HOSTAGES: A Multi-Part FTW
- Medellin Cartel Co-Founder Carlos Lehder
A Free Man in Gov't. Charade? -- Wife of Drug Lord Speaks
- American International Group, Arkansas,
ADFA, Contras, Carlos Lehder and Coral Reinsurance
- Connections to 1996 Dark Alliance
Series by Gary Webb
[Part One of a Multi-Part
Michael C. Ruppert
[© Copyright 2001, Michael
C. Ruppert and From the Wilderness Publications.
All Rights Reserved. Part I ONLY may be copied and redistributed
for non-profit purposes only. All subsequent parts may be
copied or distributed only with express written consent
of the author. ]
[EDITORIAL NOTE - From The
Wilderness is a sole proprietorship and dba. It is written
and edited by one person. Me. I do almost all of the research.
Therefore, in the following story, for both legal reasons
and for better reading I have decided to use the personal
pronouns "I" and "me" instead of standard editorial references
in the third person.]
-- This series is dedicated
to Mark Swaney of the Ozark Gazette for his intellectual
courage and tenacity; to John McGlaughlin, the straightest
and toughest man who ever honestly carried a badge; to Celerino
Castillo III, with a heart bigger than his beloved Texas;
to all the young men and women, mostly minority, who are
serving up to life in prison for crimes that don't remotely
compare to those of Carlos Lehder, and to all the innocents
in Colombia who stand at the brink of the next Vietnam War.
But perhaps most importantly
it is about the lies that the American people tell themselves
each day as they drown in a sea of denial, worried about
their pension plans, investments and careers, needing to
deny the fact that the so-called war on drugs is a flimsy
house of cards that consumes millions of innocent lives
every year. It is a story about the lies told by the major
media that chooses to ignore the reality of hard documentation
about CIA involvement in the drug trade. If there is a common
thread to this story it is the fact that lies make us all
hostages of our own fears and failings. Eventually these
lies entangle us to the point where even the slightest movement
becomes impossible and, being unable to move, we sink and
we drown - all the while looking for someone else to blame.
Denial is not a river
Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas,
aka Carlos Lehder, is the stuff of which legends are made.
Legends are sometimes good, sometimes bad. As is the case
with most legends there is a beautiful woman involved. There
is also intrigue, crime, violence, corruption and betrayal.
But legends, when examined closely, almost always tell more
about the civilizations that create them than they do about
the one who carries the name. Carlos Lehder is not a Colombian
legend. He is an American legend. It is America that created
him. America that made him rich. America where he began
his criminal life. America where he was imprisoned and America
that, it now appears, has set him free. It is America's
shame that Lehder's freedom, if established, and alleged
employment by the U.S. Government, are hidden behind lies
told, not by Lehder himself, but by the American government
to its own people.
In 1979-80, reportedly with
the assistance of the CIA and legendary drug smuggler Barry
Seal, Lehder co-founded the Medellin Cartel with Pablo Escobar
and brothers Fabio and Jorge Ochoa. As celebrated on CNN
and by recent books like Killing Pablo (Mark Bowden,
2001), Pablo Escobar was gunned down in a hail of Colombian
bullets directed by U.S. intelligence in December, 1993.
The Ochoas have faded into the jungle-like vortex of Latin
American lore although an October 1999 Reuters story indicated
that Fabio Ochoa had been arrested (again) in Bogota. Word
of his promised extradition to the U.S. has been hard to
find. Carlos Lehder remains the only cartel head to have
ever been extradited to, then tried, convicted and sentenced
to life plus 135 years in, the United States. Prosecutors
agree that Panamanian strongman General Manuel Antonio Noriega
- against whom Lehder testified in return for a reduced
sentence of 55 "non-paroleable" years in 1989 - was merely
one of Lehder's employees.
Other new material indicating
that Lehder, after his 1987 arrest and extradition, provided
information to the DEA that assisted in Escobar's downfall
has been characterized by his prosecutor, former US Attorney
Robert Merkle, as nearly worthless. "That's BS. We didn't
need his help to get Escobar," says Merkle.
As disclosed in this first
of a series of special reports, I have now amassed a sizeable
body of documents, records, witness statements and even
a tape recording of Lehder's alleged wife indicating that
Carlos Lehder is a free man who has kept his money, who
travels the world freely and who makes a mockery of any
notion that he might be a federally protected witness -
hiding to ensure his safety or the safety of his family.
One telling clue to Lehder's apparent lack of fear is the
fact that he is listed by name in 411 directory assistance
in La Fayette, California, just outside San Francisco. My
researcher, while looking for other information, came across
the listing and sent it to me. I was able to confirm it
as a listing for the Carlos Lehder - not a
coincidence - through confidential sources who know Lehder's
self-professed wife, Coral Marie Talavera Baca Lehder. And
I have spoken to Coral by calling her at that number myself.
Mrs. Lehder was, until June 22, a manager for the insurance
giant AIG in San Francisco. [Subsequent segments of this
special series will focus on investigations into allegations
of money laundering by AIG with and through the Arkansas
Development Financial Authority in 1987 - the same year
Lehder was originally captured].
I had lunch with Coral two
days before she resigned. When I called her San Francisco
office the following Monday, June 25, a company receptionist
told me that she had, "Gone to Cuba."
Coral's reported flight to
Cuba cuts off several interesting avenues that warrant further
investigation. Just prior to press time for Part I of this
series, a defense source connected to Lehder's appeal for
sentence reduction told me that their experience indicated
clearly that Lehder was still in prison and that no one
named Coral was connected to Lehder in any legal paperwork.
Of all the journalists, experienced investigators and direct
witnesses interviewed for this story, only those who have
worked to prepare his appeals have raised the suggestion
that Coral Marie Talavera Baca (Lehder) is a fraud. The
rest have stated that they have long suspected that Lehder
is a free man. So do I. And the possibility that the woman
who has represented herself as his wife for many years has
staged an elaborate hoax, while working for a company long
connected to the CIA, only raises an equally troubling set
of questions. Why? For what purpose? To whose benefit?
