THE ORAL DEPOSITION OF RUSSELL FRANKLIN WELCH, a witness produced at the request of the Attorney General's Office, taken in the above-styled and numbered cause on the 21st day of June, 1991, before Jeff Bennett, C. C. R., Certificate #19, of BUSHMAN COURT REPORTING, INC., Notary Public in and for White County, Arkansas at the Office of the Attorney General, 323 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas at 2:30 p. m.
the witness hereinbefore named, having been previously cautioned and sworn, or affirmed, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth testified as follows:
2 BY MR. BRYANT:
3 Q. For the record, will you state your full name, please?
4 A. Russell Franklin Welch.
5 Q. And, Russell, where do you reside?
6 A. In Mena, Arkansas.
7 Q. And how old are you?
8 A. I'm forty-three.
9 Q. Would You briefly give us your educational background?
10 A. I'm a high school graduate, a college graduate. Was a
11 teacher in junior college prior to coming to Arkansas, at which
12 time I joined the Arkansas State Police and have been in the
13 Arkansas State Police for sixteen years now. And approximately
14 eight years of that have been spent in -- approximately ten
15 years of that have been spent in the Criminal Investigation
17 Q. Okay. Where did you go to high school?
18 A. Filmore County High School in Crescent City, California.
19 Q. And what college did you graduate from?
20 A. San Francisco State.
21 Q. Did you have a degree in --
22 A. English literature.
23 Q. English literature. Then you taught for approximately how
24 many years?
25 A. Approximately two years.
1 Q. And so you've been with the Arkansas State Police for
2 sixteen years?
3 A. Yes.
4 Q. Of which ten you've been an investigator?
5 A. Yes.
6 Q. Criminal investigator. And where have you been stationed
7 as a State Policeman?
8 A. I've been stationed in Foreman, Arkansas in Little River
9 County; Magnolia, Arkansas in Columbia County; and Mena,
10 Arkansas in Polk County.
11 Q. How long have you been in Mena, Polk County?
12 A. About twelve years.
13 Q. Russell, I want to direct your attention to Barry Seal and
14 the drug smuggling operations at the Mena Airport. Prior to
15 your testimony, Richard Brenneke has testified as well as Bill
16 Duncan. Do you know both of those individuals?
17 A. I know Bill Duncan well. I met Mr. Brenneke for the first
18 time a few minutes ago.
19 Q. I see. So you know Mr. Duncan well. How long have you
20 known Bill Duncan?
21 A. I've known Bill Duncan since about the middle of 1985.
22 Q. Russell, could you tell us in your own words just what
23 happened in Mena, and specifically at Rich Mountain Aviation,
24 beginning in the early 1980's, relating to Barry Seal and the
25 drug smuggling operations that allegedly went on there?
1 A. I was aware of Rich Mountain Aviation as a business at the
2 Mena Airport. I don't know exactly when the business started.
3 I became aware of possible illegal activity at this particular
4 location in -- sometime in 1984 when Jimmy Jacobs, Chief Deputy
5 for Sheriff Al Hadoway, who was the Sheriff of Polk County at
6 that time, came to me and told me that his boss, Sheriff Al
7 Hadoway, was involved in a criminal investigation of a cocaine
8 smuggler at the Mena Airport involving Rich Mountain Aviation,
9 and Freddie Hampton, and Joe Evans specifically at Rich Mountain
10 Aviation. He knew that the investigation involved somebody in
11 Louisiana. And that Sheriff Al Hadoway, working with an
12 auxiliary deputy and friend of his, Terry Capeheart, were
13 this investigation, communicating with some law
14 enforcement agency in Louisiana. He gave me this information to
15 let me know that the Sheriff was investigating this and wasn't
16 using the Arkansas State Police. That he was going directly to
17 federal authorities, which didn't concern me. I had plenty to
18 do. This went on for some time.
