Document:There was a prosecutable case in Arkansas

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Disclaimer (#3)Document.png article  by Russell Welch dated December 15, 2016
Subjects: Mena, Barry Seal, Del Hahn
Source: Link

In December 2016 Welch wrote a review on Amazon of Smuggler's End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal by FBI-agent Del Hahn

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I am the Arkansas State Police investigator who was as.signed to investigate Barry Seal’s activity at the Mena airport. I want to correct a mistake in this book. I met Del Hahn while I was in New Orleans to listen to the Barry Seal wiretap tapes at FBI headquarters. I was accompanied by Bill Duncan (IRS-CID), Tom Ross (FBI) and my state police supervisor, Lt. Finis Duval. There were others but I don’t remember who they were. Hahn had retired about a year earlier. I was impressed by the man and the candid manor in which he discussed some of his experiences while on the task force. He said that they had focused all of their resources into taking down Seal. He added that, in the end, they took him down; but, they left the rest of his organization free to do whatever they wanted. He felt like that was a mistake. He suspected that there was a problem in Arkansas because he had sent interview requests to the Arkansas office of the FBI and the requests were never answered. This is an important book and will be read and studied for a long time to come by those few people who are interested in that small piece of American history.

In this book, Del Hahn states that nothing happened at Mena or there was not a enough evidence for an indictment. That is wrong. This is a very brief summary, from memory, of some of the overt acts committed at, and around, the Mena airport. I don’t have my notes to to refer to so it won’t be complete. Sheriff Hadaway, and Terry Capehart were treated as witnesses and were not interviewed until I was nearing the end of my investigation. I did not use their reports, including information from Lucia Williams, in my investigation until after I interviewed them. I needed to do my own, independent investigation.

In early 1982, Seal’s mechanic, Joe Evans, moved from Opelousas, Louisiana, to Mena. Barry insisted that some of his people carry pagers. The mechanic dropped his pager service in La. on one day and started a new service in Mena on the next day. This was established by documentation I acquired in La. and Arkansas. There was also documentation and an interview from the La. landlord. There was more information gathered during that trip. It was all used to establish the date that Joe Evans]] moved from Louisiana to Mena, and that he had been doing some work for Barry Seal. When I acquired that information, I was accompanied by Bill Duncan, and ASP troopers, Hayes McWhirter and Keith Sullivan. The commander of the highway patrol unit in Lafayette took us to Opelousas in his marked state police vehicle because the director of the Louisiana State Police had called and told him to go with us. Those people wouldn’t tell us anything if we went alone.

Seal rolled over in early 1984. I was only interested in criminal violations so I put the blinders on for anything that happened after the rollover date. In fact, I stayed well short of it. I did not want anything in my file that might be considered, in any way, to be part of the legal activity of a government snitch. Everything in my case file took place between the time that Joe Evans returned to Mena and the time that Seal entered his grace period.

Rich Mountain Aviation built a new hanger. Seal’s planes were kept in the old hanger. Normal business was conducted in the new hanger. None of the employees were allowed into Seal’s hanger. RMA was paid in cash to have the hanger built. The cash was deposited into a local bank in such a way as to avoid CTR reports to the IRS.

The same day that the mechanic acquired his pager in Mena, Seal’s planes started showing up at the Mena Airport, purchasing legal amounts of fuel. This information was acquired from Mena FBO fuel receipts. Patterns of telephonic communications started to show up.

Seal had two helicopters at the Mena airport. He later said that these helicopters were used to pick up cocaine after it had been kicked from his specially rigged airplanes. The airplanes that were kept in the hanger had cargo doors that opened to the inside, allowing inflight opening from which to drop the cocaine. These were installed at RMA. The planes had high end avionics for long range communication. While the planes were in the hanger, the avionics were kept covered so nobody could see them. The planes were rigged with auxiliary fuel tanks for long range trips to Colombia. I made it a point, during my investigation, to ask people in the aviation business what they would think about an airplane that was rigged like those that Seal kept at RMA. They all said that there was no other purpose for planes like that than to smuggle stuff. At least a couple of those people would have been used in court to establish that just about anybody in the aviation industry should have been able to recognize Seal’s planes, kept at RMA, as smuggling craft.

