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.'' 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