H. Indictment of Meneses in 1989
At the same time Meneses was working as an informant on behalf of the DEA, he was also the subject of the continuing San Francisco FBI investigation. In February 1989, as a result of the FBI case, Meneses was indicted in San Francisco for historical cocaine trafficking activities that had occurred in 1984 and 1985. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the 1989 indictment of Meneses was "quickly locked away in the vaults of the San Francisco federal courthouse, where it remains today -- inexplicably secret for more than seven years. Meneses was never arrested." The articles also stated that no arrest warrant was ever entered into the FBI's automated database of criminal information, NCIC (National Crime Information Center). Among other information, this database contains information on wanted persons and can be accessed by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The implication of the articles was that law enforcement entities, and perhaps the CIA, conspired to protect Meneses from arrest.
These allegations were not supported by our review concerning the handling of Meneses' case and his indictment. The indictment was sealed, which is common when a defendant is not in the country, and the arrest warrant was entered into the NCIC database. Although Meneses was never arrested on this warrant, the evidence shows that this was the result of inadequate coordination between the DEA and the FBI, not due to any conspiracy to protect him.
As noted above, the Los Angeles OCDETF case was declined for prosecution in the summer of 1987. After the closure of the OCDETF case, Special Agent Donald Hale of the San Francisco FBI reopened the FBI's case against Meneses, which had been in an inactive status. In January 1988, Hale wrote a cable to FBI Headquarters describing the history of the San Francisco FBI's investigation of Meneses and its current status. He stated:
It became apparent to the FBI that Norwin Meneses was, and may still be, an informant of DEA. It is also believed by the FBI, SF, that Norwin Meneses was, and may still be, an informant for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The cable added that this information was based on a confidential source of the San Francisco FBI office, who had stated that Meneses was recently in the San Francisco area and had been bragging to associates that the reason he was not being prosecuted was because he was an informant for the CIA. The cable added that the San Francisco United States Attorney's Office had authorized prosecution of Meneses, but that prior to bringing formal charges, that office wanted the DEA and the CIA to state any objections they had to prosecution of Meneses and advise the FBI of any possible problems stemming from Meneses' informant status.
On April 15, 1988, FBI Headquarters informed FBI San Francisco that the General Counsel's Office of the CIA had reported that a search of CIA files and indices located no information indicating that Meneses was ever employed by or was an informant for the CIA and that the CIA did not have any objections or problems with a prosecution of Meneses. Although we found no written response from the DEA, a later cable from the San Francisco FBI stated that the FBI had met with the DEA in San Francisco and that the DEA had not objected to an indictment of Meneses.
On February 8, 1989, a federal grand jury in San Francisco returned a two count indictment against Norwin Meneses, charging him with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The first count stemmed from the 1984 sale of cocaine to an undercover agent. Meneses was identified as the source of the cocaine that was sold by a third person to the undercover agent. The second count stemmed from an informant's report that the informant had provided cocaine to Meneses in 1985. Both counts carried a maximum penalty of fifteen years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Eric Swenson, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Francisco who handled the indictment of Meneses, told us that the indictment was precipitated primarily by the five-year statute of limitations on drug offenses, which was about to expire in the Meneses case. Swenson's recollection is confirmed by a prosecution memorandum he wrote just before the indictment was returned in 1989. In that memorandum, Swenson summarized the background of the case, including Meneses' use as an informant by the DEA, the attempt to obtain Meneses' cooperation in the Los Angeles OCDETF case, and the failure of that case. The memorandum stated that Meneses had been out of the United States for the past two years and his whereabouts were unknown. The memorandum reported:
This is an old case . . . The primary reason for returning the Indictment at this date is because of the upcoming Statute of Limitations problems. Don Hale of the FBI has therefore requested, and I agree, that Meneses be indicted, that the Indictment be placed under seal, and that at least we have an arrest warrant issued for him.
Consistent with this memorandum, Swenson had the indictment filed under seal when it was returned by the grand jury. Swenson told the OIG that the indictment was sealed because Meneses was a fugitive at the time and that it was standard practice for an indictment to be filed under seal in such a case.
