Doublecross: U.S. Customs Embarassed by Smuggling Informant
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n546/a05.html
Newshawk: Marcus-Mermelstein Family
Source: ABC News - Primetime
Transcript: Produced by Federal Document Clearing House
Contact: http://www.abcnews.com/onair/email.html
Website: http://www.abcnews.com/
Pubdate: Thu, 8 Jul 1998
Note: This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.


DOUBLECROSS: U.S. CUSTOMS EMBARASSED BY SMUGGLING INFORMANT

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS - Last month, President Clinton called for cooperation among nations in the fight against drugs. But what if the people who are supposed to be keeping drugs out of the United States instead are putting the government smack in the middle of dealing drugs? Tonight, a six-month PrimeTime investigation reveals how agents of the US Customs Service turned a pot smuggler into a big-time cocaine kingpin and then turned a blind eye while he poured billions of dollars of cocaine on to the streets of America. Tonight, Forrest Sawyer talks to Rodney Matthews, a smuggler turned top informant who became one of the biggest embarrassment s in US Customs history.

FORREST SAWYER, ABC NEWS ( VO ) New Year's Eve, 1988. When Rodney Matthews touched down at his private airstrip in Damon, Texas, hauling a ton of pu re cocaine, he wasn't working alone.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes. By all means, I'm a drug smuggler. The government authorized me to smuggle. And the government paid me to smuggle.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Did you have the feeling that they knew how mu ch cocaine could hit the streets?

RODNEY MATTHEWS I'm sure they must have realized it.

FORREST SAWYER And that would be how much?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Tons.

DICK CARDWELL, FORMER US CUSTOMS AGENT Have you ever seen a picture of 1,800 pounds of coke? That's a lot of dope. That seizure of 1,800 pounds of coke was a big seizure. And we got the guy that was doing the deal, Rodne y Matthews.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Houston Customs agent Dick Cardwell had gotten wind o f an unauthorized plane heading toward Matthews' airstrip. US Customs and Texas police set up a stakeout. When they saw a truck pulling out, they chased it down Rural Road 1462.

RODNEY MATTHEWS The Texas highway patrolman pulled me over, asked me what was on the truck. I told him 700 kilos of cocaine. He got a little excite d.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Trooper Billy Frank Teague 8A

BILLY FRANK TEAGUE, TEXAS STATE TROOPER He's trying to tell us that, "Hey , I'm one of you guys. I'm working with you." And at that point, I placed t he shotgun at the back of his head and ordered him to be still so that we could handcuff him.

RODNEY MATTHEWS And I'm trying to tell him, "Hey, this load is for you."

BILLY FRANK TEAGUE And he's still trying to tell us, even after he's handcuffed, "Hey, I'm working for you guys. This is for y'all. I'm one of you." And we weren't buying it.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And neither was Dick Cardwell, who knew Matthews was working as an informant for the US Customs Service. But he was convinced Matthews had been running loads of cocaine behind the government's back.

DICK CARDWELL I knew he was a smuggler. And I knew he was working outside of law enforcement. The problem was trying to catch him doing it.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Now Cardwell had proof. Matthews caught red-handed wi th the biggest load of cocaine in Texas history, a load that no government agency had approved. Matthews was going down, until, just as he was being booked, the order came to let him go.

DICK CARDWELL We just caught this guy with 1,800 pounds of coke, and we'r e going to turn him loose. And he did. He walked out of the door, got into a yellow cab and went home.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Because of a deal that agents from your own agency had made?

DICK CARDWELL They gave probably one of the best smugglers in the country , they gave him the keys to the-to the candy store. They gave him permissio n.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) How Rodney Matthews became one of the biggest embarrassments in US Customs history, revealing that the government makes loose and sometimes illegal deals with informants, allowing tons of cocai ne into the country-that story begins four years earlier, 40 miles and a wor ld away from Houston.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Fort Bend ( ph ) County, Mayberry, USA. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everybody else's business.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Now, I would think everybody and his brother would know exactly what you were flying in.

RODNEY MATTHEWS There was some suspicion.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Then 40 years old, Matthews had spent most of his adu lt life flying planeloads of marijuana into a little airstrip he had built i n the middle of a cow pasture. He was making millions, until Valentine's Da y, 1984, when Bob Nestoroff, a sergeant in the Texas Department of Public Safety, busted him with 600 pounds of pot. Matthews quickly made his firs t deal-his freedom in exchange for information.

SGT BOB NESTOROFF, TEXAS STATE POLICE His usefulness to us was to go out and set up deals where we could seize loads.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Delivered you four cases?

BOB NESTOROFF Yes, sir.