One of Seal’s pilot’s said that an auxiliary fuel tank plumbing job, installed by RMA, was done so well that a thorough Customs search, in Miami, did not find it.That pilot, William Earle Jr., had been with Seal when he flew that same plane into RMA to have the plumbing installed. Earle was in a safe house on the east coast when I interviewed him.

The New Orleans FBI had information that a plane with Seal on board would be flying to Mena that night. They were not sure why; but, they were certain that it had something to do with Seal’s cocaine business, according to Tom Ross (FBI). Earle told me that he had flown the plane into New Orleans where he picked up Seal. Seal took over and flew straight to Mena without looking at any charts, in the dark. As he made his approach to the Mena airport, he cut the lights, made a short landing, and taxied into the hanger.

Surveillance had been set up after receiving the information from New Orleans. It consisted of agents from the FBI, DEA, and ASP. I don’t remember if Customs was there. Everybody was on the field that night, waiting for Seal, except the DEA agents who stayed in a motel room. Joe Evans and Freddie Hampton were in the hanger. Earle said that Seal immediately moved him into an office where he could not see into the hanger. Seal told Earle that he did not want him to see what these guys were doing to the plane. Even though he didn’t see them working, Earle said there was no auxiliary plumbing on the plane when they arrived; but, there was auxiliary plumbing when they left. Earle Jr. flew the plane to Venezuela where his father was to take it on to Columbia and pick up a load of dope. The dope deal fell through and Earle Jr. flew the plane back to Miami and that’s where US Customs searched the plane and failed to find the illegal plumbing.

Seal had two sets of similar looking planes. One plane from each set was kept at Mena. These were the planes with the high end avionics, long range plumbing, and inward opening cargo doors.

The planes in each set had similar tail numbers. When a smuggling mission was scheduled, Joe Evans would go into Seal’s hanger and tape the numbers of the dirty plane so they were the same as those on the clean plane which would be coming into Mena. Witnesses observed these numbers being changed with tape.

The pilot would fly the clean plane into Mena. He would get into the dirty plane and fly to Colombia. On the return trip, the dope would be kicked out over La., at a previously undisclosed location. The dirty plane would return to Mena. He would get into the clean plane and fly back to wherever he was going. The dirty plane would be returned to Seal's hanger where the tape would be removed from the tail numbers, the avionics were covered up, and the plane would be concealed until the next trip to Colombia. There was reason to believe that some of the dope might have been kicked in western Arkansas and/or eastern Oklahoma.

The USA for the Western District of Arkansas could have stopped my investigation at any time. All he had to do was tell me that he wasn’t going to pursue it and to not bother him with it. It’s not unusual. Nobody would have thought anything about it. I had plenty of other cases that I needed to be working on. He did not do that. He continuously told Duncan and me that he was going to ask for indictments at the next FGJ session. The session would come and go without it being brought up. He was kicking the can.

Del mentioned that the USA in Fort Smith had brought up a male AUSA from Florida to help him figure out what to do about Duncan’s money laundering case. It wasn’t a man. It was a woman. I was there with my state police supervisor. I wasn’t invited by the USA. Bill told me to be there, assuming that she would also want to review my case to put his in perspective. My supervisor and I sat in a room down the hall from where they were meeting. We stayed there most of the day, waiting. Late in the afternoon, after the AUSA’s and secretaries had left, Duncan came to our waiting room and told us they were finished with his case and to come with him. We met the Florida AUSA and Fitzhugh at his office door. The Ft. Smith USA said that it was too late. There wasn’t time. The Florida attorney said that she wanted to hear about my case. After listening to me and looking over one of my charts, she asked Fitzhugh why he was concerned about the money case when he had a very good “conspiracy to smuggle cocaine” case that was ready to go to trial. She offered to send up two experienced drug conspiracy AUSA’s from Florida, right then, to help him prosecute the case. I never heard any more about it.

On another day, Duncan, DEA Agent Larry Carver (currently retired and living in Little Rock), and I had been called to meet the USA in his office at Ft. Smith to discuss the case. After the meeting, Duncan, Carver, and I were standing in front of the Federal Building in Ft. Smith. Carver said, and I quote, “Boys, we have more than enough to get indictments. If we get the indictments, we have more than enough to get convictions; but, they are never going to let us get indictments.” He wouldn’t say any more about it. He told me that he had prepared a document for Fitzhugh, which detailed the overt acts and gave a summary of the investigation. The document also declared that the DEA in Arkansas recommends indictments and prosecution. He said that he didn’t think anything would come from it; but, he was going to send it by registered mail so he would have a record that Fitzhugh had received it. Carver said that it had already been approved by Gary Worden, the head of the DEA in Arkansas. He wanted my approval, also. He would send a copy to me the next week. He did and I did. I never heard any more about it.