19 And then, a few weeks or months later, I don't remember
20 exactly, my immediate supervisor, Lieutenant Finus Duvall,
21 approached me and asked me why Sheriff Al Hadoway was not
22 involving me in an investigation that he had heard about that
23 involved Louisiana authorities. And I explained to him that the
24 Sheriff apparently, according to the deputy, felt that the
25 investigation was -- would be more expedient if he went directly
1 to those authorities. At some point later Sheriff Hadoway came
2 to me and stated that he had gone to these authorities because
3 he felt that it should be kept -- the investigation should be
4 kept secret, and that it was really beyond the scope of the
5 Arkansas State Police to investigate. Which satisfied
6 everybody, and we allowed him to continue whatever it was he was
7 doing. He never confided in me any part of the investigation.
8 And having had experience with narcotics and covert
9 investigations before, I didn't want to know anything. You
10 know, the less I knew about it, the better I felt.
11 At some point in late 1984, an individual by the name of
12 Rudy Furr began calling me, who's a person that I had known off
13 and on for years around Mena. He was a, I believe, business
14 manager of Rich Mountain Aviation. At that time Rich Mountain
15 Aviation was into -- he had run for Sheriff, and was having
16 problems with Sheriff Al Hadoway after the election was over.
17 They were having personal problems. And he's -- in my opinion,
18 was a kind of paranoid type of person, and everytime be thought
19 the Sheriff was following him or something spooked him, be would
20 come to me and just tell me for whatever reason. And they had
21 gotten into a lawsuit over some involvement with the FBI over a
22 plane that had been left there as a result of a sting operation,
23 which I had nothing to do with. And I was afraid that they were
24 trying to make a witness out of me, by everytime they thought
25 they'd come up with some evidence, tell me, knowing that I would
1 make a note of it, and later on get called into court to say,
2 yes, they made this information available to me at that time.
3 So around February 20, 1985, a person unknown to me before
4 that time by the name of Emile Camp, crashed an airplane near
5 Mena and was killed. I received a call first from Rudy Furr and
6 later, I think, from Freddie Hampton I don't remember the
7 exact order on that. But they were both concerned that this had
8 been a murder, because Barry Seal was going to court -- was in
9 court at that time in Miami, Florida on a -- testifying for the
10 government in an operation that he had helped them to perform .
11 They felt like this -- that the plane crash of Emile Camp was
12 somehow an assassination to expedite that trial, either for
13 Barry Seal or for the defense in the trial, stating that Emile
14 Camp -- that with out Emile Camp, Barry Seal was the only person
15 who could testify as to what was going on at that particular
17 Shortly after this I contacted my immediate supervisor and
18 -- who was Finus Duvall, and told him that I wanted a
19 clarification of what our role in all this was, because there
20 was an $11,000,000 lawsuit and it involved a-- a lot of tempers
21 were flaring. We had one death with a lot of allegations being
22 made about that. And I wanted my job and my position in all of
23 that defined. Lieutenant Duvall and I traveled to Little Rock,
24 met with Colonel Tommy Goodwin, Director of the Arkansas State
25 Police, explained the situation to him the best we understood it
1 at that time. And he advised us to open an investigation to
2 find out what's going on. And as well as I can briefly put it,
3 that's how I became involved in the Rich Mountain Aviation
5 From that time we found ourselves going through several
6 weeks and months of actually digging into other people's
7 investigations cannibalizing, if you would, other people's
8 investigation, to come up with -- just to find out where we
10 There was a lot of -- I'm just going to go over it
11 generally, and then we can go into specifics if you want. There
12 were a lot of allegations on the part of Freddie Hampton, Rudy
13 Furr, that they were involved in CIA activity, these are their
14 words, and they were involved in Defense Department activity.
15 But they had, in fact, not been smuggling as had been alleged by
16 Sheriff Hadoway.
17 When we began, I thought that that might well be the case,
18 not knowing anymore. As we were able to focus through other
19 people's investigations more and more, we were able to find out
20 that Barry Seal was in fact working for a government agency,
21 specifically the DEA and the CIA was alleged, and that was way
22 beyond our ability to comprehend or learn anything about, so we
23 just put that in parentheses. But in the process of finding
24 this out, we were able to find out that he began working for the
25 government after he had been busted at least twice and a third
1 investigation still going on. In cop talk, "he rolled over."
