Eight years ago, news reports out of Arkansas explored the allegations of drug smuggling,

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Eight years ago, news reports out of Arkansas explored the allegations of drug smuggling, gun-running and money-laundering activities around the Mena Intermountain Regional Airport. Way back then, investigators were revealing their evidence, while asking why there were no prosecutions. Sound familiar? Powerful interests protected the cocaine traffickers from facing criminal justice. The U.S. Justice Department did all they could to not return Grand Jury indictments by not calling the right witnesses nor asking the right questions. Was this criminal cover up justified by U.S. government officials because of National Security concerns due to the Contra resupply operations that used Mena as one of its American bases? This story is from the second day of a three series on Mena in the ARKANSAS GAZETTE. It explores the spook/drug smuggling career of Barry Seal, who smuggled cocaine into the United States and guns for the Contras. It also tells how a Federal judge left Barry Seal a sitting duck for any of his enemies. A second story appeared that day (see CIA Cocaine: Ark. Gazette 6/27/88 #2). Larry ________________________ "The Kingpin and his many connections" By Michael Haddigan THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE June 27, 1988 For seven years, Barry Seal flew tons of cocaine from the jungle airstrips of Colombia to drop zones in the Louisiana swamps. When he became a government informant in 1984 and double-crossed the cocaine cartel he once worked for, he knew what could happen. "I can take the pressure," he said. "I'm not worried about the contract. If it comes, it comes." It came February 19, 1986, in the parking lot of the Salvation Army halfway house on Baton Rouge's busy Airline Highway strip. As Seal, 43, returned to the halfway house for the evening, a condition of his federal probation, assassins sprayed his white Cadillac Fleetwood with machine-gun fire. Six of the .45-caliber bullets ripped into Seal's chest, neck and head. The Fat Man was dead. Seal's activities and associations at the Mena Intermountain Regional Airport in western Arkansas are now the subject of seven official investigations. Investigators are examining allegations of an international conspiracy involving gun running, cocaine smuggling and the illegal supply network serving the Nicaraguan contra rebels. The first question they will face may not be easy to answer: Who was Barry Seal? A review of police files, federal court trial transcripts, Seal's testimony before the President's Commission on Organized Crime and interviews with those who knew him have formed a sketch of Seal. Seal's friends and enemies say he could fly anything with wings. They say he was a gregarious, confident hustler who could sell you an empty sardine can for a dollar. "He was a good con artist, very arrogant and good at what he was doing," said A. L. Hadaway of Mena, the former Polk County sheriff who investigated Seal. "He was probably one of the best and most profitable smugglers in the country." Some will tell you he was a loving family man and a generous employer. "He was sweet and good, and he was there when you needed him," Dandra Seale of Baton Rouge, his former secretary, said. Others say he was a ruthless, violent cocaine smuggler who ruined thousands of lives. "Don't make him into a hero," one Louisiana law enforcement officer said. First solo flight at age 15 While other teen-agers were learning to drive, Barry Seal was learning to fly. At 15, Seal made his first solo flight at Baton Rouge's Ryan Airport. After a hitch in the Army, Seal joined Trans World Airlines. However, his airline career ended in 1972 when Seal was charged with smuggling explosives into Mexico for anti-Castro Cubans trained by the Central Intelligence Agency. He was later acquitted. But there were other options for a pilot like Seal. Seal began smuggling marijuana in 1977, but cocaine's "ease of handling" and big profits soon caught his attention, he said. Seal bragged that he once made $1.5 million on a single cocaine flight. 'Smuggling was so simple' "Basically, smuggling was so simple, so anonymous and so lucrative that it eventually became my sole occupation," he told the President's Commission on Organized Crime in 1985. In December 1979, Seal was arrested and jailed in Honduras after authorities there found a machine gun in his airplane. While in jail, Seal met Emile Camp of Slidell, La., another drug pilot. After they were released, Camp became Seal's co-pilot. "Emile and Barry worked really closely," Dandra Seale said. "They were together at all times." Hadaway, who is now manager of an aircraft engine shop near the Mena airport, said Seal may have based some planes at Mena in late 1981. He said Seal began making frequent appearances at Mena in late 1982 or early 1983. Turned informant in '84 Seal's