Just hours before this issue
needed to be at the printer's, an e-mail arrived indicating
that Lehder's current attorney (I do not know the name)
had just stated that Lehder was definitely in prison, answered
the phone promptly when called there, had never been married
and had allegedly stated that he had never heard of Coral
Baca -- by any name. She was a fraud. At the same time I
have been told that the attorney may not identify himself
to me and probably will not make Lehder available for an
interview. This possible attempt by unnamed sources to delay
publication of this story will be thoroughly investigated
for Part II of this series.
"I've been speculating for
years that Lehder was freeпїЅ Why am I not surprised? If Lehder
is out of jail I would be extremely disappointed. It would
send some very bad signals. It's pretty tragic. There's
a lot of kids in jail for the rest of their lives -- I'm
talking kids -- and a lot of them are minorities for insignificant
drug offenses compared to what he did," says Lehder prosecutor
and former US Attorney Robert Merkle. According to various
news sources at the time of his arrest in 1987 Lehder, then
37, was reported to be worth between $2.5 and $3 billion.
Throughout the early 1980s his airstrip at Norman's Cay
in the Bahamas was receiving cocaine flights from Colombia,
every hour on the hour, and transferring the loads to smaller
planes for distribution throughout the US.
reporter Bill Moushey, who has perhaps spent more time tracking
Lehder than any American journalist, wrote in 1996, "
In it [a 1987 federal detention order] the U.S. government
says Lehder and others were responsible for assassinating
Colombia's Justice Minister in 1984; for the 1985 armed
attack on Colombia's Supreme Court building that killed
11 justices and 84 other people; for assassinating two newspaper
editors in Colombia and 26 other journalists; for shooting
the Colombian ambassador to Hungary in 1987; and for a long
list of murders of police officers, informants and other
Moushey's trail of Lehder
grew cold in 1996. "Within weeks of sending that letter
[of complaint regarding the government's alleged failure
to honor terms of secret plea bargain] last fall ,
Lehder was whisked away into the night, several protected
witnesses at the Mesa Unit in Arizona say. No one has heard
from him since." However he has since indicated that,
as of late 1995, he believed Lehder to be in prison.
I have since talked nearly
a dozen reporters, prosecutors and others connected to the
case. At the same time that they protest that they have
received Christmas cards, letters and even phone calls from
Lehder indicating that he is still in prison they all -
every one of them - have confessed their secret suspicions
of a charade intended to fool them and hide a very dark
secret. And all of them, without exception, agree that if
Lehder is walking free it is time to find him and tell the
American people about it.
Days of Glory - Days
I first became aware of Carlos
Lehder's possible freedom in the Spring of 1997, not long
after I had confronted CIA Director John Deutch on television
and stated that there was direct proof of CIA involvement
in the drug trade. Dick Gregory, the comedian, later told
me that he had learned first hand that my confrontation
with Deutch, and Deutch's poor handling of the situation,
had cost Deutch a certain appointment as Secretary of Defense
the following month. I was something of a small-time celebrity
afterwards. At that time, however, those of us like retired
DEA Agent Celerino Castillo, a Bronze Star recipient from
Vietnam who has devoted his life to exposing CIA drug connections
in the eighties, stood downstage from Pulitzer Prize winning
journalist Gary Webb whose August 96 Dark Alliance series
in The San Jose Mercury News had inflamed the nation
with its allegations of direct CIA connections to the Contras
in Nicaragua and drug trafficking in LA.
In late 1996 I was approached
by the publisher of the magazine Prevailing Winds,
Patrick Fourmy, a young Canadian videographer who was also
perennially scrambling to raise money. In several of our
meetings Patrick talked openly of how a woman named Coral
Baca had instigated Webb's investigations by providing him
with secret federal grand jury transcripts. [Although widely
ridiculed or ignored by the mainstream media, many of Webb's
allegations were later corroborated in detail by a CIA Inspector
General report released on October 8, 1998 and by a Department
of Justice report released almost a year earlier.] On various
trips and a meeting where Fourmy videotaped an interview
with me, he almost boasted about the fact that Baca was
engaged to Carlos Lehder. He claimed to have been the one
who "introduced" Baca to Webb by giving her Webb's office
phone number. It bothered me. But I was broke, unemployed
due to an injury, and unable to do anything but ask, "Doesn't
that bother you a little?"
I met with Patrick maybe three
times between then and the summer of 1998. At one time he
told of having actually met Lehder whom he repeatedly said
was out of prison. Other confidential sources, close to
the Lehders, have told me that Fourmy actually visited "the
house" and videotaped an interview with Carlos Lehder. I
didn't see Patrick much after that. Contacted with written
questions for this story by e-mail and fax at his Santa
Barbara offices, Fourmy has not responded to my requests
for comment. I have been unable to locate a working phone
number for him.
On June 28, 1998, just about
two weeks after Webb's book Dark Alliance had been
released I was invited to attend a fund raiser at the Beverly
Hills home of Producer Jamie Otis and organized in part
by Patrick Fourmy who did the videography and arranged hotel
accommodations. The purpose of the "gala" event featuring
Webb as a speaker, was to raise funds for "citizen's tribunals"
to be conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington,
D.C. I had just finished reading Webb's book and found it
to be ground-breaking and well documented. In the first
pages of Dark Alliance Webb wrote about his first
meeting with Coral Talavera Baca, the woman now known as
Mrs. Carlos Lehder. In retrospect Webb's description of
her seems ponderous.
"I turned, and for an instant
all I saw was cleavage and jewelry. She looked to be in
her mid-twenties. Dark hair. Bright red lipstick. Long legs.
Short Skirt. Dressed to accentuate her positive attributes.
