Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 1996 1 5A

Panel looks at airport, allegations
Inquiry centers on Seal drug ring

BY RODNEY BOWERS Democrat-Gazette
The House Banking Committee has sent investigators to Arkansas to look at allegations that state agencies may have laundered money from one of the world's largest drug operations and that the drug organization received federal protection.

The congressional investigation, begun late last year, centers on the Mena-based drug ring operated by the late Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal of Baton Rouge, La.

Seal, who moved his operations to the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport in 1981, admitted to Congress in the mid-1980s that he had smuggled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine into the United States. He gave the testimony as a federal Drug Enforcement Administration informant shortly before he was gunned down in February 1986 outside a Louisiana halfway house where he was serving a federal drug sentence.

Seal also admitted to Arkansas investigators that he laundered drug money through several state financial institutions, and at least seven pilots have said he flew covert gun shipments to Nicaraguan Contras after Congress banned such activities in 1984.

One of Seal's planes based at Mena later was shot down in October 1987 over Nicaragua, unraveling the Iran-Contra saga. The plane carried three Americans and military supplies for the Contras.

The Arkansas allegations led to several state, federal and congressional investigations, but no charges were ever filed.

Several investigators, including Bill Duncan, a former IRS agent, and Russell Welch, a state police investigator, also have said their investigations were impeded by government officials.

"There's been a lot of things said and the (committee) chairman has said we ought to find out what the truth is and put it out to the public," said Dave Runkel, a spokesman for committee Chairman Jim Leach, it-Iowa.

Two committee investigators Gregory Wierzynski and Kevin P. Craddock, came to Arkansas this week to interview potential witnesses about the Mena operation. Wierzyuski also visited the state earlier this year.

Several witnesses, including former Arkansas State Police Trooper L.D. Brown and Terry Reed, a self-proclaimed CIA operative, have claimed that Gov. Bill Clinton knew of the illegal activities at the Mena airport. Reed also claimed in his 1995 book, "Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA," that Clinton helped launder Seal's drug money through the Arkansas Development and Finance Authority. Clinton has denied the allegations.

Runkel said Leach wants to "separate fact from fiction ... and put to rest some of the issues here." Leach said in a prepared statement that his committee learned from its investigation of the controversial Whitewater Development Corp. land transactions of several "tangential issues," including "allegations of money laundering at (the) Mena airport ... (and) possible improper conduct spanning several federal administrations." So, he said, "I have asked members of the general oversight and investigations subcommittee to focus on the issues of Mena."

Leach listed several areas of interest, including:

  • Whether businesses based at or operating through the Mena airport engaged in money laundering.
  • If money was laundered, whether it came from Seal's activities or from others
  • Whether Seal illicitly laundered money while purportedly working for the U.S. government.
  • Whether his profits or those of others were laundered elsewhere in the United States or offshore.
  • Whether past government reviews and investigations into activities at Mena were handled properly.

    "We have requested information on these subjects from several federal agencies," Leach said, "and will share their responses with the minority (Democratic Party).

    "It is important to note," he concluded, "that this inquiry is still in the preliminary stages and no decisions have been made on whether further hearings will be held."

    Copyright 1996, Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.