Collected Articles About The Mena Airport

"Congress investigating Barry Seal's activities"
By  John Semien
April 10, 1988

        Allegations that slain drug smuggler Adler "Barry" Seal also was
involved in  weapons smuggling have attracted the attention of a
congressional subcommittee that dispatched an investigator to Baton
Rouge last week to talk with Louisiana State Police officials.
         The House Subcommittee on Crime probe is one of several focusing
on mercenary activities in the wake of last year's revelation of Lt.
 Col. Oliver North's secret Contra supply network.
         State Police Capt. Mark Oxley on Friday said the investigator
questioned troopers on Thursday concerning their investigations of
Seal's smuggling activities.
       "They went over the background of the state police involvement
with Barry Seal," Oxley said. "We shared information relative to our
 investigations, over a period of time, that touched on Seal. We are
very supportive of their mission."
         In a statement released in March, state police Col. Donald
Brisolera said the new congressional interest in Seal "centers around
guns, drugs and money-laundering violations by Barry Seal and his
 associates in the Louisiana area."
         Reached by the Morning Advocate in Washington Friday,
congressional General Counsel Haydon Gregorie acknowledged that an
investigator had visited state police in Baton Rouge but would not
comment on Seal's involvement in the probe.
         In March, Gregorie said the investigation focuses on "a number of
matters touching on criminal narcotic laws and laws governing
money-laundering and firearms possession."
         Baton Rouge was the second stop for congressional investigators
gathering information on Seal.
        In December 1987, investigators interviewed Arkansas law
enforcement officials and former associates of Seal in Mena, Ark.,
concerning the convicted smuggler's alleged ties to an airplane
repair firm there, according to Arkansas news reports.
        Their questions concerned Seal's involvement with Rich Mountain
Aviation from early 1984 until his death in February 1986, according 
to Arkansas news reports.
        Their list of contacts included former Polk County sheriff A.L.
Hadaway, who told the "Mena Star" that investigators were
specifically interested in "Rich Mountain Aviation and Seal's
 involvement in Rich Mountain Aviation, and in the actions and
activities of federal agencies and officers and their relations with
Barry Seal."
         Hadaway said investigators also asked if he had knowledge of
weapons dealing.
        At various times, Seal stored a C-123 transport plane, a Convair
 C131 Constellation and a twin-engine Grumman Albatros in facilities
owned by Rich Mountain Aviation, which is located near Mena's
Intermountain Regional Airport.
         He also steered other business to the company in his dealings as
an airplane "broker," buying and selling aircraft for customers
around the world.
          The congressional probe may answer nagging questions concerning
 these business dealings and the government's recruitment of Seal as
 an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
          Court testimony from state drug enforcement agents indicates that
 Seal was allowed to retain a fleet of planes and boats and a small
 army of couriers as part of his "cover" for government operations in
 his deal for cooperation with federal agents.
         Many questions about his dealings with the government center on
 the C-123 military transport plane, which Seal flew into and out of
 Nicaragua in June 1984.
         Federal officials have claimed that the plane was loaded with
 cocaine allegedly exported by a partnership of powerful Colombian
 cocaine czars and corrupt Sandinistan government officials.
         Equipped with a camera installed by the CIA, and working
 undercover for federal drug agents, Seal was able to photograph men
 loading cocaine into the aircraft.
         President Ronald Reagan later identified one of those men as a
 Sandinistan official during a nationally televised plea for Contra
         Seal's photos gave Reagan badly needed evidence against the
 Sandinistas in his efforts to secure funding for the Contras.
         The photographs taken by Seal show the smuggler receiving canvas
 bags of cocaine from reputed Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar and a
 man identified as Federico Vaughan, allegedly an aide to Sandinistan
 Interior Minister Thomas Borge.
         Escobar is still a fugitive in his native Colombia and Vaughan
 disappeared in the summer of 1984 after his indictment in Miami on
 drug charges. Sandinistan officials have denied that Vaughan was
 ever a high-ranking aide to Borge.
         But in 1987, reporters for the Associated Press located Vaughan's
 brother, Barney Vaughan, who has worked for Miami banks associated
 with Contra supporters.
         Vaughan worked for Popular Bank of Hialeah until the end of 1986
 and was working for BAC International Credit Corp. of Miami and the
 Cayman Islands in 1987, according to the AP.
         Popular Bank is one of several Florida banks the General
 Accounting Office has identified as holding Contra accounts.
        The AP story identified BAC International as part of a CIA-run
 money-laundering operation that has shuttled federal funds to the