I could barely speak.
She tossed her hair and
smiled. 'Pleased to meet you.' She stuck out a hand with
a giant diamond on it, and I shook it weakly." - (p.6).
Earlier, on page 4, Webb had
written that Coral worked for a law firm. What he did not
report was that the law firm was solely devoted to legal
work for AIG and that AIG had long standing ties to the
CIA. Rather than reporting that Talavera was engaged to
Lehder -- which he claims he could not establish -- Webb
wrote in Dark Alliance that she was the "girlfriend"
of convicted San Francisco Bay Area drug dealer Rafael Cornejo.
The night of June 28 and the
following day can best be described as surreal. Coral and
Webb arrived together and she stood by him as he spoke that
night. She looked more elegant than Webb had described and
she was truly stunning. Fourmy, who was busy with cables
and cameras kept pointing her out and saying, "she's engaged
to Carlos Lehder. I introduced them." Fourmy spent much
time that night with crime writer and author Joseph Bosco
who made a strange statement to me towards the end of the
evening. "Gary Webb should be ashamed of himself for what
he did to Coral." I have been unable to find out what Bosco
Fourmy, Bosco, Castillo and
Coral were all staying at the Beverly Garland Howard Johnson's
in North Hollywood California. Although I was briefly introduced
to Baca [I use the names Talavera and Baca interchangeably
to reflect how she was addressed in various settings] just
before she left the event in a taxi cab, and didn't quite
know what to say, it turns out that she was more forthcoming
in a conversation with Castillo. Just days after the event
Castillo called me and told me what she said that night
and the following day. He has since reconfirmed those statements
for this story.
"I remember that I was
introduced to her by Fourmy," says the retired DEA agent
who has served in Peru and Central America. "She said, straight
out, that she was engaged to Carlos LehderпїЅ I couldn't believe
it! What was she doing here? I asked her, 'What's Carlos
doing now?' and she said, 'Oh, he's out of jail and selling
drugs to the Russians for the CIA.'
"I mean it just knocked
me for a loop. It scared me. And then the next day she was
out by the pool. Patrick [Fourmy] was there. Joe
Bosco was there. She came down and sat with us. She was
quite open and she said that her company -- a company she
owned that I later found out was Capital Investment Group
-- was owned by five of the largest drug dealers in South
America. She was very agitated at the government and she
said that the government had contacted Carlos and told him
to 'put that bitch on a leash.' That, said Castillo,
was probably because of her openness in talking about the
fact that Carlos was out of prison and her public appearances
with Webb. I have confirmed that Baca made at least one
other public appearance with Webb at a book signing in Los
Contacted at a New Orleans
phone number, Joe Bosco has not returned a call requesting
Maxine Waters -- From
the web site of Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D), California:
"I also had numerous
telephone conversations with Coral Talavera Baca, the girlfriend
of Rafael Cornejo, who was a relative and part of Norwin
Meneses' drug trafficking organization, as well as a long-time
business partner of Danilo Blandon, another central figure
in the "Dark Alliance" series. I received information from
Ms. Baca and Mr. Cornejo who were connected to Carlos Lehder,
a Colombian drug dealer and co-founder of the Medellin Cartel.
It was through Lehder's private island that the Medellin
Cartel moved massive amounts of cocaine to Miami and the
United States. Ms Baca had visited Carlos Lehder's private
island and have [sic] information regarding the connection
between Mr. Lehder and Norwin Meneses." -- http://www.house.gov/waters/31698pr.htm.
Contacted for comment, Waters' office had not responded
at press time.
"The Units also housed
one of the most sought after drug Kingpins in the world.
Carlos Lehder Rivas, leader of the Medellin Cartel. Lehder
admitted to ordering hundreds of killings, including a member
of the Colombian Supreme Court, politicians, and reporters.
His net worth is over $3 billion yet only $2 million in
assets were ever seized. I reviewed Lehder's plea assessment,
he was convicted and sentenced to life plus 135 years with
no chance for parole. And then he joined the program by
agreeing to testify against Manuel Noriega, who in effect
worked for Lehder. Federal officials immediately cut Lehder's
sentence to 55 years with eligibility for parole. [This
eligibility is disputed by a member of Lehder's defense
team who spoke on condition of anonymity]. Further sentence
reductions made him eligible for deportation to Germany,
his homeland. I have been told that Lehder is already in
"While in the Unit,
Lehder developed new drug smuggling plans for after his
release. He talked of a new frontier in the former republics
of the Soviet Union. He and [convicted Gambino crime
family Capo Sammy the Bull] Gravano talked of forming
a partnership in a new cartel using money given to them
by our government. They asked me to join them and I turned
Gary Webb -- Contacted for comment
Gary Webb responded: "Coral's relationship with Lehder,
if there was one, was not very pertinent to what I was looking
at." Webb said he saw correspondence suggesting that
she and Lehder may have had a relationship a long time ago
but whatever the nature of that relationship was or is,
it was her private business and had no bearing on his inquiries
as far as he could tell.
Robert Merkle -- "I know that Lehder,
right after he was arrested, tried to cut a deal directly
with [then Vice President George H.W.] Bush and the
FBI - which conversations I was excluded fromпїЅ There's a
lot of stuff that went on that was questionableпїЅI've been
speculating for years that Lehder was free but I figured
he'd be in Germany or some tax haven with his money, which
he still hasпїЅ One of the major things that was a red flag
in terms of indicating that he made a deal was that Lehder
wasn't required to turn over his assetsпїЅ There was essentially
nothing seized in that case and the guy made millions of
dollars. If I'm a U.S. Attorney or an Attorney General and
the only member of the Medellin Cartel to be prosecuted
in the US, facing life plus 120 years in jail, wants a deal,
the first thing he's going to talk to me about is money.
What banks? Where are they located?"
