This begins a three-day series of articles in the ARKANSAS GAZETTE about the allegations o

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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." Larry ___________________ "'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 cocaine cartel. His C-123 cargo plane, one of several Seal planes that were stored and repaired at Mena, later played a major role in the Iran-contra affair. 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 Nicaragua. Alexander said he has been meeting weekly with the GAO investigating team and has been in touch with the House and Senate subcommittees. "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 airport." Goodwin confirmed that the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration were also conducting investigations. 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 Nicaragua. 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 done." The State Police investigation went back on track in late May, he said. 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 indictments. 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.


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