FORREST SAWYER With a ribbon on them?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Drug agents soon realized that Rodney Matthews was a natural snitch, who not only knew the smuggling business inside-out but w as willing to take chances for them. Just when he could walk away a free man , US Customs agents in San Antonio asked him to start playing a bigger game. But to get to Matthews, they had to go through Bob Nestoroff. The Texas c op was the only handler Matthews trusted.

BOB NESTOROFF Narcotics, Nestoroff.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) And Bob, if you got involved in a Customs investigation with your informant and it worked out, that would be good f or you, right?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct, it would be.

FORREST SAWYER Nice career move?

BOB NESTOROFF Yes, sir.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And their target was legendary Texas smuggler Vic Stadter, chased for half a century by Customs agents who call him "the original cocaine cowboy." To this day, Stadter swears he's a smuggler all right-gold, whiskey, exotic animals, anything but drugs. ( on camera ) You just got through telling me that you're one of the best smugglers in the whole 8A

VIC STADTER, US CUSTOMS TARGET I am. I am.

FORREST SAWYER You've never smuggled drugs in your life?

VIC STADTER Never had anything to do with drugs in my life, and there's nobody knows it better than the US government and their damnable agents.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Agents convinced Stadter ran an international cocaine ring that helped build his 350-acre ranch out in Texas hill country. ( on camera ) We have talked to these guys. They appear to be sincere in their belief that you are in the drug smuggling business in a very big way.

VIC STADTER Well, why don't they back it up?

FORREST SAWYER That's what they were trying to do.

VIC STADTER By getting a rat to set me up?

RODNEY MATTHEWS I didn't know if this guy was about to blow up the White House or why there was so much interest. I did know that he had embarrass ed them a few times.

FORREST SAWYER Not that he was the biggest drug smuggler around, not that he was a danger to the community, just that he was embarrassing the agent s?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Right. That he had beat them and rubbed their face in it.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In 1986, US Customs agents decided to turn Matthews into a cocaine kingpin. To get close enough to catch Stadter red-handed with a load of coke, they allowed Matthews to do what no drug agent is permitted, break the law.

RODNEY MATTHEWS And it was clear that smuggling cocaine in and letting it hit the street was part of that deal. And making money on the side was pa rt of that deal.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Am I wrong? Did they just set you up in busine ss?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes, by all means. I made it very clear that I'm in this for the money.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And make money, he did. Suitcases full, with the government looking the other way.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Over that period that I worked with the government, I'm sure $10 million passed through my hands-ranches, real estate, airplanes, at least a dozen airplanes. Some of them expensive airplanes.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And making money right along with Matthews, his longtime friend and partner, Jimmie Ellard ( ph ).

JIMMIE ELLARD We've moved about $6 billion worth of drugs over a five-yea r period, about $6 billion.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Back in the spring of 1985, Matthews had recruited Jimmie Ellard as a pilot. Ellard was busted one month later.

JIMMIE ELLARD I felt that Matthews was the only family I had at that time. One of us had a problem, the other one was there. That's the way it alway s was.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Out on bail, Ellard fled to Colombia. His friend Rodn ey said he would help set him up in business.

RODNEY MATTHEWS So I gave him a couple of names and off he went.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) How did he do?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Eventually, he-he did very well. He moved up.

FORREST SAWYER How far?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Right up to the top.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) To the very top, becoming one of the biggest transporters for the man who was then the world's most powerful cocaine baron, Pablo Escobar.

JIMMIE ELLARD Pablo Escobar was a billionaire. When we ended up in 1990, I was a multimillionaire.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Running flights and organizing others for Escobar, Ellard claims he was making up to $5 million a week. And Rodney Matthews? He and Ellard were busy building one of the biggest cocaine trafficking rings in the country.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER Second tower, roger. Make straight ( inaudible ) app roach.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) By 1988, their drug flights into Fort Lauderdale executive airport were so routine, they were calling themselves the "Federal Express of cocaine." ( on camera ) You figure as far as the government's concerned, that's just fine?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes.

FORREST SAWYER It sounds like nobody's running things. It's, you're off-well, you're off smuggling.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Well, that's what I was supposed to be doing, off smuggli ng.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Three years, 50 flights in broad daylight, low and sl ow across the Gulf of Mexico. Never once intercepted. Never even fearing the radar planes put up to catch them. Rodney Matthews had Ellard and the Colombians convinced they could buy the radar planes' flight schedules fr om him. The asking price? Six million dollars. ( on camera ) What was the real value of what you were selling them?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Zero.

FORREST SAWYER Because?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Because I didn't have any inside information.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) It was all just one more Rodney Matthews double-cross. No information about the radar plane flights, he claims, no dirty agent, nothing but raw nerve and $6 million in his pocket. ( on camera ) And you were just gambling that those radar planes were not up?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Right.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER We have a contact here.

