area. But we never were able to establish that ourselves.
11 And never felt like it was necessary to -- for his operation to
12 bring it to the area. What he had was a safe place for his
14 Q. How many planes did he have there, Russell?
15 According to the information we have, he had four planes
16 that -- at one time, and there were two Cessna and two Senicas,
17 I think that's right, then there was two Panther Navahoes and
18 two, I believe it's Senicas.
19 Q. So the physical evidence that you know about and observed
20 indicated that there was a large drug smuggling operation that
21 was using Mena as a -- for those operations; is that correct?
22 A. Oh, yes. All the evidence that we gathered indicated that
23 that was exactly what was happening, and we found nothing to
24 indicate otherwise.
25 Q. Do you have any evidence, whether it's hearsay or whether
1 it's real evidence, as to where the drugs went from Mena?
2 A. No. At that -- during our investigation we were not able
3 to determine that at all.
4 Q. Are you familiar with the small airport that was cut in the
5 woods north of Mena?
6 A. I was aware of that airport before I ever became involved
7 in the investigation. And as we began our investigation and the
8 time period around that airport being built, it was built almost
9 contemporaneous with Barry Seal's appearance in Arkansas, and it
10 was built by Freddie Hampton on his property it appeared. And
11 we new that Freddie Hampton was a -- was broke, didn't have a
12 pot to piss in. He was in bad shape, about to go under. And
13 then, by the time we got into it, of course, was a couple of
14 years after this, two or three years later, the airport never
15 appeared to play a factor in our investigation. We assumed for
16a long time that he had probably built this airport to play --
17 I'm talking about the Nella Airport, just a landing strip. The
18 assumption was that he built this to use in his drug smuggling
19 operation, But then got busted and rolled over, because it
20 never seemed to be used. It was a mystery, it just never fit
21 in. And I --as a result, I never went to the Nella Airport. I
22 have not been there to this day. But we kept getting reports of
23 airplane activity in the area that continued on, and continued
24 to be a mystery.
25 Q. Mr. Duncan testified previously, and he stated that there
1 were civilian reports that indicated there was paramilitary
2 training in the Nella area, and that there were a number of
3 reports communicated by civilians that indicated they had seen
4 foreign nationals of Spanish descent, had seen people in
5 fatigues, fully armed, had seen a number of such sightings that
6 indicated there was paramilitary activity or paramilitary
7 training in that area. Did you bear any such reports?
8 A. Yes. There was a period of time, and I can't remember the
9 exact dates, I want to say it was in the area of 1985 or '86, it
10 was right around the time that we had -- that Trooper Lewis
11 Bryant was killed at DeQueen, and I can't remember to be the exact
12 dates on that, and prior to the siege of the CSA camp up in--
13 near Harrison, we were having a lot of paramilitary, Ku Klux
14 Klan type, paramilitary training by civilians. There was a lot
15 of that going on, that type activity, and it seemed to be
16 everywhere. And we had become interested in the State Police
17 trying to figure out what was going on, because we were getting
18 just deluged with it. Gordon Kahl was believed to have been in
19 the area, and found out he had been in the area. He lived in
20 Mena under an alias for a year. And we felt like it was just a
21 good area for that type of thinking, that type of activity, and
22 we knew that we had the type of people. So when we would hear
23 about military training in a certain area, it didn't surprise
24 us. We thought we just had some more would-be mercenaries
25 training in an area. And we did get reports in that area,
1 reports of machine gun fire. One deer was found riddled with
2 machine gun bullets. One silhouette target made out of steel,
3 if I remember right, it was approximately 3/4 of an inch thick,
4 regular silhouette target shaped, was found completely riddled
5 with large caliber bullets. I can't remember if any of them
6 went through it or not, but they went -- they were close to
7 going through it. They were found by Sheriff James Carmack, and
8 recovered by him in Montgomery County adjacent to Polk County.
9 where these silhouette target was found, we had reports of night
10 fire using tracers.
