CHAPTER 14

In August 1994 I placed several calls to John Cohen, former investigator for the House Judiciary Committee on Inslaw, to follow up on Cohen's investigation of Mike Abbell and Casolaro's findings on him prior to his death. Cohen was now stationed at the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the Executive Offices of the President (Clinton) in Washington D.C.

I also made calls to Special Agent Thomas Gates at the Los Angeles Joint Drug Intelligence Group, who originally testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Inslaw. Gates had spoken with Casolaro during the week before his death and I felt he might help me to identify what Casolaro learned about Abbell. Both men were congenial, but hesitant to talk about Abbell at that point in time.

I then called the young Customs Agent to whom I had given the affidavit mentioning Mike Abbell in February 1993. His supervisor said he was stationed in Miami, Florida and put me in touch with him. He too was cryptic and uncommunicative about Mike Abbell.

I soon discovered why. A few weeks later, on September 9th, 1994, the FBI raided the law offices of Michael Abbell in Washington D.C. The raid was the result of a Miami federal grand jury probe of the Cali Cartel. As of that date no criminal charges had yet been filed against Abbell.

I had also placed a call in September 1994 to Steve Zipperstein, Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, who conducted an investigation for the DOJ on Inslaw and Casolaro in 1994. Zipperstein was uncooperative and defensive when approached about Casolaro's investigation of Michael Abbell and Gilberto Rodriguez.

Less than two weeks later, the DOJ report was released to the public with no mention of Mike Abbell, Gilberto Rodriguez, Robert Booth Nichols, or any of the aforementioned information in this manuscript, including F.I.D.C.O., though it was available for scrutiny through many sources.

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In November, 1994, TIME magazine reported that the 56year old Gilberto Rodriguez was "stressed out" and seeking to surrender to the Columbian justice system in exchange for reduced jail time, perhaps three or four years, and his fortune left intact. In a Columbian jail, this would inevitably amount to a quiet vacation.

However, Gilberto insisted that any deal would have to be endorsed by the United States. In return, the Rodriguez brothers, Gilberto and Miguel, would guarantee that a large percentage of Columbian drug dealers would be willing to get out of the drug business and dismantle their infrastructure, their labs and their routes. The estimated net effect would be a 60% reduction in the drug supply to the U.S. alone.

Prior to Rodriguez's offer, President Samper had announced that it would be necessary to dismantle the Cartels rather than incarcerate their leaders. An aide to Samper noted that the door was open to a surrender program.

In light of everything I had learned to date, I could not help wondering what price did the U.S. government pay to bring the Cartels to the point of surrender?

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On June 6th, 1995, The Washington Post broke the news about Mike Abbell in a front page story entitled, "Ex-Prosecutors Indicted in Cali Case." Three former federal prosecutors, including Michael Abbell, who served "as a top ranking Justice Department official, were named in an indictment [on June 5th] in Miami along with 56 others as part of a broad racketeering case against the Columbia-based Cali Cartel ..."

Jose Londono, a founder of the Cali Cartel, and Donald Ferguson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami were also charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Joel Rosenthal pled guilty in the case to charges of money laundering. Abbell and other lawyers faced charges of money laundering, drug conspiracy and racketeering. The indictment charged them with obstruction of justice, preparing false affidavits and conveying warnings to arrested cartel members that they should not cooperate with government investigations.

The Washington Post noted that, ultimately, it was not expensive cocaine interdiction on the high seas, but detective work by a team of Miami-based U.S. Customs agents and the Drug Enforcement Administrtion that compiled the evidence necessary to bring the 161-page indictment.

Tracking cartel shipments, authorites found cocaine hidden inside 40-foot cargo containers used to ship frozen vegetables, lumber, concrete posts and coffee. The smuggling system effectively evaded U.S. radar planes and naval vessels deployed in the Caribbean. The racketeering case began when a load of cement posts and cornerstones arrived in the Port of Miami on August 23, 1991. DEA and Customs agents found 12,250 kilos of cocaine hidden inside their hollow cores.

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Significantly, in early March 1995, THREE MONTHS BEFORE the Miami indictment was unsealed, I had received a letter from Michael Riconosciuto who had learned of the initial raid on Mike Abbell's law offices. He wrote as follows: (Referring to his trial in 1991)

" ... [During] pretrial I made an on the record proffer in an attempt to dispose of this case. The U.S. Attorney rejected it as garbage. That was in 1991. Now in 1995, it is a major case. In my proffer, I outlined a sophisticated smuggling scheme. It involved plastic items and concrete products. I named both Ackerman and Abbell.

"The DOJ now has evidence seized from attorney's offices. The cement items were handled through TRANCA Corporation. The specialized equipment to make concrete posts and beams came from Tacoma, Washington. The aircraft came from a Canadian brokerage known as THABET Aviation in Quebec City, Canada.

"Raymond Thabet is Lebanese and has special contacts that give him privileged access to Canadian military surplus. Fourteen (14) of these planes were handled through Abbell and Laguna. All the paperwork was handled by Ed Smith in Darrington, Washington state. These were ex-submarine patrol planes. Specialized electronics were provided.

"An insider in Customs was involved - Richard Cardwell.

"This is heavy stuff. The fact that I detailed it in 1991 demands an explanation. Forty (40) tons of coke [cocaine] would have been stopped. I want a direct explanation from Teresa Van Vlet." Signed "Mike R." Van Vlet reportedly worked in the drug enforcement administration of the Department of Justice.

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Chapter 15