Collected Articles About The Mena Airport


"Slain smuggler used airport"
By Rodney Bowers
THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE 
December 14, 1987

    MENA _ A big-time drug smuggler who was killed in Louisiana in
1986 operated for a while out of the Mena Airport, according to law
enforcement officials.
       Adler Berriman (Barry) Seal ran airplanes in and out of the
airport for several years starting in 1981, they said, and his
activities are still the subject of criminal investigations. Seal
eventually became a federal drug informant and helped carry out
operations to catch drug dealers in South America. There is evidence
Seal may even have been involved in running arms to the Nicaraguan
contras at one time.
         Federal authorities say he was shot to death at Baton Rouge by
three Colombians.
         Seal's activities at Mena prompted an investigation of some Mena
residents. One former investigator, Terry Capehart, a former Polk
County deputy sheriff, agreed to talk about Seal and some aspects of
the case, saying he is frustrated that the case has never made it
into court.
        Other local, state and federal agencies confirmed the
investigation and some provided information about it, but only on the
condition they not be identified.
        Capehart said he initiated a drug investigation at the Mena
Airport for the Polk County sheriff's office in early 1981 and worked
on the case until January, when he resigned to take a position with
the state Transportation Safety Agency.
         Initially Polk County authorities were the only ones involved in
the investigation, but the FBI, the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration, Internal Revenue Service, the Coast Guard, Customs
and state police agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida
eventually became part of the investigation, he said.
        Capehart and the other investigators who discussed the case said
the Mena investigation centered on Seal, a Louisiana man who was
convicted of drug smuggling in Florida and Louisiana.
        "He hauled everything _ pot, cocaine, guns, explosives," and used
Mena "as a base of operations," Capehart said.
       Capehart said Seal's flights into Mena first attracted attention
because the planes were equipped with long-range fuel tanks, had
oversized cargo doors that opened only from the inside, and were
outfitted with winches and modified fuselages _ common items on
aircraft used to smuggle drugs.
        The sources said Seal, in early 1981, moved a portion of his
operation to Mena from Baton Rouge. He flew planes in and out of the
public airport and also used a hangar there. In March 1984, Seal
became a federal informant and began working for the DEA, mostly out
of Florida.
         For the most part, investigators are looking at Seal's pre-1984
activities because most of his activities at Mena were in that
period, they said. At least three Mena residents were investigated
for allegedly participating in drug smuggling and illegal currency
transactions while Seal worked out of the Mena Airport, the
investigators said.
        Al Winters, an assistant United States attorney at Baton Rouge,
said Seal pleaded guilty in 1985 to two federal drug charges in
Louisiana and that a judge in Florida combined those sentences with
two in that state, making the cumulative prison sentence 10 years.
Winters said the judge then reduced the sentences to time served and
released Seal on probation in mid-1985.
        Three Colombians, Fabio Ochoa, Pablo Escobar and Rafael Cardonna,
were charged in connection with Seal's death. Cardonna recently was
shot in Colombia.
        Seal's death and the fact that he operated as a government
informant in drug sting operations has complicated the case against
anyone else involved in the activities before 1984.
         But Capehart said he believed the "case is made." The trouble,
he said, is getting it into court.
        Capehart and other investigators said they suspect there has been
political pressure not to prosecute. One said there is an FBI report
noting that the United States attorney's office at Fort Smith had
"interfered" with the Mena investigation.
         But United States Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh at Fort Smith
disputed that. He said his office is not under any pressure not to
prosecute any case. He said he could not speak about specific
investigations, but, "My office is not under influence of any
pressure to influence the course of any pending investigation and, if
anyone attempted to apply such pressure, it would not work."
         Fitzhugh also said his office had not "hampered or hindered any
investigation."
         Local authorities said they believe the case was presented to
federal Grand Juries in 1985 at Fort Smith and in September of this
year at Fayetteville. Fitzhugh would not confirm that.
          Local investigators who have worked on the case contend that
"good witnesses" with first-hand information have not been called to
 testify at the Grand Jury meetings.
          Another Grand Jury is expected to consider the case again soon,
they said. If there is no action this time, local investigators will
consider making charges on the state and local level.

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