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Ex-Agent, Ex-Con Tell of Drug Partnership

October 8, 1985

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ A former FBI agent awaiting sentencing on bribery and drug charges and a convicted con man blame each other for cocaine deals while they worked together on an undercover operation that netted no arrests, according to a published report.

After they worked side-by-side for nine months during the FBI’s ″Operation Airlift,″ ex-agent Daniel Mitrione now is the government’s chief witness in the Pittsburgh trial of Hilmer B. Sandini, who is accused of earning $1.7 million from the sale of drugs.

Documents in the case, including statements by the two to the FBI, prosecutors and a federal grand jury, were obtained by The Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel, and portions published Monday give an account of the life the agent led on government money.

Sandini, being tried on federal charges of running an international drug ring operating between Colombia and Pittsburgh via Miami, contended Mitrione made $1.6 million from the sale of cocaine stolen in March 1983 from a smuggling operation Mitrione was supposed to have seized.

Mitrione told a Pittsburgh grand jury that stealing the cocaine was Sandini’s idea.

″I could either do one of two things,″ Mitrione said. ″Either balk at him, ‘No, we are not going to do it,’ ... or I could say, ‘Let’s do it,’ and hope that we never get caught.″

Mitrione acknowledged he destroyed evidence and allowed shipments of cocaine to enter the country during the operation, the News and Sun-Sentinel reported.

He also said he snorted cocaine, hired prostitutes, embezzled $250,000 in government funds and earned another $850,000 from the resale of cocaine shipments he didn’t report to authorities.

In March, Mitrione, 38, pleaded guilty in Miami to federal charges of bribery, conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Operation Airlift began in February 1982, according to the newspaper, when Sandini - who had been sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison for smuggling marijuana - asked the FBI for a deal to reduce his sentence.

The FBI agreed and Operation Airlift was formed, with Mitrione in charge, to confiscate drugs and arrest smugglers.

Sandini’s lawyer, G. William Bills, said part of his defense would be that his client was selling drugs while working as a federal informant. ″Hilmer Sandini’s action were approved by ... the most renowned law enforcement agency in the United States,″ Bills said in opening arguments.

During the operation, Sandini, 60, of Coral Springs, said Mitrione ″drank heavy and loved to chase women.″

He said Mitrione spent FBI money to buy a new wardrobe and rent an oceanfront apartment in Fort Lauderdale.

Mitrione said he spent $35,000 on a boat, $25,000 on a gambling junket to Atlantic City and the Bahamas and $210,000 for property in Fort Myers, among other expenses.

Sandini contended Mitrione went from spending the FBI’s cash to making money by purchasing narcotics which Sandini then sold.

Mitrione reportedly told agents he snorted cocaine in November 1982 during a meeting in Pittsburgh with organized crime figures involved in the cocaine- smuggling network.

Later, Mitrione began asking Sandini for money.

″I accepted cash payments from Sandini from approximately February 1983 through the late fall of 1983. I received 12 payments from a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $85,000,″ Mitrione told agents.

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