On February 8, 1989, the federal court in San Francisco also issued a no-bail arrest warrant for Meneses. Contrary to the allegation in the San Jose Mercury News, on April 12, 1989, the warrant was entered into the FBI's NCIC database. The warrant currently appears in NCIC as an outstanding warrant for Meneses' arrest.
I. Post-Indictment Activities
1. DEA's use of Meneses as an informant in 1989
As noted above, when Meneses was indicted by the San Francisco FBI in 1989, he was also a confidential informant for the DEA in Costa Rica. From 1987 through 1989, he had already traveled to the United States, Colombia, and Panama for the DEA, receiving several thousand dollars for his cooperation.
Surprisingly, in 1989, even after the San Francisco indictment and arrest warrant were issued, Meneses continued to work as an informant for the DEA in Costa Rica and travel to the United States on behalf of the DEA. In April and May 1989, the DEA Costa Rica office sent a cable describing Meneses' proposed travel for work on DEA undercover operations to DEA Headquarters and DEA offices in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, as well as to the American Embassies in Colombia and Mexico. The DEA Costa Rica requested a visa for Meneses to enter the United States, which was granted. The Costa Rica file also indicates that the Costa Rica DEA coordinated Meneses travel with the Los Angeles DEA.
DEA SA Rivera, Meneses' handler in Costa Rica at this time, said he was not aware of the warrant for Meneses. He added that he did not know why the warrant was not noticed when the DEA requested the visa for Meneses in 1989, after Meneses' indictment had already been placed in NCIC.
According to an August 28, 1989, debriefing report filed by Rivera, on May 11, 1989, Meneses traveled from Costa Rica to Miami to help in a DEA undercover operation targeting money laundering and cocaine smuggling into the United States. Meneses remained in Miami for ten days and met various drug traffickers there, including Danilo Blandon. Also at the DEA's direction, Meneses went from Miami to Los Angeles to meet with drug traffickers. In Los Angeles, when he approached a representative of the target of a DEA investigation, that person drew his gun on Meneses and stated that Danilo Blandon had told the person that Meneses was a police informer.(33) Meneses returned to Miami and in August 1989, he went back to Costa Rica.
In September 1989, Meneses also traveled to Colombia for the DEA to work on undercover cases involving cocaine processors and smugglers there. As discussed above, on December 23, 1989, Meneses was deactivated as an informant by the DEA's Costa Rica office.
2. FBI Efforts to Locate Meneses
In 1989, while Meneses was working on behalf of the DEA and traveling in the United States, the FBI in San Francisco was attempting to locate him to arrest him in connection with the February 1989 San Francisco indictment. During this time, the FBI was apparently unaware of his activities on behalf of the DEA. In April 1989, the FBI opened a fugitive file on Meneses based on the San Francisco indictment. In June 1989, the FBI in San Francisco reported that source information suggested that Meneses was at that time residing in San Jose, Costa Rica, and had a business there. On June 29, 1989, the FBI requested that the FBI Legal Attache in Panama locate Meneses through the DEA in Costa Rica. At that very time, Meneses was in the United States working for the DEA. Due to turmoil in Panama at the time, the Department of State ordered United States law enforcement personnel to leave Panama in May 1989. The FBI Legat in Panama relocated to Mexico City. FBI records show that the Mexico City office received the June request for assistance on September 28, 1989.
In October 1989, the FBI in San Francisco sent another cable to the FBI Panama Legat stating that Meneses was a fugitive and was believed to be residing in Costa Rica.