2 He became an informant to keep himself out of prison as much as
3 possible and to get whatever consideration he could for it.
4 It's very common in law enforcement, a very common tactic to
5 use, and a profitable tactic most of the time for law
7 So we looked at the period before he rolled over. We were
8 able to find out that Barry Seal came to Arkansas in 1981,
9 shortly after intense investigative pressure had been placed on
10 him in Louisiana. And that his operation continued and still at
11 this time in 1985, when we learned this, was still pretty much
12 intact. We were able to determine that after he moved to
13 Arkansas in 1981, that his system of operation at the airport
14 intensified, more planes, more people. But, yet, we still
15 didn't have a handle on, and led that up to a point in, I
16 believe, March 24, 1984. At which time, once we discovered that
17 date ourselves, we were able to get a confirmation that -from
18 the Drug Enforcement Administration, I believe, that he did in
19 fact work as an informant for them in covert activities, and
20 that the, had granted him immunity from anything on -- from
21 March 24th on in the future, but nothing before that. So we
22 focused our attention entirely an a date April -- or maybe
23 November -- no, April of 1982 through March of 1984 or Christmas
24 maybe even, just so we would have a margin. We tried to focus
25 attention strictly on Barry Seal's smuggling activities, not
1 Barry Seal. We didn't want to get involved in any immunity that
2 he might have. we concentrated strictly on Rich Mountain
3 Aviation and the employees who were knowledgeably performing
4 tasks necessary for Barry Seal's drug smuggling method. And
5 during that process when anything came up that looked like it
6 might have been involved in his current activity at that time in
7 1985, we ignored it. We kept it out of our file. We didn't
8 want to contaminate our case file with anything that he did
9 after the period of time that he rolled over and became a DEA
10 informant. So we had a very focused investigation for a lengthy
11 period of time.
12 Q. In your investigation, Russell, what specific evidence did
13 you find that would indicate to you as a professional law
14 enforcement officer that drugs were indeed brought into Mena?
15 A. We had a difficult problem actually showing that drugs came
16 into Mena. We learned that Barry Seal's method of operation,
17 from people who had been involved with it and from Barry Seal
18 himself at that time, he was telling committees in Congress and
19 newspapers exactly what his method of operation was, which was
20 to go to Columbia in a plane that has an altered fuel system,
21 bladder tanks to carry extra fuel, it would fly to Columbia,
22 load up with cocaine and come back to this country, get over the
23 mainland, drop his cocaine in a duffel bag to a previously
24 undisclosed area that nobody knew, give the Loran coordinates to
25 a ground crew in a helicopter, who would go pick up the cocaine.
1 The helicopter was essential to a great deal -- a great part of
2 what he was.doing.
3 We know that the planes that he was using, we know they
4 were the same planes because of the information that we were
5 getting from Louisiana, were parked at the Mena.Airport at Rich
6 Mountain Aviation. We knew those planes approximately every
7 week or two would leave, be gone a day or two, would come back.
8 We knew that those planes had bladder tanks in them. We knew
9 that those planes had blankets covering their -- over the
10 instrument panels in the cockpit to keep strangers from looking
11 in there and seeing the sophisticated equipment that was in the
12 cockpit, radios and Lorans and things that I don't know a whole
13 lot about. But I was told that they were -- had pretty specific
14 uses. And we know that -- we had an informant who at that time
15 gave us at least some information that could be corroborated.