The dirty planes, sitting at Mena, needed a lot of fuel to make the trip to Colombia, more fuel than could be put into the tanks that the manufacturer installed. This required that additional plumbing be installed on the planes to accommodate hidden or portable fuel tanks. To fill the auxiliary tanks at the Mena airport FBO would set off an alarm that something illegal was taking place. Law enforcement would be notified and a dumbass country cop like me would come snooping around.

Seal had a stave bed truck with a large fuel tank on the back. I traced the truck from Calif., where he purchased it, to La. where R.T. LeBlanc (one of Seal’s people who had a landing strip in La.) identified it as the truck that Seal used, in La., to fill the auxiliary tanks on his planes before flying to Colombia to get cocaine. When Joe Evans set up shop for Seal at the Mena airport, that truck went with him. Evans set up a fictitious business called "H & L Explorations." It was listed in the Mena phone book. He forged the names of two local people onto the documents. The local people were interviewed and gave handwriting exemplars. They had never heard of H & L Explorations. They didn’t know Joe Evans and had nothing to do with aviation. Joe Evans and his wife refused to be interviewed but gave handwriting exemplars. The handwriting analyst reported that Joe Evans and his wife forged the documents which were used to establish the fictitious business which Joe used to fuel Seal’s airplanes for smuggling trips. The name of the fictitious business was similar to the names of, at least, two other fictitious businesses that Seal had setup in La. and Texas. Documentation was recovered on those businesses to be used in an Arkansas trial to further link the RMA and Joe Evans’ actions to those of Seal.

I went to several airfields in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma where I recovered several gas receipts for purchases of large amounts of aviation fuel by Joe Evans, dba H & L Exploration. He used his real name and gave fictitious tail numbers for helicopters and airplanes. Witnesses saw Evans fueling the dirty planes, from the stave bed truck, at the Mena airport.

I was able to match up the fuel purchases with telephone calls from toll records and surveillance and interviews. They revealed clusters of activity that stood out from the normal day to day activity. I knew that, if I could establish that one of these clusters was consistent with a smuggling trip during their 2 or 3 day period, they would all become evidence. I was able to do that. This helped to establish a continuing course of criminal activity.

Del thinks that my case was based on things that Lucia Williams said to Terry Capehart. That is not correct. By the time I interviewed her, my case was already in good shape. Lucia’s father was a Senator in Columbia. She had been raised with a great deal of wealth. She told me that she always had servants taking care of her in Bogota. I asked her why she gave up such a life to live in obscurity with a minimum wage job in Arkansas. She wouldn’t answer the question. I asked her why she didn’t go back to Bogota. She sternly said that she would never go back there, not even for a visit. Her father came to the US once a year to see her. They met in New York City where they would spend a week together.

Lucia told the FGJ that she didn’t say those things to Terry Capehart, as Del stated in his book. That’s true; but, she did say two important things to the jury. She said, “These people are dangerous.” When any seasoned cop hears a witness say something like that, they know what it means. The witness is reluctant to talk. She made it clear to Fitzhugh and me, outside the jury room, that she was afraid of “these” people. Then, she told a story about her last night in Arkansas. She was at home, late in the evening, when her boss from RMA came by and told her to take a ride with him. It was a very cold night. He drove up to one of the lookouts on Rich Mountain, located on the west side of Mena. He demanded to know what she had been telling the police. Somehow, he had found out that Sheriff Hadaway was receiving information and feeding it to the task force in New Orleans. She denied giving information to the police. After a bit, he told her to get out of the car. She wasn’t dressed for cold weather. After a few minutes, he told her to get back in the car. He continued trying to get her to admit that she had been talking to the police. She continued to deny it. He made her get out of the car again. She had no idea what he was doing while she was outside in the cold. There were no cell phones back then. It scared Lucia and, the next day, she left Mena without a trace.

