[“It is in our national interest that A.I.G. survive,” says former AIG Chairman, Hank Greenberg. But just who and what is AIG? And why is it important to know? This is Part One of Mike Ruppert’s 2001 investigative series on an enormous player in Wall Street’s drug money laundering scam. Drug money, Ruppert has demonstrated, has kept the markets from crashing for many years. Now however, it appears that “plunge protection” is in over its head, and no amount of laundered cash can prevent the inevitable that is taking place before our eyes, namely, the collapse of A.I.G. and the U.S. financial system itself.–CB]
Reprinted from FROM THE WILDERNESS
[Part One of a Multi-Part Series]
by 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 in Egypt.
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 free 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.
Pittsburgh-Post Gazette 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 government officials.”
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 of Shame
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 meant.
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 Lehder 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 Angeles.
Contacted at a New Orleans phone number, Joe Bosco has not returned a call requesting comment.
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 Germany.
“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 them down.’
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 from There’s a lot of stuff that went on that was questionable I’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 has. 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 assets. 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 State
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 involved.
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: We’re living in both places now. We’re in Florida now. We did have, we still have the house in Boca Chica. But we’ve also got one in Coconut Grove.
CC: Oh. Good.
CB: So it works out really, really nicely. I’m here three days a week.
CC: Then you’re flying back.
CB: So it works out really, really nicely actually. I thought it was going to be exhausting but it’s not. It’s really kind of nice because when I’m here I really have some time to myself, you know, running the business [AIG]. I shouldn’t say that, running the office.
CB: They’ll turn that [laughs]. That is a great one.
CC: [Laughs] Ooh – running the business.
CB: I’ve got to be very careful what I say, you know. Yeah, but um, it’s really nice. If you ever get down there you’re 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. I’ll tell you something and I’ve heard it from people who have been informed by very reliable people in the government. No there won’t. No there won’t be any more hearings.
CC: But even if there were any hearings.
CB: It’s 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 that.
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 me. How about all the money he gave me to start an orphanage in Mexico.
CB: He was out of jail before I went to Gary.
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 didn’t 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, there’s a lot of them. The last one I heard was Juan Perez who was a Cuban.
CB: I know who he is, of course.
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 that’s what I heard.
CB: What a great man. A Sweetheart.
CC: [Laughing] How’s Fidel doing?
[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 again I mean he’s old and he walks with a cane. He’s just a sweetheart though.
That’s 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 with?
CB: He has nothing to do with the business.
CB: In fact we’re having a birthday party this weekend. What are you doing this weekend? I’m 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 this. 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 account.
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 it’s not too hard if you’re close to somebody. It’s not too hard if you know what words are important.
CC: Oh my God. So, what did the FBI. Are they going to bring any charges?
CB: See, there’s another point of contention. My other half is very pissed off and me, no, I’m not going to do that. He has to live with the fact that what he did [was] wrong.
CC: So the FBI came and they.
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 weren’t right.” He’s like, “I knew somebody had looked at them.” So he called in I guess, whoever he has to report to, it’s 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 didn’t know who it was?
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 http://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 at http://www.copvcia.com.]
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 match. 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 children.
“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 me,” 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 or after.
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 report.
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 Monthly article.”
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 it 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 http://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 http://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 situation. I didn’t want to pry into her life.”
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 that.”
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 Reinsurance.
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 now.”
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 attorney-client privilege.
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.
The FBI — 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 Dale Scott.