 Contras in violation of congressional restrictions.
          Seal's C-123, after a change of ownership, was shot down in 1986
 while on a weapons supply run to the Contras.
         Eugene Hasenfus, the only survivor of the downed plane, has said
 he was part of a secret transportation network supervised by the CIA
 from clandestine air strips in El Salvador.
        A November 1987 Miami Herald story disclosed private memos
 written by National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver North that
 indicated North kept close tabs on Seal's 1984 Nicaragua flight.
       At the time, North was supervising the Reagan administration's
 secret aid pipeline to Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the
 Nicaraguan government.
       The report stated that on June 27, 1984, one day after Seal
 arrived in the United States with 1,500 pounds of cocaine from
 Nicaragua, North made a notation of suspects in Seal's operations,
 including "Freddy Vaughan" and "Pablo Escobar _ Colombian drug tzar."
         A memo dated June 28, 1984, reads "C-123 acquired by DEA source.
 Installed two cameras _ plane to Miami.
       "Freddy Vaughan works for Thomas Borge. Photos show," the Herald
 report states.
        A July 5, 1984, memo written by North contains the reminder:
 "check on DEA project re Freddy Vaughan. Substantial narcotics
 through," according to the Herald.
         Several "Contragate" investigations have produced statements from
 pilots that allege Seal was involved in the clandestine smuggling of
 arms to Contra rebels.
        They include pilot and convicted drug smuggler Michael Tolliver,
 who was arrested in Florida on drug charges in 1987.
        In an April 1987 interview, Tolliver told the Morning Advocate
 that he was recruited by Seal to fly arms in a secret weapons supply
 network for Nicaraguan rebels.
        Tolliver described Seal as a business acquaintance and member of
 a small community of pilots who worked both sides of the law under
 government protection.
        Tolliver said Seal used a "federal umbrella" to shelter his own,
 illegal drug dealings.
        "He was either doing a trip for DEA or working for the CIA in
 their arms deal," Tolliver said. "Or really what he was doing was using
 his cover under the federal umbrella to work trips himself...
 Everybody knew Barry worked for the government."
         Tolliver said a side business he (Tolliver) was able to establish
 allowed him to land more than 12 tons of marijuana at Homestead Air
 Force Base near Miami on one return supply mission.
          While Seal was most famous for his drug-smuggling escapades, he
 first came to the attention of federal law enforcement officials in a
 thwarted plot to overthrow the communist government of Fidel Castro
 in 1972.
         Then a pilot for Trans World Airline, Seal was arrested along
 with five other men when federal agents seized almost seven tons of
 plastic C-4 explosives in a DC-6 transport plane parked at the
 Shreveport Regional Airport.
         Charges against Seal were dismissed after a 1974 mistrial in the
        Seal lost his TWA job in the process and drifted into smuggling
 marijuana, according to his testimony in various drug trials.
         During the next decade, Seal's skill as a pilot and knack for
 logistics took him to the top ranks of air smugglers.
         Serious drug charges in Florida and Louisiana forced Seal to seek
 federal protection in 1983.
        He was turned down by federal prosecutors in Louisiana and Florida
 before he was able to become an informant for federal drug agents
 through Vice President George Bush's anti-drug task force.
         Seal has testified in court that he met with representatives of
 the vice president in Washington in 1984 and offered information on
 powerful leaders of Colombia's Medellin cocaine cartel and their
 alliance with Sandinistan officials for smuggling cocaine to the
 United States.
         Seal was a trusted courier for cartel leader Jorge Ochoa-Vasquez,
 who Seal said was pioneering a new cocaine distribution route through
 Nicaragua with the help of the Sandinistas.
        The resulting sting operation made drug enforcement history and
 blew Seal's cover as an undercover informant.
        A $500,000 contract on Seal's life soon followed.
        On Feb. 19, 1986, Seal was getting out of his white Cadillac in
 the parking lot of the Salvation Army Community Treatment Center in
 Baton Rouge when he was shot to death by a Colombian wielding a small
         Seal was murdered shortly before he was expected to testify about
 the Nicaraguan sting operation against powerful Colombian drug czars
 under indictment in Miami.
        Among his personal effects was a Honduran passport bearing Seal's
 photograph and the name Joseph C. Warren.
       At the trial of three Colombian nationals who were convicted of
 Seal's murder, federal officials could not explain the passport or
 connect it to any cases Seal worked on for the DEA.
        Later in the trial, attorneys for one of the convicted murderers
 accused federal officials of withholding evidence in the case that
 suggested Seal was still alive.
        The attorney proposed that a man named Joseph C. Warren was
 killed on Feb. 19, 1986.

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