16 Unfortunately, the informant later became hostile. But at that
17 time the informant made statements to either Sheriff Al Hadoway
18 or Terry Capeheart that there was in fact cocaine at the
19 airport. We couldn't confirm that, so -- by "the airport," I
20 mean Rich Mountain Aviation. We couldn't confirm that, so that
21 didn't become a major contributor to our investigation. But
22 most important in that aspect was that we know that Barry Seal's
23 helicopters, two of them, were at Rich Mountain Aviation for a
24 period of time. But they had a rolling plank for lack of a
25 better word, that the helicopters would land on, they'd be
1 rolled into the hanger. And the only thing that Barry Seal
2 needed those helicopters for was to pick up drugs after the drop
3 from the plane itself. We know that -- and we knew that Joe
4 Evans helped Barry Seal license a flatbed truck with a large
5 fuel tank on the back of it in a fictitious business name. And
6 we know that this truck was used to purchase fuel, large
7 quantities of fuel at different areas surrounding Mena, also in
8 a fictitious business name, using fictitious tail numbers. This
9 led us to believe that possibly cocaine had been brought into
10 the area. But we never were able to establish that ourselves.
11 And never felt like it was necessary to -- for his operation to
12 bring it to the area. What he had was a safe place for his
14 Q. How many planes did he hare there, Russell?
15 According to the information we have, he had four planes
16 that -- at one time, and there were two Cessna and two Senicas,
17 I think that's right, then there was two Panther Navahoes and
18 two, I believe it's Senicas.
19 Q. So the physical evidence that you know about and observed
20 indicated that there was a large drug smuggling operation that
21 was using Mena as a -- for those operations; is that correct?
22 A. Oh, yes. All the evidence that we gathered indicated that
23 that was exactly what was happening, and we found nothing to
24 indicate otherwise.
25 Q. Do you have any evidence, whether it's hearsay or whether
1 it's real evidence, as to where the drugs went from Mena?
2 A. No. At that -- during our investigation we were not able
3 to determine that at all,
4 Q. Are you familiar with the small airport that was cut in the
5 woods north of Mena?
6 A. I was aware of that airport before I ever became involved
7 in the investigation. And as we began our investigation and the
8 time period around that airport being built, it was built almost
9 contemporaneous with Barry Seal's appearance in Arkansas, and it
10 was built by Freddie Hampton on his property it appeared. And
11 we new that Freddie Hampton was a -- was broke, didn't have a
12 pot to piss in. He was in bad shape, about to go under. And
13 then, by the time we got into it, of course, was a couple of
14 years after this, two or three years later, the airport never
15 appeared to play a factor in our investigation. We assumed for
16a long time that he had probably built this airport to play --
17 I'm talking about the Nella Airport, just a landing strip. The
18 assumption was that he built this to use in his drug smuggling
19 operation, But then got busted and rolled over, because it
20 never seemed to be used. It was a mystery, it just never fit
21 in. And I --as a result, I never went to the Nella Airport. I
22 have not been there to this day. But we kept getting reports of
23 airplane activity in the area that continued on, and continued
24 to be a mystery.
25 Q. Mr. Duncan testified previously, and he stated that there
1 were civilian reports that indicated there was paramilitary
2 training in the Nella area, and that there were a number of
3 reports communicated by civilians that indicated they had seen
4 foreign nationals of Spanish descent, had seen people in
5 fatigues, fully armed, had seen a number of such sightings that
6 indicated there was paramilitary activity or paramilitary
7 training in that area. Did you bear any such reports?
8 A. Yes. There was a period of time, and I can't remember the
9 exact dates, I want to say it was in the area of 1985 or '86, it
10 was right around the time that we had -- that Trooper Lewis
11 Bryant was killed at DeQueen, and I can't remember to be the exact
12 dates on that, and prior to the siege of the CSA camp up in--
13 near Harrison, we were having a lot of paramilitary, Ku Klux
14 Klan type, paramilitary training by civilians. There was a lot
15 of that going on, that type activity, and it seemed to be
16 everywhere. And we had become interested in the State Police
17 trying to figure out what was going on, because we were getting
18 just deluged with it. Gordon Kahl was believed to have been in
19 the area, and found out he had been in the area. He lived in
20 Mena under an alias for a year. And we felt like it was just a
21 good area for that type of thinking, that type of activity, and
22 we knew that we had the type of people. So when we would hear
23 about military training in a certain area, it didn't surprise
24 us. We thought we just had some more would-be mercenaries
25 training in an area. And we did get reports in that area,
1 reports of machine gun fire. One deer was found riddled with
2 machine gun bullets. One silhouette target made out of steel,
3 if I remember right, it was approximately 3/4 of an inch thick,
4 regular silhouette target shaped, was found completely riddled
5 with large caliber bullets. I can't remember if any of them
6 went through it or not, but they went -- they were close to
7 going through it. They were found by Sheriff James Carmack, and
8 recovered by him in Montgomery County adjacent to Polk County.