11About the time the trooper died, a woman called from
12 Minnesota, I believe, she was delivering a Winnebago trailer or
13 motor homes. She was driving through the area of Highway 71,
14 where you would turn off to go to the Nella community, about 2
15 o'clock one morning when she saw some suspicious activity, and
16 she thought it may have concerned the murder of the trooper, and
17 so she notified us. She described driving south on 71 in that
18 area when she described a pickup along side the road with long
19 boxes stacked about cab high in the back of the pickup. A man
20 wearing just farm clothes standing by the pickup or sitting in
21 it. When she drove by, the pickup turned its headlights on and
22 pulled in behind her. She drove a little further down the road.
23 And she was describing landmarks to help me understand about
24 where she was. She saw another pickup similar with long boxes
25 in the back of it piled high. This pickup pulled in behind the
1 pickup behind her, and they continued south on 71. A little
2 further she saw a third pickup, and this pickup also had boxes
3 piled in the back, and one of the boxes didn't have a lid on it,
4 and she said there were long guns in the box. She didn't know
5 what kind of guns they were, couldn't tell anything about it. I
6 believe this driver was out of the pickup and the other two were
7 in. After they drove by, he got in his pickup and fell in
8 behind the others and followed her to a point, based on her
9 description, would be just about where you'd turn off to go to
10 Nella road, she said, then the headlights disappeared. She
11 doesn't know if they turned off the road or what they did. We had
12 received word of a -- what sounded like .50 caliber machine gun
13 fire between Nella community and the Oklahoma state line. We
14 received a report from a dispatcher at the Mt. Ida Sheriff's
15 Office, and I'm talking all in this same time period, that while
16 standing in front of the Sheriff's Office in Mt. Ida he saw a
17 C-130 fly over. Which there are a lot of C-130's that fly over
18 that area, they do apparently navigation training over the
19 Ouachita Mountains in that area. This C-130 flying over a strip
20 of -- or an area of U. S. Forest Service land or National Park
21 land, I'm not sure which, took a sharp lean to the right and a
22 large box fell out of the airplane. No parachute, it just fell
23 straight out. He couldn't describe how large the box was, but
24 he said it had to be very large because the plane was quite a
25 distance from him and he could see it falling, it came out the
1 side door. We received reports of -- one very credible report
2 near Oden, Arkansas given to Sheriff Carmack of a -- said it
3 looked like a -- possibly a platoon of camouflaged men crossing,
4 I believe it was the Ouachita River at that point, as if they
5 were on a mission. And this is an area that, by a local
6 resident, that said people that looked military, they had guns,
7 just didn't fit in. We received reports of C-130's, or at least
8 one C-130, maybe two, reports of flying the canyons around the
9 Ouachita Mountains in that area. And there are probably more.
10 This is the type of reports we were receiving.
11 Q. Do You know whether or not Barry Seal flew C-130's?
12 A. I don't know if he flew C-130's. I knew he flew C-123's
13 and, I believe, 707's.
14 Q. You started investigating the situation in 1985. Do you
15 recall an instance in 1985 when the then U. S. Attorney Asa
16 Hutchinson convened a grand jury for money laundering at Mena,
17 do you recall that?
18 A. Concerning Rich Mountain Aviation?
19Q. Well, concerning -- yes, money laundering in Mena --
20 A. Is this the Investigation that Bill Duncan was --
21 Q. Yes.
22 A. Yes
23 Q. Did you assist in any way with that investigation, Russell?
24 A. Shortly prior to that I had spoken to Steve Snyder with
25 FBI Agent Tom Ross over a sandwich in Fort Smith while we were
1 preparing for court on a totally unrelated local drug offense,
2 at which time Agent Tom Ross and myself were amusing ourselves
3 with camouflaged C-130's sitting at the Mena Airport. Steve
4 Snyder, an excellent prosecutor, overheard the conversation, he
5 was sitting right there with us, asked that we bring the
6 case file in, he wanted to see this. He said he didn't know
7 what was going on, but he said, "We're not going to have it
8 going on in western Arkansas."
