Investigator Charges Intimidation on Contra Shipment With AM-US-Iran-Contra Rdp
MIAMI (AP) _ A public defender and his investigator claim federal authorities warned them to halt a probe of an alleged arms shipment from southern Florida to the Contras, according to reports appearing Friday.
Federal Public Defender John Mattes and his investigator, Ralph Maestri, were called to a March 14 meeting with two FBI agents and Jeffrey Feldman, an assistant U.S. attorney, Maestri told The Miami Herald.
″We were told to get out of the investigation and to stop our efforts,″ Mattes told WPLG-TV. He said no reason was given, but that it was clear federal authorities wanted them to stay out of the Contra arms issue.
Maestri said he and Mattes were warned that they were obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses.
″Feldman said, you know, we’re going to see the inside of a grand jury room,″ Maestri recounted. ″He told us that we had done enough, that it was time to stop. He said: ‘We’re going to conduct this like I’m interviewing a (witness).’ He read us our rights.
″Basically, he told us to stop,″ Maestri said.
Ana Barnett, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, called the allegations of intimidation a lie. Barnett told The New York Times on Friday that Feldman was in court and not available to discuss the charges leveled by Maestri and Mattes.
Another source involved in the public defender’s investigation told The Associated Press there had been federal pressure on the investigators. He asked not to be identified.
Maestri said he and Mattes were probing the reported March 6, 1985, shipment of arms to the Contras in their effort to obtain a new trial or reduced sentence for Jesus Garcia, a Contra supporter in Miami convicted on a weapons charge. Garcia told them he helped load the shipment.
The alleged shipment reportedly took place in 1985, during the congressional ban on U.S. military assistance to the Nicaraguan rebels. The diversion of profits from the sale of arms to Iran into the Contra movement during the ban is at the heart of the Reagan administration’s Iran arms sale crisis.
Such an arms shipment by private citizens could constitute a violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act and foreign arms laws.
The U.S. Justice Department has said investigation into the 1985 arms shipment is continuing and that the case is before a grand jury.
But Maestri quoted Feldman as saying last February: ″Justice isn’t interested in pursuing this any further.″
He said as of the March meeting, no Justice Department investigators had talked to Steven Carr and Peter Glibbery, two Americans who claimed to have worked as crewmen on the flight a year earlier.
Carr and Glibbery had said they picked up an arms shipment, including a 14- foot cannon, from several Dade County locations, then loaded them aboard a transport plane at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The plane flew to Ilopango, El Salvador, where the load was divided among smaller planes for transport to Contras in Costa Rica, they said last year.
Carr said at one landing in Costa Rica he saw Robert Owen, a former U.S. Senate aide and employee of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Program, The Herald reported.
Carr and Glibbery were jailed in Costa Rica later in 1985 on weapons charges.
Mattes, Maestri and an aide to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Carr and Glibbery at their San Jose jail last March, Maestri said. When they returned to Miami, he and Mattes urged FBI agents to interview Carr and Glibbery.
Instead, they were summoned to the Feldman meeting two days later and were warned to stop, Maestri said.
″That’s laughable,″ Ms. Barnett said of Maestri’s account. ″It is patently a lie. That’s just not so, not ever, period.″
She said Carr and Glibbery were interviewed Jan. 23 by a U.S. Embassy representative and that Feldman and FBI agents interviewed the men in late March.