9 where these silhouette target was found, we had reports of night
10 fire using tracers.
11About the time the trooper died, a woman called from
12 Minnesota, I believe, she was delivering a Winnebago trailer or
13 motor homes. She was driving through the area of Highway 71,
14 where you would turn off to go to the Nella community, about 2
15 o'clock one morning when she saw some suspicious activity, and
16 she thought it may have concerned the murder of the trooper, and
17 so she notified us. She described driving south on 71 in that
18 area when she described a pickup along side the road with long
19 boxes stacked about cab high in the back of the pickup. A man
20 wearing just farm clothes standing by the pickup or sitting in
21 it. When she drove by, the pickup turned its headlights on and
22 pulled in behind her. She drove a little further down the road.
23 And she was describing landmarks to help me understand about
24 where she was. She saw another pickup similar with long boxes
25 in the back of it piled high. This pickup pulled in behind the
1 pickup behind her, and they continued south on 71. A little
2 further she saw a third pickup, and this pickup also had boxes
3 piled in the back, and one of the boxes didn't have a lid on it,
4 and she said there were long guns in the box. She didn't know
5 what kind of guns they were, couldn't tell anything about it. I
6 believe this driver was out of the pickup and the other two were
7 in. After they drove by, he got in his pickup and fell in
8 behind the others and followed her to a point, based on her
9 description, would be just about where you'd turn off to go to
10 Nella road, she said, then the headlights disappeared. She
11 doesn't know if they turned off the road or what they did. We had
12 received word of a -- what sounded like .50 caliber machine gun
13 fire between Nella community and the Oklahoma state line. We
14 received a report from a dispatcher at the Mt. Ida Sheriff's
15 Office, and I'm talking all in this same time period, that while
16 standing in front of the Sheriff's Office in Mt. Ida he saw a
17 C-130 fly over. Which there are a lot of C-130's that fly over
18 that area, they do apparently navigation training over the
19 Ouachita Mountains in that area. This C-130 flying over a strip
20 of -- or an area of U. S. Forest Service land or National Park
21 land, I'm not sure which, took a sharp lean to the right and a
22 large box fell out of the airplane. No parachute, it just fell
23 straight out. He couldn't describe how large the box was, but
24 he said it had to be very large because the plane was quite a
25 distance from him and he could see it falling, it came out the
1 side door. We received reports of -- one very credible report
2 near Oden, Arkansas given to Sheriff Carmack of a -- said it
3 looked like a -- possibly a platoon of camouflaged men crossing,
4 I believe it was the Ouachita River at that point, as if they
5 were on a mission. And this is an area that, by a local
6 resident, that said people that looked military, they had guns,
7 just didn't fit in. We received reports of C-130's, or at least
8 one C-130, maybe two, reports of flying the canyons around the
9 Ouachita Mountains in that area. And there are probably more.
10 This is the type of reports we were receiving.
11 Q. Do You know whether or not Barry Seal flew C-130's?
12 A. I don't know if he flew C-130's. I knew he flew C-123's
13 and, I believe, 707's.
14 Q. You started investigating the situation in 1985. Do you
15 recall an instance in 1985 when the then U. S. Attorney Asa
16 Hutchinson convened a grand jury for money laundering at Mena,
17 do you recall that?