Texas is a One-Party
Far and away Celerino Castillo's
allegations are the most outrageous. They demand a level
of scrutiny beyond the denials or silence of the other parties
Under Texas state law, unlike
Maryland where tape recordings of phone conversations unauthorized
by both parties proved the undoing of Monica Lewinsky and
resulted in legal action against Linda Tripp, Texas is a
state where only one party to any telephone conversation
need grant permission before recording a call. As a result
of a number of investigations connecting to the CIA in which
he was then involved, Castillo had his telephone set up
to automatically record all incoming calls. This proved
fateful when he received a call from Coral in April of 1999.
Castillo and Baca had been in touch infrequently since the
June, 1998 fund raiser. Baca had been suggesting that she
might be able to get Castillo work as an investigative consultant
on a legal case connecting to the CIA in San Francisco and
had even paid one phone bill for him in the preceding months
as a partial expense payment for that case. Castillo's early
retirement had resulted from his efforts to expose CIA involvement
in Contra-connected drug trafficking during the eighties
and has been documented in his 1994 book POWDERBURNS
- Cocaine, Contras and the Drug War.
In June, 2001 I traveled to
San Antonio Texas where I met Castillo and obtained a copy
of one of his "Baca" tapes. He says there are others he
is holding as "insurance against any challenges against
me" and that the one he provided me has had certain
sections of the conversation removed for the same reason.
[Beginning in August 2001 I will place selected excerpts
of this tape, converted to MP3 format, on the From
The Wilderness web site at www.copvcia.com.
-- See Investigation Notes at the end of this story.] Having
spoken to her on the phone several times since January 2001
I instantly recognized the voice on the tape. It was definitely
the Coral that I had met.
Following are excerpts from
the forty-plus minute conversation: (CC designates
Celerino Castillo. CB designates Coral Baca. Certain
segments of the tape have been edited to protect innocent
third parties and to save space.)
CB: WeпїЅre living in both places now.
WeпїЅre in Florida now. We did have, we still have the house
in Boca Chica. But weпїЅve also got one in Coconut Grove.
CC: Oh. Good.
CB: So it works out really, really
nicely. IпїЅm here three days a week.
CC: Then youпїЅre flying back.
CB: пїЅSo it works out really, really
nicely actually. I thought it was going to be exhausting
but itпїЅs not. ItпїЅs really kind of nice because when IпїЅm
here I really have some time to myself, you know, running
the business [AIG]. I shouldnпїЅt say that, running the office.
CB: TheyпїЅll turn that [laughs]. That
is a great one.
CC: [Laughs] Ooh - running the business.
CB: IпїЅve got to be very careful what
I say, you know. Yeah, but um, itпїЅs really nice. If you
ever get down there youпїЅre more than welcome to come and
visit and stay. I love Florida. It's really beautiful.
CB: You know because I hear things,
like there are going to be hearings on this mess [The Gary
Webb Dark Alliance series]. Let me tell you something.
IпїЅll tell you something and IпїЅve heard it from people who
have been informed by very reliable people in the government.
No there wonпїЅt. No there wonпїЅt be any more hearings.
CC: But even if there were any hearingsпїЅ
CB: ItпїЅs just going to be a joke.
CB: I've read such ugly articles lately.
We attended some benefit. And somebody wrote an article
and they titled it Beauty and the Beast. Is thatпїЅ
CC: God Damn...
CB: Is that fucking cruel? I mean like
he is like the nicest man, the most generous man I have
ever met. And to call him a beast?
CC: What newspaper was that?
CB: Oh, who the hell knows. I don't
even know. I get so upset that people keep these things
from meпїЅ. How about all the money he gave me to start an
orphanage in Mexico.
CB: He was out of jail before I went
CC: Oh yeah, well I know that was in,
we know, during the Panama thing.
CB: Well no. He was released in 95.
In March of 95. I didnпїЅt go to Gary until June - or July
- of 1996. [NOTE: This date is disputed by both Webb and
me. It would have given him roughly six weeks to write the
entire Dark Alliance series.]
CB: Do you know a DEA Agent named Rafael
Salcedo or Armando Medina.
CC: Yeah, those names sound very familiar.
CB: Those guys used to moonlight for
the CIA all the time.
CC: Yeah, thereпїЅs a lot of them. The
last one I heard was Juan Perez who was a CubanпїЅ
CB: I know who he is, of courseпїЅ
CB: We just saw Robert Vesco.
CB: Vesco, Robert.
CC: What about him?
CB: We just went and saw him when we
were in Cuba.
CC: Is he under house arrest? Cause
thatпїЅs what I heard.
CB: What a great man. A Sweetheart.
CC: [Laughing] HowпїЅs Fidel doing?пїЅ
[CB: We had gone down once maybe a
year or so ago and I met him [Vesco] for the first time
then. And then when we
went back this time I met him againпїЅI mean
heпїЅs old and he walks with a cane. HeпїЅs just a sweetheart
ThatпїЅs what Fidel did for him. He took him
in because the United States was ready to just nab him.
I mean you know how the United States is. They kidnap people
and they call it extradition.
CC: So, is Carlos still playing ball
CB: He has nothing to do with the business.
CB: In fact weпїЅre having a birthday
party this weekend. What are you doing this weekend? IпїЅm
29 - again. [Laughs] A little party. Just a hundred of our
closest friends. It's going
to be really, really fun. I think Julio Iglesias.
He's going to sing. He's like my all time favorite. He's
in Florida anyway.
[Baca enters into a lengthy discussion regarding
a suspect who had allegedly burglarized her e-mail accounts.
Because these are criminal allegations and I have been unable
to ascertain the validity of the charges I have omitted
references to the named suspect.]
CB: Because of Carlos' situation the
State Department called in the FBI to find out who was doing
thisпїЅ And then he got into my e-mail account, my Coral Lehder
e-mail account, and they were e-mailing Carlos from my e-mail
CB: He got into our e-mail account
and was reading all of my correspondence with, back and
forth between Carlos and me.