The Panama Legat did not contact the DEA in Costa Rica, and the case was reassigned to the Assistant Legat in Mexico City, Ernie Terrazas. The Assistant Legat contacted the DEA in Costa Rica on January 22, 1990. By this time, Meneses had returned to Costa Rica from the United States and had been deactivated as a DEA informant. According to a February 6, 1990, cable from Assistant Legat Terrazas to the San Francisco FBI, when the Assistant Legat asked the DEA Country Attache for Costa Rica, Ron Lard, about Meneses on January 22, 1990, Lard described Meneses as a "very valuable and current active DEA source in Costa Rica and not a former informant of DEA."(34) The FBI Assistant Legat therefore requested in his cable to the San Francisco FBI that the FBI and DEA in San Francisco "coordinate all aspects of [Meneses'] indictments to insure that the best interest of both agencies are served" and notify the FBI Assistant Legat of the results of the discussions. The cable noted Meneses' address and phone number in Costa Rica, which Lard had provided.
On February 12, 1990, the FBI in San Francisco informed the Mexico City Assistant Legat in a sharp response that prior to Meneses' indictment in 1989, the San Francisco FBI had queried the CIA and met with the DEA in San Francisco. The FBI San Francisco wrote that it would not have pursued an indictment of Meneses if it had been aware of Meneses' cooperation with any law enforcement or intelligence agency, but no one had objected to the indictment. The FBI San Francisco requested that:
DEA Costa Rica advise when Meneses became a very valuable DEA source. Was it prior to or after indictment? Did DEA conduct appropriate checks to determine Meneses' legal status prior to operating him?
On April 24, 1990, the FBI Assistant Legat in Mexico City responded to FBI San Francisco, stating that he had recontacted DEA Country Attache Lard, who had
reiterated that his headquarters never advised him of FBI's intentions to indict [Meneses] and that their only information was from DEA San Francisco which was that FBI San Francisco wanted [Meneses'] cooperation in drug matters. However, [Meneses] had refused to work with FBI. DEA San Jose, Costa Rica believes that [Meneses] was indicted in order to seek his cooperation in drug matters. DEA San Jose, Costa Rica also advised that [Meneses] does not want to cooperate with the FBI.
The Assistant Legat stated, however, that Meneses was no longer an active DEA source since he had failed to provide any information of value in the last six months. The cable also reported that Meneses had a difficult time entering the United States, even with DEA's assistance. The FBI Assistant Legat said that the request concerning Meneses would be placed in "RUC status," meaning that he would not do anything further unless contacted.
The Assistant Legat told us that he sensed there were problems between the DEA and the FBI about this issue, and he did not want to get in the middle of this conflict. He also said he did not seek Meneses' extradition because the San Francisco FBI did not direct him to do so, and the request from the San Francisco FBI office was only to locate Meneses, not to seek his extradition. According to the DOJ Office of International Affairs, the DOJ office that would process any formal request for extradition, there was never any such request made for Meneses' extradition.
The main FBI San Francisco agent on the Meneses case, Donald Hale, is now deceased. We interviewed another San Francisco FBI agent who assisted in the case against Meneses, W K Williams, but he had only a vague recollection of this matter. He thought that Hale had looked into the issues surrounding extradition of Meneses from Costa Rica and thought either that there was no extradition treaty with Costa Rica or that Costa Rica was unlikely to extradite a fugitive to the United States. In fact, although there was an extradition treaty between Costa Rica and the United States, it did not cover extradition for drug trafficking offenses. Williams said that the FBI did not believe that the DEA in Costa Rica, or the Costa Rican authorities, would arrest Meneses, and the FBI therefore had left Meneses in a fugitive status.
DEA Country Attache Lard told us that he recalled talking to an FBI agent (whose name Lard could not recall) about an informant and being told that the informant had been indicted in order to get him to cooperate with the FBI. Lard could not recall if this related to Meneses. Lard recalled telling the FBI agent that if the FBI was going to prosecute the informant, then the DEA would assist in getting him back to the United States, but not otherwise. Lard said he told the FBI if they did not have a prosecutable case he would not assist them.
3. Costa Rica DEA reactivates Meneses
In May 1990, DEA Costa Rica again activated Meneses as an informant for a brief time. According to a report prepared by DEA Costa Rica agent Rivera, in April 1990 Meneses reported to Rivera that Blandon had contacted Meneses and "intimated that he needed [Meneses'] help in transporting very large quantities of cocaine from Central America to Florida." Meneses agreed to fly to Guatemala to meet with Blandon and a Colombian to transport the cocaine. On May 10, 1990, Rivera reactivated Meneses as an informant, and paid him $500.
