The Jorge Cabrera Scandal

Cabrera as informant



 Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

 [Fantasies from the fevered brains of CIA drug-dealers do have a way
 of coming back to haunt the US secret government. While contras are
 trotted out to deny a genuine US/CIA drug-dealing conspiracy, other CIA
 assets lie about a Cuban cocaine connection that never was--NY Transfer]

 HTTP://www.herald.com
 Published Sunday, November 24, 1996, in the Miami Herald

   Castro drug probe collapses in heap of dead ends, lies

   By JEFF LEEN
   Herald Staff Writer

   Official: Lies kill Castro probe; Drug informant claims conspiracy

   A U.S. drug investigation targeting Fidel Castro's regime was dropped
   because two sources told prosecutors the key informant orchestrated
   lies about Cuban government involvement, The Herald has learned.

   The high-profile case crashed last month when a federal prosecutor in
   Miami said the informant, Islamorada drug smuggler George Cabrera, was
   worthless as a witness. The prosecutor did not provide details at that
   time.

   Cabrera's attorney, Stephen J. Bronis, accused the government of
   torpedoing the case for political reasons. Bronis has asked U.S.
   Attorney General Janet Reno for an independent counsel to investigate.
   Reno will rule on the request early next year.

   ``If Cuba is involved in drug smuggling and for some reason or other
   pressure was put on the Justice Department to look the other way, to
   derail the investigation, then that's obstruction,'' Bronis said.

   But the prosecutor told The Herald last week she simply decided not to
   use Cabrera because he lied to her and admitted it.

   ``It's a lot more sexy to think it's a conspiracy, but that's really
   what happened,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Diaz, a
   narcotics prosecutor since 1989.

   Both Diaz and the federal drug agents who investigated the case say
   they were never able to get the kind of corroborating evidence
   necessary for an indictment.

   In the end, the feds say, the case collapsed in a heap of
   investigative dead-ends and lies.

   ``When you dissect it and look at it piece by piece, it doesn't stand
   up,'' said James Milford, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug
   Enforcement Administration in Miami.

   Still, there is ample fodder for conspiracy theorists.

   In an election year, Cabrera managed to get himself into separate
   photographs with Fidel Castro, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton while he
   was simultaneously bringing three tons of cocaine into the United
   States and contributing $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

   Cabrera was invited to the White House for a fund-raising dinner with
   the first lady at the same time that the cocaine was coming into the
   United States.

   ``These are facts that would provide an incentive for certain
   political officials to benefit from the government disavowing and
   distancing itself from my client,'' Bronis wrote in his letter to
   Reno.

   The government insists that no political influence was exerted on the
   case.

   ``Obviously, there are facts that can't be denied, like was Jorge
   Cabrera in Cuba?'' prosecutor Diaz said. ``Obviously, there's a
   picture of him with Fidel Castro that proves he was in Cuba. But
   that's just a part of it. Somebody can take many things that are
   innocent on their face and put a spin on it.''

   CASTRO CONNECTION
   Cuban president posed
   for photos with smuggler

   In the beginning it looked like the DEA was on the verge of making the
   biggest drug case of all time.

   On Jan. 9, a 41-year-old drug smuggler named Jorge Cabrera and four
   other men were caught in Miami with three tons of cocaine and 30 boxes
   of Cuban Cohiba cigars by DEA agents acting on a telephone tip. In
   Cabrera's Volkswagen Jetta, agents found wallet-size color photographs
   of Cabrera posing with Castro and other Cuban officials.

   In mid-February, Cabrera started cooperating with the DEA in exchange
   for leniency. He said he picked up tons of Colombian cocaine in Cuban
   waters out of the reach of U.S. authorities.

   He said he was summoned to Colombia in late 1993 by Carlos Tascon, a
   top Cali Cartel boss who told him of the plan to send a freighter full
   of cocaine into Cuban waters.

   ``Jorge was blown away when Tascon mentioned Cuba,'' Bronis said.