9 Sometime, it wasn't long after that, probably within the
10 next month or so, that I had met Bill Duncan, and Bill Duncan
11 notified me that we were to meet with Asa Hutchinson in Fort
12 Smith to begin a grand jury investigation concerning a smuggling
13 activity and money laundering activity. And when I got to Fort
14 Smith at the arranged time, I actually went up the elevator with
15 Steve Snyder and was-carrying on like it was his meeting,
16 because I assumed that it was because he had said something to
17 me already. And we got to the top of the elevator, and he
18 walked off in the other direction, and I asked him where he was
19 going, were we having the meeting down there, and he said, "What
20 meetings?" I said, "Well, we're having a meeting on the 123 and
21 the activity around it that we talked about before," and he
22 said, "I don't know anything about it," and was, appeared to me,
23 slightly upset that it was going on without -- that he wasn't
24 involved. I never did get a chance to talk with him about that.
25 But we went into the meeting with Asa Hutchinson, and Asa was
1 very up-tempo, asked what we knew about the events at that time,
2 which was precious little, embarrassingly little, and asked for
3 a witness list, and we were going to convene a grand jury. And
4 my part in it was -- I knew less than Bill Duncan did about his.
5 Bill Duncan was going to pursue the money laundering
6 investigation, and I was going to pursue the other activities.
7 So that, with the explanation, I was -- taken a very much
8 lesser role in Bill's investigation.
9 Q. Were you subpoenaed for the grand jury in the fall of 1985
10 A. No. I've never been subpoenaed for grand jury in this
12 Q. You were not asked to testify regarding the money
13 laundering in any shape, form or fashion before a grand jury; is
14 that correct?
15 A. No.
16Q. Did you have -- what was your experience, Russell, with the
17 federal authorities relating to the -- to their cooperation with
18 you in your investigation of the Mena situation?
19 A. It was a -- it took me a long the to completely digest
20 what was happening to me. But it was a very disappointing,
21 humiliating experience.
22 Q. How do you mean -- what do you mean?
23 A. When I went into this, I had never been involved in a
24 federal grand jury investigation, didn't know what it meant. I
25 had some of my cases handled in Federal Court, but they were
1 cases that had already been investigated. Most of them, we'd
2 let a federal agent come in and help us with them, then we'd go
3 to Federal Court. And they'd get them a case, and we'd -- you
4 know, it was just an easy way to handle it.
5 This time, as I got involved in this investigation with
6 Bill Duncan, I was kind of following his lead a little bit. It
7 started out very well. Asa Hutchinson was very up-tempo and
8 things were good. And I knew Asa Hutchinson's reputation was
9 top-notch before that.
10 I remember when he came in as U. S. Attorney, everybody was
11 really relieved in western Arkansas because we had had some
12 uneventful prosecutions prior to that apparently. And he did a
13 good job. He had a lot of prosecutions. Well liked.