When it was time for me to look for her, I contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, InterPol, US Border Patrol, US Customs, and I don’t remember who else, to see if they had a record of her leaving the country. I checked for DL information in every state and Canada. A Customs agent helped me to get in touch with the American Embassy in Bogota. On the phone, they told me her father was a powerful man in Colombia. I asked them to contact her family to see if she was there. I, also, asked them to see if they could find out why she left Colombia and refused to return. They contacted me some time later. A US Customs agent and somebody from the embassy had gone to her family’s mansion in Bogota. They said that Lucia was not there and nobody seemed to know why she refused to return to Colombia. She was not in any legal trouble. Eventually, with the help of a Texas DPS intelligence officer, I found her working in a Western Auto store in Dallas, with a different last name. I took a federal subpoena to Dallas and served her. I was accompanied by Larry Carver (DEA, Little Rock). It seemed like it should be more than a coincidence that Lucia was working at RMA. In the end, that’s all it was: a coincidence, I think.

I met Billy Bottoms. He was at my house. He was intelligent, had charisma, good looks, and the build of an athlete. He told me the same thing that he told Hahn. I offered to show him the case that I had developed. He wanted no part of it. It seemed to me that he had his story and wasn’t going to change it because of any facts that I might show him.

One time, I received a call from Maj. Doug Stephens, head of the the ASP CID division. He told me that I was going to Miami to look at the Seal investigation files at DEA headquarters. I told him that I didn’t want to go. He told me that I didn’t have a choice. He said that Gary Worden (head of DEA in Arkansas) would be going with me. When we got there, we were ushered into the office of Ken Kennedy, the head of Group 7. It was a fairly large corner office. Kennedy’s desk was setting in the far corner from the door. In the middle of the room, closer to the door than the desk, there were two relatively small chairs next to each other. The agent that took us in told us to sit in the chairs. There was no other furniture. We were both veteran cops and understood the layout. We were not being received very well. We sat there, shoulder to shoulder, like a couple of third graders in detention. I felt like I was waiting for somebody to come in and ask me if I wanted a blindfold. After a few minutes, Kennedy came in and went to his desk without saying anything. He wasn’t going to say anything to Worden who shared the same rank. He was looking at me in an unpleasant way. He started talking and walking toward me. I was getting an ass chewing and he was very good at it. He made it clear that I was a backwoods hillbilly dumbass cop who was not worthy to be in his building. He ended up right in my face, close. He said that they had run “Mena” through the DEA’s computer system and found, only, two insignificant mentions of Mena. He said that the DEA had nothing on Mena and nothing had ever happened at Mena. There was pure hatred for me in his eyes. He walked out of the room and left us sitting there like a couple of idiots. I looked at Gary Worden and said that Kennedy was lying. Worden said, and I quote, “I hope it’s for a good national security reason.” Kennedy had treated Worden with incredible disrespect. He came back in with a couple of folders. Each of them had a couple of pages. As I remember it, they made reference to a mechanic named Joe that lived in Mena. That’s all. I wanted to interview a DEA agent named Beasley who had made the case against Seal, in Florida, long before the beginning of Seal’s grace period. It was reasonable to think that, during his investigation, he might have heard something about Mena. Kennedy refused to tell me how to contact him. The DEA Group 7 in Florida was not a good source of information about Seal’s activities at Mena. Fortunately, I didn't need them. I was only trying to be thorough.

I can understand why Hahn would assume that the words of certain federal people are more substantial than those of a backwoods state police investigator from Mena, Arkansas; but, they didn’t investigate the case. The case was investigated by the Arkansas State Police. It was based on evidence, not rumors and theories.

Seal’s aviation fuel purchases, at the Mena airport FBO, did not exceed the volume of the manufacturer’s fuel tanks until the beginning of his grace period, March 24, 1984. After that, the FBO records showed large fuel purchases (beyond the limits of the manufacturer's installed fuel tanks) for all his planes, not just the larger ones that were probably going to be used in the DEA Group 7 operations. Suddenly, the planes that had been fueled out of a stave bed truck were being fueled at the FBO. Things had changed. Things were different. Seal had a new-found freedom to do whatever he wanted in Arkansas without sneaking around. The task force in Louisiana didn’t seem to care what Seal was doing in Arkansas. DEA Group 7, in Miami, said that they were not aware that Seal had ever been to Arkansas. Yet, there at the Mena Airport was the hub of Seal’s smuggling business. The Arkansas State Police did its job.