   But the freighter's captain assured Cabrera: ``It's worked out. We're
   going through Cuba and this is how we do it.''

   The first three loads went like clockwork, with the freighter
   off-loading to Cabrera's boats about four miles off Cuba, Cabrera
   said.

   In November 1995, just months before his arrest, Cabrera was in Havana
   -- planning the shipment that was later seized in Miami -- when he met
   Fidel Castro.

   Cabrera was with a group of Cuban-American businessmen seeking a
   multimillion-dollar oil exploration deal with the dictator.

   Bronis said Cabrera gave the following account of the meeting:

   ``Castro pulled me aside. He knew everything about me. He knew about
   the businesses I had in the Keys. He knew about the restaurant I just
   opened in Key West called Havana-Madrid. He knew I was in the stone
   crab business. He asked me what I paid my waitresses.''

   Bronis continued: ``Castro said to Jorge, `I know your friends from
   Cali. I've met them. I know they're here. I like doing business with
   them.' The wink-and-a-nod kind of thing.''

   AN UNUSUAL REQUEST
   `Did you bring
   stone crabs for Fidel?'

   At first, the feds were excited by the case. There were several
   tantalizing bits of circumstantial evidence:

   The photographs proved Cabrera was in Cuba at the time of the drug
   deal. They also confirmed that he met with three Cuban officials,
   including Castro.

   Cabrera's co-defendant, a Colombian named Alberto Franco Herrera,
   struck his own deal with the government and confirmed that he and
   Cabrera were in Cuba during the drug deal.

   ``My client has confirmed much of what Cabrera said,'' said Rick Diaz,
   Franco's attorney.

   Another Cabrera co-defendant who also turned informant, a Key West
   boat captain named Juan Paan, confirmed that he took his fishing boat
   and rendezvoused with cocaine-laden freighters off Cuba.

   ``I'm not going to talk to you about that,'' Paan's attorney, Hy
   Shapiro, told The Herald. Paan is presently working for the government
   on ``a number of major investigations,'' according to court records.

   At his debriefing, Cabrera said he chartered a sportfishing boat and
   used it to entertain Cuban officials at the Hemingway Marina in
   Havana.

   Rick Diaz said his client, Franco, told him Cabrera was ``welcomed
   like a dignitary'' by Cubans who ``appeared to him to be government
   officials.'' The Cubans arrived in Mercedes-Benzes with special tags
   at the Hemingway Marina.

   ``My client was amazed at the ease with which Jorge Cabrera got things
   accomplished,'' Rick Diaz said. ``Nobody stopped him. Nobody checked
   him.''

   Bronis said Cabrera told him Cuban officials made an urgent request
   when he first arrived:

   ``Did you bring the stone crabs for Fidel?''

   Cabrera said he had forgotten.

   He was told to order a shipment from the United States and have them
   brought to a precise offshore location determined by
   global-positioning-satellite navigation.

   ``Both Cabrera and Franco have identified two other individuals who
   the government has interviewed, and they have confirmed what Cabrera
   and my client have said,'' Rick Diaz said. ``My client told me George
   joked about providing stone crabs to Fidel. He told me that's what
   Fidel liked.''

   CASE UNRAVELS
   One man says he was
   told to lie about gunboat

   On July 25, details of the investigation appeared in a front-page
   story in The Miami Herald. The story created consternation in federal
   law enforcement circles.

   Around this time, Bronis said he noticed ``a chill in the air.''

   In August, Cabrera and Bronis were summoned for another debriefing
   with the DEA and Patricia Diaz.

   ``They say to Jorge -- `We think you lied about Cuba,' '' Bronis said.

   The feds said Paan had told them Cabrera instructed him to say that a
   Cuban patrol boat was in the vicinity when Paan picked up the cocaine
   from the freighter on the last of the four trips. The presence of a
   patrol boat would help prove the Cuban government was protecting the
   operation.

   ``About seven different times, Jorge denied it,'' Bronis said. ``But
   Patty Diaz said, `Just tell us you said that and nothing's going to
   happen.' Finally, Jorge said, `OK, I said that,' and boom, the meeting
   is over.''