14 My first uncomfortable experience was at the first grand
15 jury session concerning money laundering where two witnesses,
16 Jim Nugent and Kathy Corrigan, testified, and I was up there
17 just for moral support more than anything else, and to see what
18 was going on. And after they came out of the -- out of their
19 session with the grand jury, each individually expressed concern
20 to Bill Duncan that they were disappointed, that they hadn't
21 been asked the proper questions. They didn't like what happened
22 to them in the grand jury room. And that concerned me a little
23 at the time. But Bill Duncan, I remember him telling them not
24 to worry, that Asa Hutchinson knows what he's doing, and that
25 there's a reason for what -- the way he's handling this. And
I graduated from Seattle University in 1964, and I graduated from the University of Toronto with my master's in 1966. ... In 1968, late 1968, I was contracted with by the Central Intelligence Agency to furnish them with information relating to the financial movements, the money movement that we dealt with, and who the investors in our mutual fund were. ... I was never an employee of theirs. I was always a sole contractor. ... 1968 through about 1986, somewhere in 1985, '86 is when I called it off. ... I set up, in 1969 or 1970, a number of corporations in Panama City. Those corporations in turn opened bank accounts. Those bank accounts were accounts that I would normally use in the course of my business with the CIA to transfer money into the accounts, and from there to transfer them into specific accounts in Spain or, as I say, in some cases other countries in Europe. The ultimate destination was Switzerland, where those funds were. I knew where they went, because I'm the person who went in and gave the order to the banker to move them. ... That was what I specialized in doing. I laundered money there. ... I mean, I -- we weren't laundering money at the point -- when I first was recruited, which was in '68, '69, all we were doing was selling mutual fund stocks offshore. ... Panama City, Banquo DeMexico, at one point we were using a Citibank correspondent down there whose name escapes me. I just don't recall it. We had a man on site who worked for us, as well as worked for Ron Martin, a man named Johnny Mollina, M O L L I N-A, I believe. John was -- would spend a lot of his time in Panama City there and worked in one of the banks that we used. I set up an account in -- well, I set up more than one account in Madrid that was used. I set up an account in Brussels at Bank Lambert that was regularly used. I set up accounts at Credit Suisse and -- That is a Swiss bank. And Bank of Credit and Commerce, commonly referred to as BCCI, also a Swiss bank. A bank that no longer exists called Bank Uoffman. And to facilitate matters not to drag this out, to facilitate matters I set up a bank in Panama City on behalf of the mutual fund company I worked for so that I could ultimately control how the transfers were handled. I organized it for the company I worked for, that was -- it was subsequently used by the CIA and it was used by members of the organized crime families. The bank was called U.S. Investment Bank. It really existed in Panama City. You could actually go in and open a checking account there. ... I reported [these transactions] to Don Gregg, Bob Kerritt, Bob Ellis, and from time to time other people...
[I was] specialized in two activities: I handled money for [the CIA and] I handled East Bloc weapons purchases primarily made in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. ... I was a pilot for the CIA at several times. ... That would be '68 through '80 -- I think the last flying I did for them was in '84. ... I generally flew a C-130. Aircraft would be brought into Mena, the first trips that I made started in early '84. ... I recall coming in on a Lear Jet, on one occasion on a 400 Series Cessna. ... Ten to twelve [flights in total]...
From Mena I would take people who had been trained in the area around Mena, generally paramilitary or military forces from Central America. They would be taken back to Panama City, where I would drop them. And, in addition to that, we would carry weapons that were being shipped down there. The weapons, as I've said, frequently came either from government stores or through Tamiami Gun Shop in Miami, Florida. ... M-l's, M-l rifles, recoil -- small recoilless rifles, 106, I've forgotten the exact caliber on it, grenades, ammunition for these weapons, fuses, detonator fuses. And I remember that one very specifically because it only happened once. But we had detonator fuses on board, and my concern was that we might have the equipment being detonated on the same flight, and I didn't want that. ...
We flew it to Panama City and offloaded it there. ... They were met by military types who wore military uniforms and were easily identified as members of the Panamanian Defense Force, which essentially is the Palace Guard. ... I recognized them -- I did not know the names of all of them; however, I did know the name of the man who trained them, and he would frequently be there to meet the shipments, and he is a man by the name of Michael Harari. Mike Harari was a Mossad agent. He's an Israeli national. My best understanding is he lives in Israel right now. He was Manuel Noriega's partner in a number of business deals in Panama. I know that firsthand because I had to deal with him. ... There's another name that -- a man by the name of Jose Blandon, who was the Minister of Intelligence of the Intelligence Ministry in Panama at that time, and he also worked for Noriega and left somewhere in the mid eighties, is currently in the United States in the Witness Protection Program.
We would come back [from Panama] with individuals, and from time to time unmarked boxes of items that were put in the aircraft along with the individuals. Now, being conservative by nature and not having a death wish, I opened the boxes on a number of occasions to find out what I was flying. ... I found the cargo to be cocaine, in some cases marijuana. ... In each load, 4 to 600 pounds [of cocaine]. ... We would bring it to Mena, Arkansas. ...