In Hahn’s book, Bill Bottoms insisted that Seal’s planes, and other stuff, were at Mena strictly for storage. That is not correct. The planes were at the Mena airport for “concealment.” There’s a big difference. Nobody was allowed inside the hanger where Seal's aircraft were kept. The instrument panels were covered to hide the sophisticated avionics. Concealing Seal’s smuggling airplanes involved several “overt acts.” "Overt acts" are the building blocks that define a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine. In addition to simply hiding Seal's stuff in a locked and off-limits hanger, there were the acts of preparing the planes for smuggling trips, including using tape to temporarily change tail numbers, going to other airports in Arkansas and Oklahoma to surreptitiously gather aviation fuel for the pre-flights, in the guise of a fictitious business, "H & L Exploration Company;" then, the overt acts of re-concealing the plane after the cocaine had been dropped during the return flight, including removal of the tape used to create the fictitious tail number. This is not storage. This is concealment.

On page 168 of Del Hahn's book, "Smuggler's End," he wrote: "Despite their best efforts, no cocaine belonging to Seal was ever seized at the Mena airport. And none of the investigators were able to obtain search warrants for any of Seal's planes, for his hangar or for Fred Hampton's hanger."

By the time I switched from an “intelligence” investigation to a “criminal” investigation, I did not expect to find any of Seal’s cocaine at the Mena Airport. His MO was to kick the cocaine out at secluded locations before landing at Mena or anywhere else. Using this method, I doubt that he would have ever gotten caught with any cocaine.

Nobody in Arkansas tried to get a search warrant for either hanger, or the planes that were kept in Seal's hanger which was managed by Evans. If we had wanted search warrants, we could have easily gotten them, at the state and federal levels. There was plenty of probable cause. At one point, Sheriff Hadaway had a court order, signed by the judge, to seize the C-123. There may have been a search warrant for Seal’s hanger attached to that court order, but I don’t remember. It was only after Hadaway spoke on the telephone to a DEA agent at Group 7 that he chose not to carry out the court order. In hind sight, I wish that he had served the court order. It would have been interesting to see what happened next. Once we were sure that Seal was working with the DEA in Miami and he officially became a snitch on March 24, 1984, we stayed away from everything past that date. We did not want to interfere with any DEA investigations and we did not want to contaminate an Arkansas investigation with any of Seal's legitimate snitching activity for Group 7. Fred Hampton's hanger was open most of the time. Anybody could walk in. Most of the time, it wasn't an issue. Hadaway was sending enough information to the task force in New Orleans that, with what they already had, they could have gotten a search warrant, if they wanted it, before Seal's grace period; yet, they ignored it. Arkansas was within the jurisdiction of the New Orleans task force. Hadaway assumed that they would use his information wisely. They didn’t.

When Hahn told me that he was going to write a book, I assumed that it was going to be about a great man and his great career in the FBI. I still feel that way about him. I liked and respected the man when I met him in New Orleans. We discussed the Arkansas cases and the strange behavior of the USA in Fort Smith. He said that he suspected something was wrong in Arkansas because he didn't get a response to his requests for interviews sent to the Arkansas FBI. The Arkansas FBI agent who would have been the recipient of those interview requests was standing in the doorway of the motel room, listening. He didn’t say a word. The writer of this book does not seem like the same man that I met in New Orleans. He's made enough wrong assumptions and misleading errors about my investigation that I have to wonder about some of the other stuff in his book, which I don't have any personal knowledge of. I wish he had stuck to his own story and personal experiences. That would have been a great and timeless piece of literature.

I’m tired of that Mena airport investigation that happened so long ago I just want to be left alone and never hear about it again; however, I needed to correct Del Hahn's conclusion about the Mena investigation. The US Attorney’s office in Fort Smith failed to do its job. I hope it was for a good reason; but, I doubt it. When the Arkansas State Police stepped into that investigation, it was like stepping into a Three Stooges movie. That's how the Louisiana task force and Group 7 were acting toward each other. The Arkansas State Police came out of it with a case that should have been prosecuted. The fact that it wasn’t had nothing to do with the quality and quantity of the evidence.