This begins a three-day series of articles in the ARKANSAS
GAZETTE about the allegations of drug trafficking in Mena.
In a sworn deposition, former military criminal investigator
Gene Wheaton charged that "former" American
intelligence operatives were using Mena to smuggle drugs.
Col. Tommy Goodwin, the Arkansas State Police director said
the State Police investigation into the narcotics of Mena began in
1983 and "once the file was almost completed, it was turned over
to the United States Attorney's office in the Western District and
nothing was done."
"'Fat Man' key to mystery"
By Michael Haddigan
THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE
June 26, 1988
Allegations of cocaine smuggling and international intrigue swirled
about the Mena Airport and Seal for years. Investigators are still
trying to separate myth from reality.
MENA They called him the Fat Man.
At almost 300 pounds, Adler B. (Barry) Seal also talked big and
did big things. He had a small fleet of planes and helicopters, two
ships, 60 employees, and a seemingly unlimited supply of cash.
He made more than $50 million smuggling drugs into the United
States from South America between 1977 and 1986. He became a key
witness in the federal government's war on the powerful Colombian
His C-123 cargo plane, one of several Seal planes that were
stored and repaired at Mena, later played a major role in the
Seal was murdered more than two years ago, but questions and
allegations persist about the Fat Man and his activities at the Mena
Intermountain Regional Airport.
Investigators are examining allegations of an international
conspiracy involving gun running, cocaine smuggling and the illegal
supply network serving the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
And they're looking at the possibility that somehow all this is
connected to the Mena airport, tucked away in a remote, mountainous
and heavily forested area of western Arkansas.
The FBI, the Justice Department's Drug Enforcement
Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the federal General
Accounting Office, two congressional committees and the Arkansas
State Police are now conducting investigations that touch on Seal's
activities in the state in the early 1980s, officials said.
United States Representative Bill Alexander of Osceola said in
April that he had asked the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress,
to look into any possible links between the Mena airport, drug sales,
Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and retired Marine Lt. Col.
Oliver North, one of the organizers of the contra supply operation in
Alexander said he has been meeting weekly with the GAO
investigating team and has been in touch with the House and Senate
"The investigation is comprehensive and it cuts across several
departments," Alexander said. "It is going to take some time."
"The main offense we are looking at is a conspiracy connected
with cocaine," Col. Tommy Goodwin, the Arkansas State Police
director, said. "We are looking at certain individuals at the
Goodwin confirmed that the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and
the Drug Enforcement Administration were also conducting
Contra-drug link suggested
United States Senator John Kerry (Dem., Mass.), chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Narcotics and Terrorism, has
been investigating allegations that profits from drug sales were used
to finance the Nicaraguan rebels after Congress prohibited military
aid to them.
Jack Blum, special counsel for the Senate subcommittee, said last
week that the subcommittee investigation would deal with Seal, the
Mena airport, a contra air supply operation organized by North and
"allegations of narcotics trafficking related to air operation."
Blum said the subcommittee has asked "a number of questions, but
only in a preliminary way." The House subcommittee, he said, is
"much farther along" in its investigation.
"We've heard quite a bit about Mena recently," he said. "It seems
to be a very lively place."
Haydon Gregorie, general counsel for the House subcommittee, said
the investigation generally centered on allegations of drug
trafficking by the contra rebels in Nicaragua. The investigation
also would touch on Seal's activities, he said.
"We were asked to look into allegations that drug trafficking
involved the contras and their supporters," Gregorie said, "and
allegations that prosecutions were not pursued as they might have
been if not for political connections."
Media accused of fueling rumors
Jerry Montgomery, the Mena mayor, said the news media had fueled
the rumors about Seal's activities in Mena by publishing stories on
the subject every few months.
"They are trying a case on a lot of apparent rumors," he said.
"This has been going on for about three years. It surfaced for the
third time in November and December of last year."
Fred L. Hampton, the owner of Rich Mountain Aviation where Seal
had work performed on his planes, said he is "sick to death" of the
attention the business has received because of Seal.
He said he thought "only a fraction of what was said about Barry
Seal" was true.
He said much of Seal's bragging was a "publicity stunt to make
him look like he was a big smuggler" so his testimony could be used
to get convictions.
Allegations about the Mena Airport and a rural airstrip near the
Nella community in southern Scott County were to be part of the
testimony offered in the trial of a complex $24 million federal
lawsuit that was to have begun Monday at Miami.
The Christic Institute, a liberal Washington, D. C., law and
public policy center, filed the suit in 1986 alleging racketeering
and a 25-year worldwide criminal conspiracy by a "secret team" of
former military and intelligence officers.
The 29 defendants, the suit alleged, carried out assassinations,
drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering and other illegal
activities in support of United States foreign policy. The "secret
team," the suit said, has operated in Southeast Asia, Australia,
Iran, Chile and Central America.
Hakim, Secord named
Among the defendants were former Maj. Gen. Richard Secord and
Albert Hakim, both figures in the Iran-contra affair; Theodore
Shackley, the former CIA operations director; former Maj. Gen. John
K. Singlaub and members of the Colombian drug cartel.
The suit alleged that sales of cocaine from the cartel were used
to buy guns. The guns were then flown to the contras in Nicaragua,
the suit said.
Federal Judge James Lawrence King dismissed the case Thursday,
saying the plaintiffs failed to prove their basic contention that the
alleged conspiracy carried out the 1984 bombing of a news conference
In a pretrial deposition, Eugene Wheaton, a former military
criminal investigator, alleged that Seal used Rich Mountain Aviation
and a rural airstrip once owned by Hampton to smuggle guns and drugs.
Hampton denied the allegations.
Wheaton also alleged in the deposition that former intelligence
agents from the Vietnam era carried out covert paramilitary training
for the "secret team" near the Nella airstrip.
Wheaton and others have alleged that political pressure had been
used to block the Mena investigation in the last few years.
Probe began in 1983
Goodwin said the State Police investigation began in 1983 and
"once the file was almost completed, it was turned over to the United
States Attorney's office in the Western District and nothing was
The State Police investigation went back on track in late May, he
Goodwin said evidence had been brought before "three or four
Grand Juries" in recent years, but no indictments have been returned.
United States Attorney Michael Fitzhugh of Fort Smith said last
week that "a matter related to the Mena area" went before the Grand
Jury meeting at Hot Springs in mid-June, but the Jury returned no
Fitzhugh said the investigation had never been blocked.
"This office has never been under any pressure in any
investigation," he said.
Next: The Fat Man.