On one or two occasions the cargo was taken off by people who were not residents of the Mena area and put into other aircraft which departed from there. However, the most frequent activity was that the aircraft would be unloaded in front of Rich Mountain Aviation's hangers and it would be stored in the back of the hanger. ... The man that was directing it was Freddie Hampton [the owner of Rich Mountain Aviation]. ... Yes, sir, we can [identify all these flights based on my flight logs]. ... My understanding was that the man I was working for at the time paid [Hampton], and that was Bob Kerritt. Mr. Kerritt is a full time employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. And when I first met him, I checked on that by waiting for him to return to Washington, calling information in the D.C. area, got the phone number for the switchboard at the CIA, called and asked for him by name, and I got him.
Yes. I can identify people who in fact received the cocaine, not "might have." I can tell you that they were members of John Gotti's family in New York. One of them was an individual known to me by the name of Sal Reale. ... Mr. Reale at that time was the Director of -- I believe it was that time, was the Director of Security for Kennedy International Airport in New York City. ... Mr. Reale was a -- was one of Mr. Gotti's lieutenants [and before that of the Gambino family]. I watched the two of them interact. Mr. Gotti would provide directions, Mr. Reale would carry them out. It was his job to make sure that cargo being shipped through Kennedy was not lost, but properly located, and in some cases avoiding customs -- avoided the customs procedures. ... I don't recall the nature of [the New York City meeting at which Gotti and Reale were present]. I do recall that it was a private club that I was taken to, and I had an opportunity to meet with them at that time. It was either late '84 or early 1985. But in that three or four month time span, it would have had to have been one or the other. ...
Sure. We had to run the operations at Nella, for instance. The training facilities at Nella had to be paid for. Nella is about 10 miles out of Mena, north. Sure. Nella was a training base for military and paramilitary folks from south of the border, Mexico, Panama. ... Central Intelligence Agency [operated it], as far as I knew. ... The operations were one in the same. The equipment that was used at Mena would frequently transport people and equipment to the truck, for instance, you know, would drive up to Nella and leave people and equipment there. ...
As far back as 1968 and early '69, we had begun to launder money from organized crime families in New York. At that time Mr. Gotti was an up and coming member of one of the families. I got to know them at that time. We used to wash their money out overseas and put it in Switzerland in nice, safe places for them. Actually the CIA told me to do that on [Gotti's] behalf. Yes, sir. I would say a partnership. Sure [I can explain]. The organized crime members had a need for two things; they needed drugs brought into the country on a reliable, safe basis, they needed people taken out of the country or people brought into the country without alerting customs or INS to the fact that they were being brought into the country, they also needed their money taken offshore so that it would not be subject to United States tax where they might have to declare its source. And so we performed these kinds of functions for them. Yes, sir. That's exactly what I'm saying [the CIA bringing drugs into the country]. I would say that they worked with Mr. Gotti and his organization very closely. Whether it was a formal partnership, I don't know. But there certainly was a close alliance between the two. [Reale] did not personally take any of the drugs. He did, however, see that they were transferred into aircraft and vehicles so that they could be moved off the field, and that was his function. His function was not to load the vehicles, but to see that nothing got lost on transit. ...