   Bronis said Cabrera told him later he never told Paan to mention a
   gunboat. He said he only told Diaz he did because he felt pressured.
   Bronis also said that he heard from a source that Paan never said that
   Cabrera told him to lie about a Cuban gunboat.

   In any case, Bronis and other defense attorneys say the detail about
   the gunboat shouldn't have been enough to sink the case.

   ``It's not just lying about the gunboat,'' prosecutor Diaz said.
   ``It's getting somebody else to lie about it. Not only did he lie, he
   elicited somebody to lie for him.

   ``If somebody lies about important details, how do you start sorting
   out what's lies and what's not lies?''

   DEAD-END CASE
   Without corroboration,
   informant worthless

   DEA agents said the case's leads never went anywhere:

   The photograph showed that Cabrera was in Cuba and met Castro. But
   there was a more innocent explanation: He was with a group of
   Cuban-Americans pursuing an oil deal in violation of the embargo.

   His co-defendant, the Colombian Franco, confirmed that Cabrera was in
   Cuba, that they were involved in a drug deal and that they met men who
   appeared to be Cuban officials. But Franco never spoke with those men
   and was unable positively to identify them as Cuban officials. He was
   relying on what Cabrera told him.

   The Colombian drug dealer Tascon was in Havana. But there were no
   photographs of him with Cuban officials. And Franco could not testify
   about any meaningful conversations between Tascon and Cabrera because
   he was a low-level employee kept out of such discussions.

   Juan Paan met a freighter in Cuban waters, but he did not meet any
   Cuban officials.

   ``It's all interesting stuff, but what does it mean?'' said DEA
   spokeswoman Pam Brown.

   Early in the case, DEA agents found out that Cabrera had urged others
   to lie about other events in Cuba to implicate Cuban officials.

   The DEA said it was disturbed, but it continued to investigate.

   But after Paan came forward, the DEA decided it could no longer use
   Cabrera in any fashion.

   DEA agents say Paan told them Cabrera did much more than tell him to
   say there was a gunboat on the horizon when he met the freighter.
   According to the DEA, Paan said Cabrera asked him to corroborate an
   elaborate story Cabrera had told about a close encounter with a
   gunboat in Cuban waters:

   Paan was to tell the feds that he saw a Cuban gunboat a few hundred
   yards away as he took the cocaine from the freighter. Then Paan was to
   say he grew concerned and placed a radio transmission to Cabrera, who
   told him not to worry because the gunboat was ``one of ours.''

   A freighter full of cocaine had indeed ventured into Cuban waters, and
   a Cali Cartel drug lord had indeed ventured to Havana. But the DEA
   could not link the freighter or the drug lord to Cuban officials with
   anything but the testimony of George Cabrera.

   To the DEA, his testimony no longer meant anything.

   NO MORE DEAL
   Judge gives smuggler
   19 years in prison

   When Cabrera appeared for sentencing on Oct. 9 before U.S. District
   Court Judge Joan Lenard, the government refused to say that he had
   given them the ``substantial assistance'' necessary to reduce his
   sentence. The judge gave him 19 years.

   Bronis complained that Juan Paan wasn't in court to testify about the
   gunboat issue. He told the judge he had asked Patricia Diaz to produce
   Paan, who was in DEA custody at the time.

   Diaz said Bronis never made such a request.

   ``Nobody was trying to hide Paan from him,'' Diaz said.

   Details about Cabrera's $20,000 contribution to the Democratic
   National Committee emerged at the sentencing, making national news.

   But Diaz said the contribution had no bearing on the case's outcome.

   ``It's supposed to be this big conspiracy from the top down,'' she
   said. ``I handled the case. Nobody was telling me how to run the case.

   ``Certain people are going to believe this was all a big plot not to
   indict Castro, and other people will believe that Cabrera lied to me.
   And I know the truth. But there will always be people who believe one
   or the other.''

   Copyright 1996 The Miami Herald

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