The DEA enforcement procedures for the reactivation of informants requires the filing of a DEA report that contains the reason for reactivation and "any developments during the period of deactivation which would affect the informant's status as a restricted use or defendant/informant." DEA procedures also require "thorough coordinat[ion] between the DEA and FBI" whenever there is an attempt to recruit an informant or witness who is a "significant target in an active or pending DEA or FBI investigation" or who was in the judicial process.
The DEA form reactivating Meneses as an informant in May 1990 did not indicate that he was under federal indictment, despite the fact that DEA Costa Rica was aware of this fact. There is also no evidence in the files that DEA Costa Rica made contact with the San Francisco FBI or United States Attorney's Office before reactivating him. Rivera said he did not do a check of Meneses in NADDIS or NCIC before activating him again, since he had used Meneses as a confidential informant previously.
We found no report in DEA files describing whether Meneses eventually met with Blandon or what happened there. There was a DEA report describing its use of another confidential informant in the Guatemala case, but nothing about what Meneses did in Guatemala. DEA SA Rivera did not recall if Meneses ever went to Guatemala on this case.
On August 16, 1990, the DEA Costa Rica deactivated Meneses. The deactivation report says that the DEA had had little if any contact with Meneses since May 11, and that because no active or current investigations required his participation, he was "closed."
4. Continued investigations of Meneses
In the latter part of 1990 and into 1991, the DEA in the United States opened several more investigations targeting Meneses, based upon informant information, for ongoing drug trafficking activities.
(a) San Francisco Case
On November 26, 1990, DEA San Francisco agent Stephen Tse debriefed an informant who said that, while he was in Managua, Nicaragua, he was asked by a cocaine trafficker to drive a car with 200 kilograms of cocaine to the United States. The Managua cocaine trafficker claimed in his statements to the informant to be in partnership with Norwin Meneses, who was based in Costa Rica. The trafficker stated that he and Meneses had cocaine warehouses in Managua and Costa Rica. Based on the informant's information, on December 31, 1990, Tse initiated a case targeting Meneses and the Managua trafficker.
According to a report from Tse, on March 19, 1991, he met with W K Williams of the San Francisco FBI. Williams informed Tse that Meneses had been indicted on February 8, 1989 and that the indictment was still under seal. Williams said he was interested in having Meneses arrested and extradited to face the charges in the indictment. Tse told Williams that the DEA Costa Rica office had reported to Tse that Meneses was once an informant for DEA Costa Rica but had not been affiliated with that office for the past three years.(35) According to Tse's report, the DEA Costa Rica office told him that it would assist in the apprehension of Meneses, but it did not know his exact whereabouts.
On March 20 and April 5, 1991, Tse discussed the Meneses case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Swenson. According to Tse's report, Swenson told Tse that the indicted case against Meneses was "old and very weak" and that Swenson would like to see Meneses arrested on new drug charges. Furthermore, according to the report, Swenson told Tse the reason for the 1989 indictment was to compel Meneses to cooperate with the FBI. Swenson told us, however, that getting Meneses to cooperate may have been another purpose in FBI agent Hale's mind for seeking the indictment, but that it was not the main reason for it. Rather, the indictment was sought to avoid the statute of limitations issue and to preserve the ability to prosecute Meneses if he ever returned to the United States.(36)
On April 30, Tse and FBI agent Williams debriefed the informant again and instructed him to return to Nicaragua and accept the offer from the Managua cocaine trafficker to transport cocaine to the United States. The informant returned to Nicaragua but Tse had difficulty contacting him there.
(b) Guatemala Case
On September 6, 1991 a different "walk-in" informant came into the Guatemala DEA office and told DEA agent Torrey Shutes that the informant was driving a car packed with cocaine from Managua to Houston, Texas, for Norwin Meneses and Enrique Miranda. The informant said that Miranda had recruited him for the job. Miranda had told the informant that Miranda and Meneses had a warehouse in Managua with one thousand kilograms of cocaine. Miranda instructed the informant that after delivery of the cocaine to the United States, the informant would receive money to buy a Mercedes Benz to drive back to Nicaragua, and that if the trip was successful, the informant would be set up in a business in Houston to launder money.
