Rockford's strange connection to Arkansas airport

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110857135624377.jpg’, ”, ‘Fred Hitz’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110857137524430.jpg’, ”, ‘Sam Giancana’);

n CIA used Mena airport for “aviation-related” services during Iran-Contra scandal in 1980s

Ambrose Evans-Prichard is a reporter for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Buried on page 264 of his 1997 book The Secret Life of Bill Clinton is a reference that reads: “The following day [Aug. 23, 1987, Daniel H.] Harmon told Sharlene [Wilson] that she would have to ditch her car. He gave her $500 in cash and told her to deliver a packet of cocaine to an address in Rockford, Illinois. She went to an auto auction and bought an Olds Cutlass Supreme for $450 in cash and drove to Rockford.”

Interviews and analysis of information compiled by The Rock River Times combined with Evans-Pritchard’s reference raises old and new questions concerning the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) complicity in drug trafficking in the 1980s during the period of the Iran-Contra scandal, and about the CIA’s relationship with Chicago Mafia.

Although government reports issued since the Iran-Contra affair examined alleged connections between the CIA and the drug trade, what was not thoroughly reported was the extent of the involvement of Mafia influences in Afghanistan, Colombia, Brazil, New York, and Illinois during that time, and their possible link to drug trafficking and CIA operatives.

A May 1962 CIA document; an October 2004 interview with former Mob attorney Robert Cooley; Evans-Pritchard’s book; and Wilson’s confirmation of the Rockford drop site, raises the question: When, if ever, did the CIA sever ties to the Chicago Mafia and why?

Alleged Mafia drop site

During an interview Feb. 13, Wilson confirmed what was written on page 264 of Evans-Pritchard’s book. Although she couldn’t remember the address to which the approximately 10-pound packet of cocaine was delivered, she said, “It was a big, brick home” on Rockford’s “south side,” which she alleged was owned by the Mafia.

When asked how she was certain the house was owned or controlled by the Mob, Wilson responded, “You’re on the right track.” She then described how difficult her life has been since the recent death of her husband Bryson Jacobs, the publication of Evans-Pritchard’s book, and her 1999 release from prison on drug charges.

The interview was abruptly ended after she requested more information about the newspaper and answered an incoming call. Telephoned later that day, Wilson was not available for further comment, according to the person who answered the call.

No answers from Harmon

Wilson’s drug charges were originally prosecuted in 1993 by Daniel H. Harmon, who was also convicted on drug charges in April 1998. According to Evans-Pritchard, during Harmon’s prosecution of Wilson, Harmon failed to reveal to jurors that he and Wilson had previously had an intimate relationship.

Harmon was the prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’ 7th Judicial District from 1979 to 1980, and again from 1991 to 1996. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Jan. 26, 1999, that Harmon “was forced to resign in a plea agreement involving a set of state misdemeanor charges.”

According to Al Quintero, public information officer for the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., Harmon refused an interview to answer questions about the Rockford drop-site address. Harmon is scheduled to be released from prison April 14, 2006.

A message was left at The Daily Telegraph for Evans-Pritchard. However, he could not be reached for comment by time of publication.

Iran-Contra scandal

Although most media reported only the arms-for-hostages portion of the Iran-Contra scandal, new information since the 1980s has given rise to questions involving drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering that may also be linked to the Iran-Contra affair.

During the war on Communism and President Ronald Reagan’s administration, the CIA trained and assisted anti-Communist insurgents, known as the Contras, in Central America to overthrow the Communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

At the same time in Lebanon, seven American hostages were being held by Iranian terrorists. Reagan wanted to secure the hostages’ release.

Primarily through the efforts of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council and his boss, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, they diverted funds from the illegal sale of weapons to Iran to fund the Contras’ efforts.

In the process of diverting the funds from the arms sales, Reagan’s administration violated the 1984 congressionally-imposed embargo on selling arms to Iran, and Reagan’s own promise to never deal with terrorists.

In April 1989, a congressional subcommittee on Narcotics, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, which was chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), found that U.S. efforts to combat drug trafficking were undermined by the Reagan administration’s fear of jeopardizing its objectives in Nicaragua. The Kerry report concluded the administration ignored evidence of drug trafficking by the Contras, and continued to provide them support.

What was not thoroughly reported was the extent of the involvement of Mafia influences in Afghanistan, Colombia, Brazil, New York and Illinois during that time, and their possible link to drug trafficking and CIA operatives.

Mena Airport

According to Evans-Pritchard, Wilson said during the time she worked at the Mena Airport in the mid-1980s, “cocaine was flown in on twin-engine Cessnas.” Although it is not known whether those exact planes were used or hired by the CIA during the time of the Iran-Contra operation, the 1998 CIA report “Allegations of connections between CIA and the Contras in cocaine trafficking to the United States,” reads that the CIA often hired contractors “that were used to support Contra activities from 1984 until at least 1988.”

CIA Inspector General Frederick R. Hitz told Congress Nov. 8, 1996, the CIA used the airport for “routine aviation-related services on agency equipment,” and conducted a two-week training activity “with another federal agency at Mena Intermountain Airport.”

Hitz also said he found no evidence the agency or its personnel were associated with illegal activities in or around Mena.

Hitz said, “No evidence has been found that CIA had contact with any individuals or businesses based at, or operating through, the airport at Mena, Arkansas” including “money laundering, narcotics trafficking, [or] arms smuggling.”

However, according to a Nov. 9, 1996, article in The Washington Post, “Hitz acknowledged that he had not attempted to investigate these charges specifically, and that his report was ‘based almost exclusively on information in CIA files or provided by current or former CIA employees.’”