CC: How did he do that?
CB: Well itпїЅs not too hard if youпїЅre
close to somebody. ItпїЅs not too hard if you know what words
are important пїЅ
CC: Oh my God. So, what did the FBIпїЅ
Are they going to bring any charges?
CB: See, thereпїЅs another point of contention.
My other half is very pissed off and me, no, IпїЅm not going
to do that. He has to live with the fact that what he did
CC: So the FBI came and theyпїЅ
CB: The State Department, once I found
out that my e-mail was being broken into, I told Carlos.
And Carlos said,
"You know what, it makes sense "Because I
knew that some of my e-mails just werenпїЅt right." HeпїЅs like,
"I knew somebody had looked at them." So he called in I
guess, whoever he has to report to, itпїЅs a matter of his
national security status, that his security might have been
jeopardized. And the Feds got involved, you know, because
they called in the Feds. - It was an ugly ordeal. Do you
know that we had to go to a safe house, because they didnпїЅt
know who it was? пїЅ
CB: There were never wedding
invitations... I never sent out wedding invitations. What
was sent out after was like notifications... You got the
one that said, "Please extend her every courtesy as my wife..."
."I had several conversation with Coral,"
says Castillo. "There is no doubt in my mind that Lehder
is out of prison. None whatsoever. I received an e-mail
from Carlos personally, in the summer of 1998, that invited
me to come to the wedding that fall. Carlos had taken her
out of the country for personal reasons. I also received
an e-mail from Coral under a separate account. The address
was email@example.com. I can't get to those e-mails
now because my old computer is broken and I don't have the
money to fix it. But she was clear on many occasions that
Carlos was out. She talked about travelling all over with
him. Why would they have invited me to the house, or to
visit them in the Bahamas if it weren't true? What if I
had said yes? They were going to pay for it but I didn't
go. I didn't want to compromise myself.
"I think Coral is really
against the government and the war on drugs. She has family
in jail and she spoke to me I think because of the price
I paid for what I did. I believe that she hates the CIA."
Asked about the possibility
of an elaborate ruse by Baca, Castillo replied, "Look.
You almost have to go to more trouble to justify the notion
that he's in prison than you do to justify the position
that he's out. What could Coral possibly have gained from
all this effort to make certain people think so? They both
hate the government and would love to make it look bad.
She had a powerful position at AIG that would be jeopardized
if she were exposed as making this up. Why would someone
go to all this trouble to make people think she's his wife?
It's not something you would put on a resumé. It
has drawn attention to Lehder rather than steer it away.
What does she gain by that? I know that some people insist
he's still in jail but why won't the government just say
so? Instead you have this big mystery that only deepens
the legend. Who benefits from that? Who profits from the
confusion? And the government would have found out about
it. That's why I think the government went to Carlos and
said to put a leash on her."
A Paper Trail
Far from being silent about
Talavera's relationship with Lehder I had written about
it in January of 1999. I had been puzzled as to why no one
in "the anti-CIA drugs movement" seemed to think it noteworthy.
It was known to at least a dozen people that I was aware
of. It was "sticky" to me, oozing with a kind of dysfunctionality
found in families that conceal child abuse.
Information developing around
the then pending Clinton impeachment had led me to suspect
an alliance between the Medellin Cartel's genius of transportation
and Arkansas' genius of money and political power, Bill
Clinton. [See Parts II and III of this series.] My writing
on this subject (available at www.copvcia.com) had drawn
an angry January 7, 1999 letter from Talavera's attorney.
I made a correction stating that at the time of the Dark
Alliance stories Talavera was probably not married to
Lehder when she went to Webb but that she was indeed his
fiancée. What I found interesting in the letter was
that Baca's attorney, David Secrest, had written, "We
also demand that you immediately take all steps necessary
to respect Ms. Baca's privacy and anonymity, as did the
Dept. of Justice and the CIA in their respective reports."
Why were those agencies been deferential to her? If she
was a fraud, couldn't they discover it? My only error, since
scrupulously corrected for this story, was in not seeking
her comment before writing. I could have.
I stand by that story and
no lawsuit has ever materialized. [The letter may be viewed
Shortly after that my fax
machine began to hum. On six occasions over the next twenty
months an unknown source, being careful to disguise the
point of origin, sent anonymous faxes to me containing a
variety of documents ranging from news clippings and magazine
stories, to supposed surveillance photos and reports, to
official U.S. government documents all pertaining Lehder
and Baca. All of the purported news clippings lacked publication
names and dates. I had decided to write about these documents
in the summer and fall of 2000 and began checking them out.
It turned out that many of those documents were fakes, elaborate
fakes, which someone had gone to a great deal of trouble
to prepare. Several purported to be from an unspecified
"Office of the U.S. Attorney." After learning that some
of the documents were faked I contacted many government
agencies in attempts to verify the authenticity of the rest.
The results were inconclusive. One document, allegedly reporting
that the Lehders received 24/7 overseas security at their
home in Salinas Equador from the State Department's Office
of Diplomatic Security, had drawn an angry, "I can unequivocally
tell you that we have never protected either one of those
people. Sounds more like CIA to me," response from Bob
Franks. Franks was qualified to give the statement. At the
time he was (and is) the Director of Protection for the
State Department's overseas security operations.
Other documents, in particular
an undated two-page "Report of Investigation (Law Enforcement)"
from the U.S. Treasury Special Agent In Charge, San Francisco
District Office (possibly the IRS), appeared credible but
remained unverified. The "Treasury" report, which was later
to become very important to this story was, in November
2000 -- after seven phone calls, a fax, a Fedex package
and much delay, evaluated by Treasury Dept. spokesman John
D'Angelo. He told me, "I have not been able to figure
out what this report is. I can't figure it out. Things don't
matchпїЅ It looks like something that was used at one time."