transformation from smuggler to government informant began in March 1984 when he was indicted at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for smuggling Quaaludes and laundering money. A month later, he made the first of several unsuccessful attempts to interest the federal government in a deal. If federal authorities would agree to reduce his sentence, he would help build a case against the Colombian drug cartel. He found no takers. So he went over their heads. Seal testified in a federal drug trial at Las Vegas in 1985 that he flew in his Lear jet to Washington, D. C., in March 1984 and met with two members of Vice President George Bush's drug task force. They put him in touch with the Justice Department's Drug Enforcement Administration at Miami. Seal and the DEA struck a deal. Soon, Seal was working as an undercover informant. Four trips to Nicaragua Seal testified that he made four trips to Nicaragua in 1984 to document alleged Nicaraguan complicity in cocaine trafficking. One of the Nicaragua trips was a refueling stop on a flight from Colombia to the United States. Just after takeoff, an engine on the twin-engine plane he was flying was damaged by Sandinista anti-aircraft fire. The cocaine in the plane was seized by Nicaraguan authorities, Seal said, and he was jailed for several days. After Seal, Camp and a mechanic were released, they returned to the United States in a rented aircraft, he said. It was then, Seal said, that he bought the military surplus Fairchild C-123K cargo plane that would become his flagship. He dubbed it The Fat Lady. "It's a large aircraft," he later testified. "It has a wing span about the size of a C-5. You can drive a tank in it. It's camouflaged in color, a huge airplane." The converted military aircraft later became part of the clandestine contra supply network. Sandinista troops shot it down in southern Nicaragua in October 1986, killing the pilot and the co-pilot, Wallace Blaine (Buzz) Sawyer of Magnolia. Hidden camera installed Seal testified in the Las Vegas drug trial that before he returned to Nicaragua to pick up the seized cocaine, CIA personnel installed a hidden camera in the plane to get photographic proof of Sandinista drug trafficking. Just before dawn on June 26, 1984, Seal flew into Homestead Air Force Base near Miami with more than a ton of cocaine that he said he brought from Nicaragua. The conservative Washington Times broke the story of Seal's flight and the photographs he made. The article exposed Seal to the cartel as an undercover agent and an informant. However, news articles have since cast considerable doubt on Seal's claims about the Nicaraguan adventure. In an April 22, 1987, article, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal officials could find no evidence other than Seal's word that the people in the photographs were Sandinista officials. The article also reported that DEA officials said the cocaine shipment Seal brought back from Nicaragua was the only Nicaraguan shipment it was aware of. And, the officials told the newspaper, Seal had brought the drugs there from Colombia in the first place. Co-pilot dies in crash Emile Camp, Seal's co-pilot, was killed in February 1985 when the plane he was flying slammed into the side of Fourche Mountain, north of Mena. During the summer of 1985, Seal testified against Norman Saunders, the prime minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and other officials. Seal had recorded a meeting in which he said Saunders had accepted a bribe to allow the islands to be used as a stopping point for drug planes. Seal himself had used the islands in the early 1980s. He also testified in the trial of members of the cartel's Florida operations, and in October 1985 Seal testified before the President's Commission on Organized Crime. Co-operation pays off Seal's co-operation with authorities paid off. Federal officials went to bat for him, and a federal judge in Florida reduced his sentence to time served and six months probation. But there was a catch. Federal Judge Frank Polozola of Baton Rouge ordered Seal to spend each night of his probation at the Salvation Army Community Treatment Center, a federal halfway house, on Airline Highway. The judge also ruled that Seal could not carry a firearm and could not employ anyone who carried a firearm. The Fat Man's problems were far from over. Anyone who wanted Seal dead knew where and when to find him. Seal began serving his probation January 25, 1986. Seal's problems were compounded when the Internal Revenue Service presented him with a $29 million tax bill. "Toward the end, he was highly tense and nervous," Seale, his former secretary, said. "The IRS took everything." Seale was to have visited Barry Seal the night he died. Her husband telephoned her with the news. "They got him," he said. A few days later, he was buried in a sky blue casket. Next: Mena officials are tired of Barry Seal.


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