Firsthand knowledge, [the Gotti mafia paid] somewhere in the $50,000,000 bracket [to the CIA]. ... I banked that money for them in Panama City, and ultimately transferred it to other locations in Europe. ... The money was given to us in cash. "Us" meaning the people I worked with, who were also associated with the Central Intelligence Agency. We would transfer that money to banks in Central and South America. And from there transfer it via accounts that I had established back in 1970 to -- they were accounts of which I was a beneficial holder and the named signee on it. There were occasions where there were wire transfers, but generally -- the generally followed method was cash. That would be stored in the aircraft on its return trip to Panama. Once it reached Panama, we would put it into a bank account, which at that time was in the Banquo DePanama? ... No, sir. We would not get a receipt for deposit. The money would be deposited there, but it would be subsequently and then almost immediately transferred to -- the transfer points in general followed this way; they came it came to Spain or Liechtenstein, from there it went to either -- it went to Monte Carlo, and the ultimate destination was Zurich or Geneva but, in any case, Switzerland. ... Sure. I talked to Mr. Kerritt from time to time [about the money], Mr. Ellis, who was also a controller, from time to time. Ellis is an employee and was an associate of Mr. Kerritt. Robert Ellis is his name, E L L I S. He was an associate of Kerritt's. The two used to work together frequently. "
When I found that we were bringing drugs into the United States, and that we were receiving money which was being put into accounts which I knew to belong to the United States Government, as I'd set them up specifically for that purpose, I called Mr. Don Gregg, who was a CIA officer with whom I was acquainted, and complained about the nature of what we were doing. At that time, he was George Bush -- Vice President George Bush's National Security Advisor. I am more than willing to look for it in my telephone records. ... I was told that it was none of my business, what I was flying in and out of the country. That I was hired to do specific things, and if I would do those things and not pay any attention to anything else, we would all be very, very happy. I didn't like that. ... Shut up and do your job. ... Yes. Subsequently I talked to Mr. Gregg on a number of occasions as well as to other people in the Vice President's office to voice my concern over the use of drugs in -- importing drugs into the United States and using the cash generated from that to perform operations which I perceived to be not put before Congress in any form. ... Between 1984 and 1986. And I'd be happy to furnish you with copies of my telephone -- ...
Six or eight conversations with Mr. Gregg, and they're all on the telephone records that I have. ... Yes, I did [speak to CIA director William Casey] on a number of occasions. And Mr. Casey's telephone logs would reflect phone calls to me, made to me in - specifically in Lake Oswego, which was at that time the location of my office. ... Bill Casey's main concern -- there were two main concerns to him; one, exposure of the operations in Central America; and two, why did the system breakdown. To me he sounded like sort of a general or supervisor who doesn't have his hands on the pulse of what's really happening out in the trenches. And by this time I had caused sufficient problems for CIA and others in South and Central America that the Israelis had in fact sent over a team of people to shut down the Israeli involvement in anything that closely resembled the drug business. I could get no assistance of any kind similar to that from the United States Government, and I explained that to Mr. Casey. And his first question was, why I had gone to Israel, and I said, because I tried everybody in the U. S. Government first and they sure as hell weren't going to help. ...
The testimony in that October Surprise] trial was used to indict me for perjury, and I was -- I'm sorry. The accusation was making false statements before a Federal Court. And the false statements were that -- I'll enumerate them as they were enumerated in the complaint. And it was a Grand Jury action, in which they said that I lied when I said George Bush was in Paris in 1980 to negotiate a delayed release of the hostages, that Don Gregg and Bill Casey were there for the same purposes. That I lied when I said I worked with CIA as a contractor. And I lied when I said Harry Rupp did the same. A subsequent trial in 1980, ended in April, after two weeks of trial I was found not guilty of any of those charges. Yes. Don Gregg, currently our Ambassador to -- the American Ambassador to South Korea and residing in Seoul, came back to Portland, Organ to testify against me. And his testimony was directly related to where he was on the weekend of -- that the period of 18, 19 and 20, October, 1980, and he offered photographs in evidence stating that they showed he -- him to be on a beach at Bethany Beach, Delaware. We submitted those photographs to a qualified meteorologist who looked at them and the weather reports for that specific time period, and found that they could not -- the pictures couldn't have been taken at that time -- the weather was wrong. ... They offered me an opportunity to say that I lied on all counts. And if I would do that, there would be a guilty plea but no prison time and no fine. And at that time I was facing five years in prison and a fine that could have gone to $250,000. I had not, too long before that, had to file bankruptcy because of harassment and problems that I had had in this case. I turned the offer down. The offer was actually made to my attorney, who -- Rich Muller, who turned it down on my behalf. ... I've never been in prison nor have I been convicted of a crime. And with this exception, I haven't been charged with a crime.