That decidedly unsatisfying response had come after Treasury
spokespersons had advised that I contact each of Treasury's
component agencies (IRS, Customs, Secret Service and the
ATF) for comment. Of course, each of those agencies had
referred me back to where I had started.
What was so compelling about
the Treasury report was that it contained a wealth of information
on the Lehders that was to be subsequently confirmed by
Talavera herself. More damning is the fact that in June
2001 I secured confirmation from a confidential source close
to the Lehders that the document was authentic. Then, a
former senior paralegal who had worked on Lehder's appeals
efforts (speaking on condition of anonymity) found it to
be possibly authentic and "consistent with other government
documents I have reviewed in the case." Just to be sure
I asked the paralegal for a place to check the paralegal's
credentials vis a vis Lehder. That was instantly provided
and credible confirmation was instantly given. "Kincaid,"
as I have named the source, had worked for a law firm representing
Lehder and knew him personally.
The Treasury report stated
that in 1987 (when she was 23) -- the same year that Lehder
was captured and would have begun hiding his assets -- Talavera
had founded a "Bohemian" company called Capital Investment
Group (CIG) with an initial capitalization of $10 million.
By 1997 the estimated worth of CIG was listed as $132 million.
In financial parlance a "Bohemian corporation" is a company
founded by two parent companies, located in two different
countries, in yet a third country. This is usually done
for the purposes of avoiding regulation by tax or legal
authorities. The first thing I had done after receipt of
this document in the summer of 1999 was to ask my researcher
to pull the files on Capital Investment Group at the Secretary
of State's office in Sacramento and send them to me.
Among other things, the Treasury
report says that Carlos Lehder was an employee of the Treasury
and a free man.
Another document, typeset
like a news story but well sanitized to remove the publication
name or date was titled "Beauty And The Beast." It read,
"Just three days after the birth of her son, Carlo Rafael,
the lovely Coral Lehder, adorned the arm of her husband,
one-time Medellin cartel cocaine kingpin Carlos Lehder,
during St. Jude's Children's Hospital annual benefit where
Mrs. Lehder was honored for her exemplary work with underprivileged
"When asked to comment
on the recent birth of his son, Mr. Lehder coyly remarked,
"Once again it appears I have received a lot of quid [gesturing
to his wife] for very little pro quo. America, where anything
is possible. Even a beauty like that loving a wretch like
meпїЅ," The quid pro quo statement rang a bell. I checked
my files and found a June 15, 1996 story by reporter Bill
Moushey that quoted prosecutor Merkle as stating that Lehder
"received a very large quid for a very small quo."
Sources familiar with Lehder and his speech patterns have
indicated that he has never been this eloquent and never
uses Latin. But could he have been taking a subtle, mocking
swipe at the man who had tried to put him away? In the quote
the Latin grammar was butchered. He should have said quo,
instead of pro quo.
On the lower right hand portion
of the page a photo of a reclining Coral bore the caption,
"There's a lot more to being good looking than make up
and prettiness. There's a lot more to being a woman than
that. When I look in the mirror, I just want to like myself.
And if I like myself, then I look good." -- Coral Lehder.
One of the things that made
the document suspect was a heading at the top of the page
that read, "Commentary." This term is usually used in journalism
to designate a serious editorial piece. This was pure society
page stuff. The clipping had either been camouflaged to
disguise its source or else this was another fake. Before
becoming aware of the Baca tape in Castillo's possession
I had attempted to locate the source of the story without
success. St. Jude's Regional Director Paul Withraw told
me in November 2000 "Anyone here now was not here then
[early 1999]. We do not have an annual awards banquet."
He denied knowing anything about Mr. and Mrs. Carlos Lehder.
Trying again, after hearing
a reference to the story on the tape in June, I was able
to locate a receptionist at St. Jude's regional offices
named Gladys who was a little more forthcoming. "Oh,
that was probably the Miracle Cup in Miami. It was a formal
in March of 99. I remember it well. Julio Iglesias sang
there. He's great. I'll have someone call you."
I'm still waiting for the
call. However, knowing that Coral's birthday party in 1999
was held on Saturday, April 17 [her actual birthday, as
confirmed by her, is on the 18th] I called Anchor
Marketing, the Miami management company representing singer
Julio Iglesias, and asked what he had been doing that day.
A woman named Myra told me that he played at Cesar's Palace
in Las Vegas but could not confirm that he did not privately
attend another function (like a birthday party) either before
Still the faked documents
forced me to put the investigation on hold. It was not until
January of 2000, when the fax machine received an unsourced
newspaper photo caption stating that Talavera had served
as a technical advisor on the movie Traffic, that
I reached out to Talavera directly to find out what the
hell was going on. The Traffic clip had particularly
offended me because I had been meeting and talking during
the preceding weeks with the personal manager (Patrick Dollard
of Propaganda Films) for Traffic's director, Steven
Soderbergh. I knew that Coral had nothing to do with the
film. Arriving with the Traffic clip was another
document the government already knew I had and knew that
I knew was a fake.
So, in January I contacted
Coral to ask about the documents. I wanted as much to know
who had sent them and why as to find out whether they were
real. That contact led to a number of private conversations
in which I was satisfied that the sender had intended personal
harm to Coral and possibly to me if I published them. Lacking
the ability to further authenticate those documents that
I believed to be accurate, I assured Coral that I had no
intentions of going to press or discussing personal information
she had revealed in helping me check them out. I have since
learned that several other journalists had received many
of the same documents and withheld them for the same reasons.
Curiously, however, none seem to have received the Treasury
It was during this period
that I first learned of Talavera's employment by the American
International Group (AIG) in San Francisco. She had given
me contact numbers at her San Francisco office and sent
e-mails and faxes so indicating. Included was a February
13, 2001 fax sent unsolicited to me and author Peter Dale
Scott, PhD, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley. The cover
sheet had a letterhead in the name of Coral Marie Talavera
Baca and showed a street address at Two Rincon Center. This
is the address of the AIG building in San Francisco. The
cover sheet showed a return e-mail address of Coral.Talavera@AIG.com.