18 A. Concerning Rich Mountain Aviation?
19Q. Well, concerning -- yes, money laundering in Mena --
20 A. Is this the Investigation that Bill Duncan was --
21 Q. Yes.
22 A. Yes
23 Q. Did you assist in any way with that investigation, Russell?
24 A. Shortly prior to that I had spoken to Steve Snyder with
25 FBI Agent Tom Ross over a sandwich in Fort Smith while we were
1 preparing for court on a totally unrelated local drug offense,
2 at which time Agent Tom Ross and myself were amusing ourselves
3 with camouflaged C-130's sitting at the Mena Airport. Steve
4 Snyder, an excellent prosecutor, overheard the conversation, he
5 was sitting right there with us, asked that we bring the
6 case file in, he wanted to see this. He said he didn't know
7 what was going on, but he said, "We're not going to have it
8 going on in western Arkansas."
9 Sometime, it wasn't long after that, probably within the
10 next month or so, that I had met Bill Duncan, and Bill Duncan
11 notified me that we were to meet with Asa Hutchinson in Fort
12 Smith to begin a grand jury investigation concerning a smuggling
13 activity and money laundering activity. And when I got to Fort
14 Smith at the arranged time, I actually went up the elevator with
15 Steve Snyder and was-carrying on like it was his meeting,
16 because I assumed that it was because he had said something to
17 me already. And we got to the top of the elevator, and he
18 walked off in the other direction, and I asked him where he was
19 going, were we having the meeting down there, and he said, "What
20 meetings?" I said, "Well, we're having a meeting on the 123 and
21 the activity around it that we talked about before," and he
22 said, "I don't know anything about it," and was, appeared to me,
23 slightly upset that it was going on without -- that he wasn't
24 involved. I never did get a chance to talk with him about that.
25 But we went into the meeting with Asa Hutchinson, and Asa was
1 very up-tempo, asked what we knew about the events at that time,
2 which was precious little, embarrassingly little, and asked for
3 a witness list, and we were going to convene a grand jury. And
4 my part in it was -- I knew less than Bill Duncan did about his.
5 Bill Duncan was going to pursue the money laundering
6 investigation, and I was going to pursue the other activities.
7 So that, with the explanation, I was -- taken a very much
8 lesser role in Bill's investigation.
9 Q. Were you subpoenaed for the grand jury in the fall of 1985
10 A. No. I've never been subpoenaed for grand jury in this
12 Q. You were not asked to testify regarding the money
13 laundering in any shape, form or fashion before a grand jury; is
14 that correct?
15 A. No.
16Q. Did you have -- what was your experience, Russell, with the
17 federal authorities relating to the -- to their cooperation with
18 you in your investigation of the Mena situation?
19 A. It was a -- it took me a long the to completely digest
20 what was happening to me. But it was a very disappointing,
21 humiliating experience.
22 Q. How do you mean -- what do you mean?
23 A. When I went into this, I had never been involved in a
24 federal grand jury investigation, didn't know what it meant. I
25 had some of my cases handled in Federal Court, but they were
1 cases that had already been investigated. Most of them, we'd
2 let a federal agent come in and help us with them, then we'd go
3 to Federal Court. And they'd get them a case, and we'd -- you
4 know, it was just an easy way to handle it.
5 This time, as I got involved in this investigation with
6 Bill Duncan, I was kind of following his lead a little bit. It
7 started out very well. Asa Hutchinson was very up-tempo and
8 things were good. And I knew Asa Hutchinson's reputation was
9 top-notch before that.
10 I remember when he came in as U. S. Attorney, everybody was
11 really relieved in western Arkansas because we had had some
12 uneventful prosecutions prior to that apparently. And he did a
13 good job. He had a lot of prosecutions. Well liked.
14 My first uncomfortable experience was at the first grand
15 jury session concerning money laundering where two witnesses,
16 Jim Nugent and Kathy Corrigan, testified, and I was up there
17 just for moral support more than anything else, and to see what
18 was going on . And after they came out of the -- out of their
19 session with the grand jury, each individually expressed concern
20 to Bill Duncan that they were disappointed, that they hadn't
21 been asked the proper questions. They didn't like what happened
22 to them in the grand jury room. And that concerned me a little
23 at the time. But Bill Duncan, I remember him telling them not
24 to worry, that Asa Hutchinson knows what he's doing, and that
25 there's a reason for what -- the way he's handling this. And