May 7, 1990
Jurors never doubted Richard J. Brenneke's claim of CIA connections or his story about Reagan-Bush campaign officials trying to get Iran to delay the release of U.S. hostages until after the 1980 election, the jury foreman says. "We all came away extremely comfortable with the verdict and extremely convinced that Mr. Brenneke was not guilty of any of the charges ... There never was a guilty vote...," said foreman Mark Kristoff of Beaverton. ...
Called before a Senate subcommittee on narcotics and international relations in 1988, Brenneke claimed to have run drugs from Colombia to the U.S. as part of a Contra supply operation. He also testified to having purchased arms in Czechoslovakia for the Nicaraguan rebels. That testimony was called "slanderous" by then-Vice President Bush, and a 1989 Senate committee report concluded that Brenneke never had the Central Intelligence Agency connections he claimed.
In the testimony in Denver that led to his trial, Brenneke said he had met [Heinrich] Rupp in 1957 when they worked together for Air America, the CIA propietary airline. In October 1980, Brenneke told the judge, he and Rupp helped to arrange a series of meetings in Paris concerning the 52 Americans taken hostage by Iranian militants in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Brenneke told the judge that Rupp had flown George Bush, then the Republican vice presidential candidate, to the secret meetings. At his trial last week, however, Brenneke testified he did not actually see Bush in Paris. He claimed that the negotiations were attended by the late CIA director William Casey, then head of Ronald Reagan's campaign, and Donald P. Gregg, who at the time was a CIA agent and is now U.S. ambassador to South Korea. During Brenneke's trial, Gregg testified he was at the Delaware seashore the weekend Brenneke said the meetings took place and produced snapshots to prove it [Note: Snapshots showed Gregg at the beach in bright sunlight while the weather had been overcast that entire weekend, according to a weather bureau witness called in by Brenneke's lawyer.].
September 6-13, 2001
Last week The New York Times reported that former President Bill Clinton's half-brother, Roger Clinton, lobbied parole officials to pardon convicted heroin trafficker, Rosario Gambino.
From 1996 to 1999, says the Times, Clinton made at least four visits to the parole commission's headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., to meet with federal officials regarding a parole for Gambino. The newspaper reported that Clinton received a Rolex watch, plane tickets to Washington, D.C., expense money and a $50,000 loan to buy a house, all of which came from Rosario's son, Tommy Gambino.
The article identified Rosario Gambino as an associate of the Gambino crime family in New York City -- a crime family that was founded by Rosario Gambino's relative, Carlo Gambino. Rosario has denied any relation. But to federal and state investigators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and to law enforcement authorities in Italy, Rosario Gambino is much more than an organized crime associate.
According to Italian law enforcement, when Rosario Gambino and his brothers came from Sicily in the mid-1960s, they were already "men of honor," made members of the Sicilian Mafia.
Rosario entered the U.S. illegally in 1962 but in 1966 was granted permanent resident status. Rosario, his older brother, John, and his younger brother, Giuseppe, settled first in Delran, N.J. Later they bought homes in Cherry Hill where they lived in the same development as reputed Philadelphia mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano. ...
When Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian Mafia boss from Palermo, needed to hide his ex-wife and daughter in America, Rosario Gambino took the women in. A few years later, Buscetta fled a violent mob war in Sicily and settled in Brooklyn, where he often hung out with the Gambino brothers as well as Carlo Gambino. ...
The "Cherry Hill" Gambinos were close friends with Philly Cosa Nostra boss, Angelo Bruno. Police discovered that Angelo Bruno often met with New York Gambino underboss, Paul Castellano, at Valentino's Supper Club. (Castellano eventually became boss of the Gambino crime family and ran it for 10 years until John Gotti had him assassinated December 1985.)