The DEA agents in Guatemala searched the informant's vehicle and removed cocaine from the panels. The informant drove the car to Houston, where he contacted DEA agents. He then called Miranda, who instructed the informant to drive to Los Angeles to deliver the cocaine. When the informant arrived in Los Angeles, DEA agents staged a traffic accident to allow the informant to continue to work in the Meneses operation. The informant returned to Managua, at the direction of the DEA, to gather additional information on Miranda and Meneses.
As a result of this informant's information, DEA cases were opened in Guatemala, Houston, and Los Angeles targeting Meneses, Miranda, and their organization. However, although the informant maintained contact with the Guatemala DEA for several weeks after his return to Nicaragua, the DEA then lost touch with him.
5. Meneses' contact with Costa Rica DEA in 1991
In late 1991, Meneses again contacted the DEA in Costa Rica. An FBI cable stated that on September 23, 1991, DEA Costa Rica Country Attache Ron Lard reported to the FBI Legat in Mexico City that Meneses had recently contacted the DEA Costa Rica office and offered to work with the DEA in a large cocaine smuggling case in which he could provide information. Lard told the Legat that he knew Meneses was an FBI fugitive, so Lard wanted to check "on how badly the FBI wanted him and if his case was significant." Lard advised that Meneses was believed to be in Guatemala at the time. The FBI Legat provided Lard with the name of the case agent on the Meneses indictment (W K Williams), and Lard said he would contact the case agent directly. According to the cable, Lard did not describe for the Legat the cocaine operation to which Meneses referred or what the DEA intended to do with this information.
According to a later cable, two days later the FBI Mexico City Legat telephoned FBI Agent Williams, the case agent in San Francisco, and advised him of the contact by Meneses. Williams asked for more information about the details of Meneses' activities and the information Meneses provided.
A DEA agent in Costa Rica during this time, Federico Villarreal, told the OIG that he remembered that his supervisor, Ron Lard, asked him to talk to Norwin Meneses when Villarreal went to Nicaragua on assignment, attempting to establish a relationship with the Nicaraguan police. Villarreal said he thought that Meneses had either called Lard or had sent a message to Lard that Meneses wanted to talk to a DEA agent. Villarreal told the OIG that he was not aware that Meneses was under indictment in San Francisco until after Meneses was arrested by Nicaraguan authorities later in 1991.
Villarreal said he reviewed Meneses' DEA Costa Rica file, then met Meneses two or three times in a Managua residential area. Villarreal said he did not now recall the specifics of the meetings. He vaguely recalled that Meneses mentioned a group of Colombians with whom he was working. Villarreal recalled that Meneses' information was not very specific and did not require immediate attention. Villarreal said he probably did a file search on some of the names Meneses provided.
Villarreal could not recall if he reestablished Meneses as an informant. The OIG could find no report of investigation in DEA files reactivating Meneses as an informant or any report of Villarreal's meetings with Meneses. According to DEA records, Meneses was not paid any money for this information.
33. According to the debriefing report, when Meneses met with Blandon in Miami he was accompanied by an undercover DEA agent. Meneses suspected that Blandon may have guessed the identity of the undercover DEA agent and informed the target in Los Angeles that Meneses was working with the police.
34. This was not entirely accurate, since Meneses had been deactivated as an informant in December 1989. Lard told us he was not aware of this when he spoke to the Assistant Legat.
35. Again, this information was not accurate, since Meneses had been deactivated less than a year before.
36. FBI special agent Gibler also told the OIG that the FBI did not plan to use the indictment as leverage to get Meneses to cooperate. He said that the FBI did not need Meneses' cooperation and did not need him to testify against anyone else. Gibler said the FBI may have considered not indicting Meneses if he had been willing to cooperate and had also been willing to plead to the drug charges.