The strange story of what was going on at an airport in Mena, Arkansas, 10 years ago is an embarrassment to both the Democratic governor who ran Arkansas in the 1980s and to the Republicans who ran the White House. But two dogged Arkansans, former Internal Revenue Service Investigator William Duncan and Arkansas State Police Investigator Russell Welch, have kept the story alive. For more than a decade, Messrs. Duncan and Welch have been stitching together evidence of Mena-related schemes to smuggle drugs, launder money and ship weapons, possibly involving both Arkansas law enforcement and the U.S. intelligence community.
On Tuesday, Mr. Welch was summoned to Little Rock to appear before the State Police Commission. A review panel had demanded his immediate transfer to Little Rock. The reason? Inadequate attention to paperwork and the "need for closer supervision," says Wayne Jordan, a police spokesman. "It has nothing to do with" the Mena probe.
Repeated attempts to bring the Mena affair before state and federal authorities have failed. Mr. Duncan's stubborn insistence on investigating Mena, detailed on this page October 18, resulted in the destruction of his career in federal law enforcement. So naturally, when his colleague Russell Welch finds himself in a disciplinary hearing before the State Police Commission, we think it at least worthy of public note regardless of the official explanation. One year short of qualifying for his pension, Mr. Welch's transfer clearly would be tantamount to demotion and prelude to dismissal.
Mr. Welch tells us that his troubles started a little over a year ago, when he responded to inquiries from The Wall Street Journal and "CBS Evening News." Until then, he says he had always received above-average ratings on his performance reviews and high marks from his peers. Suddenly, questions were being raised about his paperwork. On one occasion, Mr. Welch says his commander, Major Charles Bolls, the chief of the Criminal Investigation Division complained that Mr. Welch was "becoming like the two troopers" who provided the press with details on Governor Clinton's alleged sexual misadventures. In February, a police panel persistently questioned him about whether he was writing a book about Mena.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Welch was notified of the administrative hearing and ordered not to work on his appeal during office hours. Among those rising to his defense was Charles Black, a former Mena-area public prosecutor who once had attempted to investigate the drug charges surrounding the airfield. Today Mr. Black is a deputy county prosecutor in Texarkana. Concerned about what was happening to Mr. Welch, who had no lawyer to represent him, Mr. Black went to Tuesday's hearing in Little Rock.
There, Mr. Black got the opportunity to question Major Bolls. According to observers of the proceeding, Major Bolls grew agitated when questioned about the Mena investigation and denied that it had anything to do with the transfer. Mr. Welch, Major Bolls said, was "consumed" with Mena and needed to be brought to Little Rock "so we would know where he was and what he was doing." By day's end, Mr. Black had won a 30-day continuance and Mr. Welch was placed on paid administrative leave.
A conflict of interest most likely prevents Mr. Black from further involvement in the case. He told us, however, "I'm convinced that Russell's activities in investigating Mena and talking to the media are playing a role in this whole mess." Mr. Jordan, the state police spokesman, hints that Mr. Welch's personnel file contains more damaging information and urges Mr. Welch to OK its release. At the least, Russell Welch clearly needs a lawyer, and a very tough one at that.
Mr. Welch's new lawyer might want to talk to Linda Ives, who drove up to Little Rock for the hearing. In 1987, Mrs. Ives's teenage son Kevin and his friend Don Henry were murdered near the railroad tracks south of Little Rock. She has waged a long campaign to prove their deaths are linked to drugs and Mena and a coverup. This troubling incident was reported by the Los Angeles Times in May 1992.
"That hearing was not about a trooper who didn't do his job," Mrs. Ives told us. "It was about a trooper who did his job only too well. Anybody who tries to tell the story is discredited and ruined."
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