The heading read, "RE: Penthouse article re: Carlos/Atlantic
The message on the cover sheet
said, "Dear Peter and Michael: Attached please find The
Atlantic Monthly article regarding the CIA, which I am passing
along for your pleasure. I got a good chuckle out of itпїЅ
hope you both do also. It's nice to know that others find
humor in the CIA's incompetence. -- Regards, Coral."
[NOTE: This document, the
Treasury report, and other on-the-record e-mails concerning
this investigation and confirming a June 20 lunch date for
Talavera and me can be viewed on my web site at www.copvcia.com.
Go to the section for this series of special reports and,
from the Table of Contents, click on "Support Documentation."]
In the Spring of 2001 I was
checking my e-mails when I opened one from a colleague that
immediately caught my attention. It was titled "Google Search
for AIG + Goldman + Harvard." Several themes immediately
sprang to mind. First, I was aware that Coral was a manager
at an American International Group (AIG) legal office in
San Francisco. Coral's name was the same as the subject
of the story attached to my e-mail. Secondly I had, through
my newsletter From The Wilderness (FTW), been
writing for many months about the roles played by Goldman
Sachs, its past President, Robert Rubin (former US Treasury
Secretary) and The Harvard Endowment in the massive looting
of Russia -- to the tune of as much as $300 billion -- during
the 1990s. [This tragedy has been compellingly documented
by journalist Anne Williamson. Information on Williamson's
writings can be found at www.newsmakingnews.com. Her forthcoming
book on the subject, Contagion, is to be published
in serial form by SRA Associates in London.]
The extract attached to the
e-mail described a suspicious relationship in 1987 between
AIG, the Arkansas Development Financial Authority (ADFA)
and Goldman Sachs, then headed by Rubin, to found an offshore
(Barbados) reinsurance company named Coral Reinsurance.
(Reinsurance is simply the insuring of one insurance company
by another to spread risk).
According to a confidential
Goldman Sachs stock placement memorandum dated December
1, 1987, which I have since obtained, Coral Re, as it is
known, was founded by AIG. All potential investors, including
the State of Arkansas' ADFA, were bound to return or destroy
the memorandum if they did not participate. Coral Re was
clearly an AIG progeny and ADFA has been voluminously linked
to allegations of drug money laundering in the 1980s. Moreover,
there are also longstanding published links, some confirmed
by CIA documents, between drug smuggling, Barry Seal, the
Contras and the Medellin Cartel. All of those links joined
at the Mena (Arkansas) Regional Intermountain Airport. [These
subjects will be discussed in detail in Parts II and III
of this series.]
This was something I had to
investigate. I was aware of AIG/CIA ties dating back to
the early fifties. From reading the full text of a 1995
story entitled Gray Money by journalist and mechanical
engineer Mark Swaney I learned that the CEO of AIG, Maurice
(Hank) Greenberg had also been a candidate to become CIA
Director in 1995. Greenberg is also the former Chairman
of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
In a number of e-mails, phone
conversations and one face to face meeting Talavera consistently
denied that she, her husband Carlos Lehder, or their good
friend, fugitive financier Robert Vesco, had any connections
of any kind to Coral Reinsurance. Notwithstanding that my
investigation into that possible connection continues. If
she is officially labeled as a fraud what then does one
make of her denials about Coral Reinsurance? Of AIG as her
confirmed employer? On June 12 she e-mailed, "Carlos
is in no way, shape or form had/has anything to do with
Coral Reinsurance and or AIG's involvement in same.
"Let me save you
the next question. Robert Vesco had/has nothing to do with
the above either. [I had never mentioned to her that
I knew about Vesco.] Let me go one step further. No one
that I know had/has anything to do with Coral Reinsurance
and/or AIG's involvement in same.
Coral later agreed to meet
me for lunch on Wednesday June 20, across the street from
her San Francisco office. Before leaving for San Francisco
I had occasion to speak to an AIG spokesman, Michael Murphy
of Bermuda, said by many in the insurance business to be
Hank Greenberg's right-hand man. To my question regarding
Coral's status as the wife of Lehder Murphy responded, "I
asked her the question whether that was her past and she
said that she really preferred not to discuss her personal
affairs in a company situationпїЅ I didn't want to pry into
The Russians Are Here
I went up to San Francisco
a day early. With the Secretary of State documents in hand
I went to see what I could find out about Capital Investment
Group (CIG). Its address, 601 Gateway Blvd. is a new, large,
approximately ten story office building near the San Francisco
airport. The incorporation papers showed that CIG had been
there for at least three years until their corporate filings
ceased in 1997. I poked around until I found someone on
the building staff who had been there in the mid 90s.
"Oh yeah," said the
building employee who asked that I not use his name. "I
remember the Russians. There was Boris and Vladimir and
Natasha." He laughed. "Real thick accents. They treated
the eighth floor like it was Russian territory. Everyone
knew about the Russians. The FBI came and were investigating
them. They said they might be KGB."
The employee remembered one
other thing. "They had so many extension chords running
into so many computers that they blew the fuses in the building
six times a day. Everyone was complaining about them. They
left in 96 I think. I have no idea where they went after
Don't laugh. The name of the
restaurant where Coral and I had lunch was The Red Herring.
I stood waiting for her out front at noon. She came across
Steuart Street wearing a black dress and pearls. She was
and remains every bit as lovely as I had remembered. But
during the lunch, I found her to be more elegant than vixen,
more intelligent than bimbo, more loyal to her husband Carlos
Lehder and much more "savvy" than Gary Webb's description
had led me to expect. She declined to answer any on-the-record
questions about the status or current activities of her
husband or her family. The purpose of the lunch was to thank
me for not publishing the faked documents and to discuss
Coral repeated all of her
earlier categorical denials of any involvement with Coral
Reinsurance. The same went for Carlos and Vesco. She stressed
that Lehder had absolutely nothing to do with the drug business
any more. A question about Capital Investment Group's possible
involvement got her agitated after I told her what I had
discovered at Gateway Blvd. the day before.