During the same congressional meeting, the Arkansas Times reported Nov. 15, 1996, that “CIA personnel had ‘limited contact’ with Adler Berriman ‘Barry’ Seal, a major drug trafficker and federal informant (who also, coincidentally, worked out of the airport at Mena…”

The 1996 Washington Post article continued: “CIA technical people equipped Seal’s C-123K transport plane with two 35mm cameras. Seal flew the plane to Nicaragua, where he covertly photographed an official of the Sandinista government and a leader of a Colombian drug cartel loading cocaine on the aircraft.”

In 1984, The Washington Times published an article that detailed Seal’s successful infiltration into the Colombian-based Medellin cartel’s operations in Panama. According to the Public Broadcasting System, the story was leaked to The Washington Times by North to demonstrate the Nicaraguan Sandinistas’ involvement in the drug trade and bolster support for the Contras.

Seal was killed in February 1986 by Medellin cartel gunmen in Baton Rouge, La.

After a change in ownership, Seal’s C-123K transport plane was shot down later that year on Oct. 5, 1986, during a supply run to the Contras from clandestine airstrips in El Salvador. The CIA denied involvement in the operation, according an Oct. 8, 1986, New York Times article.

Other startling allegations in the Arkansas Times’ Nov. 15, 1996, article said
former Arkansas State Trooper Larry D. Brown alleged that “while he was being considered for CIA employment [in 1984], he was taken on two airplane rides from Mena to Honduras, where he claims to have witnessed Nicaraguan Contra rebels being given M-16 rifles in exchange for quantities of cocaine, which were then flown back to Mena.”

CIA-Mafia connections

During another anti-Communist activity, under President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the CIA offered the Chicago Mafia $150,000 to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. Mob leader Sam Giancana and Mafia Lieutenant John Rosselli refused the offer.

The Mob was willing to kill Castro for free.

According to the May 1962 CIA memo, Rosselli and Giancana “guessed or assumed that CIA was behind the project. …At least two assassination attempts used CIA-supplied lethal pills and hired help from organized crime in early 1961.”

Giancana and Rosselli failed to kill Castro. They were both later victims of Mob hits, according to the July 2, 1997, Chicago Tribune article, which described the CIA memorandum.

And according to Daniel Hopsicker, author of the 2001 book, Barry and the Boys, in addition to Seal being a CIA operative, he was also closely associated with Rosselli and Giancana.

The CIA has a long history of working with organized crime that is even older than the agency.

According to Alfred W. McCoy, professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, one of the predecessors to the CIA, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), sought help from the Mafia during World War II to secure eastern seaports from sabotage, and sought intelligence from the Mafia for the Allied forces’ invasion of Sicily.

McCoy wrote: “While the role of the Mafia is little more than a historical footnote to the Allied conquest of Sicily, the Mafia’s cooperation with the American military occupation was important.”

With the link between the Chicago Mafia and the CIA revealed, the unanswered question is when, if ever, did the CIA sever ties to the Chicago Mafia and why?

Mafia drug trafficking

Describing the Iran-Contra scandal, McCoy begins: “….during the 1980s, Latin America cocaine exports to the United States escalated, producing a pandemic of narcotics abuse. … The surge of exports was directed by a consortium of Colombian cocaine brokers known as the ‘Medellin cartel.’ In 1980, some 75 percent of U.S. cocaine came from Colombia.”

During this same period between the 1970s to the mid-1980s, members of the Sicilian Mafia operated what would become known as the “Pizza Connection.” The $1.65 billion drug smuggling and money laundering conspiracy was detailed in The Rock River Times’ April 21, 2004, article “’Pizza Connection’ legacy examined.”

According to The New York Times articles from April 10, 1984, and March 3, 1987, the participants in the conspiracy were primarily charged with importing tons of Afghanistan-based heroin into the United States. However, the conspiracy also involved the importation of South American cocaine—likely from Colombia.

The Midwest captain for the Pizza Connection was Oregon, Ill., pizza maker Pietro Alfano, who moved back to Italy after his release from prison in 1992. He pled guilty in August 1987 to racketeering and narcotics charges directly linked to the Pizza Connection.

Alfano was arrested in Spain on April 8, 1984, and went on trial in 1985. However, according to The New York Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal in his book Last Days of the Sicilians, Alfano was gunned down but survived an attempted Mob hit Feb. 11, 1987, “because of his continuing drug-trafficking activities.”

His injuries led to his confinement to a wheelchair.

About 11 months earlier on March 8, 1986, Chicago police raided an illegal gambling operation in Elk Grove Village and found 10 kilograms of cocaine. Former Chicago Mafia attorney Robert Cooley said the operation was controlled by Mob capo Marco D’Amico (see Nov. 24, 2004, article “Chicago Mob worked openly here”).

According to Cooley, D’Amico had a “major crew” working in Rockford in the 1970s and 1980s. He also said D’Amico “worked directly, at the end, directly under [top Chicago Mob boss] Johnny DiFronzo.”

The Illinois Police and Sheriff’s News Web site indicates D’Amico’s crew was allegedly involved in trafficking cocaine during the 1980s. Referring to the March 1986 raid, the Web site reads, “The drugs were believed to be smuggled out of Colombia, through Florida, and into the Chicago area where they were purportedly distributed by D’Amico’s organized crime group.”

Cooley said, “You can be certain whoever was part of the network was paying street tax to the Mob.”

To view CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz’s October 1998 unclassified report concerning the CIA and the Iran-Contra scandal, visit

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