In 1979 Rosario Gambino played a pivotal role in the Michele Sindona story. Sindona, an international banker and money launderer, was the banker for the Vatican, the governing Christian Democratic party of Italy, the Masons and the Mafia in Sicily. At the height of his power Sindona owned six banks in four countries, an international hotel chain, a food company, 500 corporations and one of the largest international currency brokerage firms in the world. But when Sindona bought the 18th largest bank in America, Franklin National Bank of New York, he stole so much money that the bank soon crashed. Billions of dollars were lost as Sindona's European banks collapsed the following week. Sindona was indicted in the U.S. and in Italy, and he disappeared in August 1979. His friends claimed that Sindona had been kidnapped, but Sindona flew to Sicily to meet with his "clients." Sindona was accompanied on his trip by John Gambino, Rosario's brother. Sindona eventually returned to the United States in October. When Sindona landed at JFK Airport, Rosario Gambino met him.
At the same time, DEA agents intercepted five kilos of heroin, packed in talcum powder, on their way to the Gambino brothers. The next shipment came from Sicily inside a truckload of lemons which was driven to Milan. There, the 91 pounds of heroin were packed inside a cargo container filled with Italian pop music albums and shipped off to New York.
When the shipment reached the U.S., the police moved in on the Gambinos. In March 1980, Rosario and his brother Giuseppe were arrested in their restaurant, Valentino's, for alleged participation in an international heroin smuggling operation after cops in Milan, Italy, confiscated 91 pounds of heroin destined for the U.S. They were eventually acquitted of those charges -- but more than 60 members of the Mafia in Italy were convicted in the case.
In December 1984, Rosario Gambino and three others were convicted on drug related charges. Rosario Gambino was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Said one New Jersey State Police investigator, "To call Rosario Gambino a mob associate is like saying John Gotti was just a street corner thug. Rosario and his brothers were some of the most important Sicilian Mafiosi to ever operate in this country."
July 5, 2010
Sal Reale of the Gambino crime family is best known for organizing the 14-hour luncheon at the Altadonna restaurant in 1983 with two top city lawmen - - Queens District Attorney John Santucci and the head of the NYPD's Intelligence Division Pete Prezioso.That marathon sit-down ended up killing both their careers. Prezioso was forced to retire. Santucci subsequently resigned.
Well, it seems that Reale, who spent 31 years as the Gambinos' man at the city airports, was also linked to other lawmen -- in the CIA, if you can believe that. Carlo Gambino gave him the lucrative airport job, which after Gambino died, Reale managed to keep through the reigns of two more Gambino bosses. The first was Paul Castellano, the second John Gotti, who had big Paul whacked in 1986.
Now comes news that Reale figured prominently in a 1991 deposition of a discredited [note: that's still very much up to debate] "independent contractor" for the CIA, one Richard Brenneke. This character claimed to have smuggled drugs into the U.S. for Reale and Gotti as part of an arms deal for the Nicaraguan resistance, known as the Contras. Brenneke claimed he was reporting to the national security analyst for then Vice President George H.W. Bush, implying that Bush The Elder knew about these illegal operation.
While Brenneke's allegations regarding Bush proved false [note: that's still very much up to debate], nobody ever questioned his stories about Reale, who, sources said, worked at Kennedy through Local 295 of the Teamsters Union, and apparently with Gotti's approval, made up phony union jobs for other CIA operatives supposedly smuggling in arms through Kennedy.
In 1990, after Reale pleaded guilty to extorting money from an air freight company at Kennedy in return for labor peace, federal Judge Jack Weinstein sentenced him to 15 years in prison. However, the judge suddenly suspended the sentence, cryptically stating that imprisoning Reale would "likely result in his death, either by his own hand or the hands of someone else. He knows too much."
The judge then placed him on probation and banished him from New York for five years. Reale didn't remain free long. That same year, federal agents in the Texas border town of Sierra Blanca stopped his car and seized $3.8 million in cash and an additional $96,000 in Swiss francs. Weinstein then threw the book at Reale, giving him ten years in prison for violating his parole.
Reale has since relocated to Las Vegas. Weinstein declined comment.