"The last thing I need
is to be connected with any Russians!," she said. "My
Capital Investment Group is in the Bahamas. I fund an orphanage
with it. That's all," she said. I produced a copy of
the Treasury report and she went through it line by line
looking for information about CIG. While not confirming
that report was authentic she did not dispute any information
it contained with one exception. She confirmed that the
aliases of Coral Marie Talavera, Coral Marie Baca and Coral
Marie Lehder were correct. The date of birth was correct.
The relationship with Lehder (the employee) and Talavera
(the subject) was at least 18 years old. She breathed a
sigh of relief to read the information showing Capital Investment
Group having been founded by her in 1987 and agreed with
the statement that she and Lehder were the only shareholders.
An entry indicating that in 1995 she had been instrumental
in negotiating Lehder's release from the Bureau of Prisons
drew a nod. She made no comment about the fact that the
report showed that she had been investigated by the FBI,
Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the CIA
by means of traditional investigation, "wiretaps" and informants."
She also did not question the fact that the report showed
her and Lehder as having multiple residences in Oakland
California; San Francisco; Boca Chica, Florida; Salinas
Ecuador; and Great Exuma, the Bahamas. Her net worth was
conservatively "estimated" at $7,369,024.
The only item on the report
she disputed was a statement indicating that she might possibly
be Lehder's adopted daughter. That made her angry.
Turning back to Capital Investment
Group she said, "Capital Investment Group is my company.
But I work for AIG. My company has nothing to do with these
Russians. This Coral Reinsurance is a good story. You should
go after it." I remembered that in an earlier conversation
where she was giving me on-the-record quotes about her non-involvement
with Coral Reinsurance she had said that reinsurance was
a great way to launder money.
Coral told me that she was
planning on leaving AIG in December. That, she said, had
nothing to do with my work on Coral Reinsurance. We then
talked about the painful experiences I had had many years
ago when, as a young policeman in 1976, I had fallen in
love with a female CIA agent and come across evidence of
CIA involvement in the drug trade. My refusal to go along
with her work cost me the relationship and my attempts to
expose CIA wrongdoing had cost me my career. I remarked
that my lover had been every bit as beautiful as Coral.
I had been left with an obsession that had lasted for many
years. As we left the restaurant Coral turned to me sympathetically
and said, "Who knows. Maybe one day there'll be a knock
at your door."
As I shook her hand goodbye
I answered, "I've worked through that... I would be immune
During the lunch I mentioned
the fact that someone connected with Carlos' defense (Kincaid)
was trying to reach him and I mentioned the name. This is
the senior paralegal who has given me information for this
story. After the lunch I sent an e-mail to Coral saying
that I had given the paralegal Coral's office number and
that she would be calling. I had no wish to interfere with
The following Monday
Kincaid called me at my Sherman Oaks office and told me
that Coral had resigned on Friday, two days after our lunch
and gone to Cuba. An immediate call to the receptionist
confirmed this. Coral was gone.
-- A spokesman for the San Francisco Office of the FBI stated
that he is unaware of any such (wiretap or e-mail) investigation."
The Department of Justice
-- Asked on June 28th to state whether or not
Carlos Lehder is still in prison and/or a member of the
Witness Security program or whether he was an employee of
the U.S. government, spokeswoman Susan Dryden stated that
she would look into it and have someone call me back as
soon as possible. As of press time a week later, no one
has called me back.
The Treasury -- After
three phone calls and voice mail messages resulting in no
response, Treasury spokesperson Tasia Scolinos stated on
June 29th that she did not know the John D'Angelo
whom I had spoken to last November and did could not find
the material I had sent him then. I found this strange since
she gave me the same phone number I had used to reach D'Angelo
and she had replaced him. She asked me to write a detailed
request for the information I was seeking (which I did)
and send her another fax of the document (which I did).
She then suggested that, because the document had been stamped
"Sealed by the Court" that I visit each court house in the
San Francisco Bay area to see if I could find the file.
She would consult an attorney at Treasury and get back to
me. As of press time I have received no further response.
Question: If, after
this story breaks, the Department of Justice holds a press
conference and invites CNN and TIME into a prison to interview
and photograph Carlos Lehder, will anyone believe that he
will still be there the next day?
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: - Special
thanks to: Mark Swaney, Al Giordano, Lois, Lara Johnson,
Linda Minor, Dave Hendrix, Marc Harris, Kincaid, and Peter
COMING NEXT MONTH:
The Hunt for Carlos
Lehder Continues * ADFA, Arkansas and Mena * The Medellin
Cartel and The Contras * AIG * Coral Reinsurance
I am sure to be criticized
for all of the things that we could have investigated for
this special series, but didn't. Bear in mind that in 2000
the gross income for FTW, aside from honoraria
and outside writing, was $40,000. We have invested more
than $8,000 in this story already. We anticipate needing
at least $5,000 more to complete it.
Can you imagine what kind
of investigation The New York Times could have produced
using 20% of its gross annual income.
While we appreciate the calls
from activists telling us that they have made 20 copies
of FTW and handed them out for free, we ask
that all of you who are due for renewal, or who want to
assist us in this important project, dig deep and send us
All we have to offer you is
the truth. In a ham and eggs breakfast the chicken is involved
but the pig is committed.
[© Copyright 2001, Michael
C. Ruppert and From the Wilderness Publications.
All Rights Reserved. Part I ONLY may be copied and redistributed
for non-profit purposes only. All subsequent parts may be
copied or distributed only with express written consent
of the author. ]