FORREST SAWYER You are not unaware of the Colombians' reputation-if you g ot caught, what would happen?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Death-sometimes a slow death.

DICK CARDWELL This guy walked a tight rope. I mean, he walked a tight rop e not only with law enforcement. He walked a tight rope with the cartels as well.

FORREST SAWYER And played them both against each other?

DICK CARDWELL Oh, absolutely. And was making money on both ends of the fe nce.

FORREST SAWYER Now, that's a hell of a game.

DICK CARDWELL He was good.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Good at making money, but lousy at catching Vic Stadter. Three years after he started his Customs investigation, Rodney Matthews had turned up exactly nothing. ( on camera ) How close did Matthew s get in his efforts to bust you?

VIC STADTER He dated my secretary. And outside of that, the one time I me t him, that was it.

FORREST SAWYER Well, let me see if I got it straight. He brings in tons o f cocaine 8A

VIC STADTER Yeah.

FORREST SAWYER 8A to get you, and it comes down to 8A

VIC STADTER Dating my secretary. Yep.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) So what did US Customs agents decide to do next? Federal prosecutors say that instead of shutting him down, Customs turned Rodney Matthews completely loose, giving him "carte blanche" to break virtually every US drug law to nail Stadter.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Well, it was like a 007 license. I didn't know the government did that. It was hard to resist.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) What could Rodney Matthews have done that woul d have been breaking the law with such license?

BOB NESTOROFF Well, I seriously doubt they would condone murder. I sure hope they wouldn't.

FORREST SAWYER But drug smuggling is fine?

BOB NESTOROFF I believe so. That's correct.

FORREST SAWYER That puts the United States government smack in the middle of dealing drugs.

BOB NESTOROFF They're authorizing the man to do something that they're fighting. But the fact remains that they did it.

SAM DONALDSON For Rodney Matthews, it was as good as it gets, but there would be one more double-cross still to come.

ANNOUNCER In a moment, Matthews' most loyal ally turns against him, and federal agents run for cover.

DICK CARDWELL We were looking at 20 years for doing our jobs-for taking dope off the street and for telling the truth.

ANNOUNCER When PrimeTime continues.

( Commercial Break )

ANNOUNCER Did US Customs agents allow one of their own informants to floo d drugs onto the streets?

MARK CONRAD We got in bed with Rodney Matthews.

ANNOUNCER The insider who says it's not an isolated case.

MARK CONRAD It happens routinely in virtually every situation where you'r e dealing with informants.

ANNOUNCER When PrimeTime continues, after this from our ABC stations. ( Station Break )

ANNOUNCER PrimeTime continues. From Washington, Sam Donaldson.

SAM DONALDSON After Rodney Matthews had been caught red-handed with a ton of cocaine destined for the streets of Miami, New York and Philadelphia, it still looked like he'd played the informant game and won-until his deal with Customs came under fire. And as Forrest Sawyer learned, the agents w ho had cut Matthews loose started to feel the heat.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) When Rodney Matthews walked away from the biggest bus t in Texas history a free man, it didn't play too well in the local newspapers. ( on camera ) And there were a lot of people who were embarrass ed?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Very embarrassed. The idea that the United States Justice Department and US Customs would authorize cocaine to be smuggled into the United States.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And things got even worse when Matthews told Texas co p Bob Nestoroff that a week earlier, he had brought in yet another half ton of cocaine that did make it to the streets. ( on camera ) You figured he wa s just on the job?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct.

FORREST SAWYER You mean flying in 1,800 pounds of cocaine that is going t o hit the streets of America is part of his job?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct. If he was taking huge advantage of it, so b e it. He still was doing what he was told he could do to get into the Stadt er organization.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) That was the central problem. No one had the authorit y to let Rodney Matthews break the law. And now, the deal they had given hi m was coming under fire, which sent the Customs agent who was supposed to b e controlling Matthews running for cover. That agent was Tom Grieve. ( on camera ) Was he told he could do whatever was necessary to fly cocaine and bust Vic Stadter?

TOM GRIEVE, FORMER US CUSTOMS AGENT No.

FORREST SAWYER Was there anything said, anything that could have been in your wildest imagination misinterpreted to mean that Rodney Matthews coul d bring in a load and let it hit the streets?

TOM GRIEVE No. Not hit the streets. No, no, no, no. No. See, that's-no, n o.

FORREST SAWYER Tom Grieve says that there was no carte blanche, nothing like carte blanche.

MARK CONRAD, US CUSTOMS INTERNAL AFFAIRS Tom Grieve is simply a liar.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Mark Conrad runs internal affairs for Customs in Houston. A 27-year veteran, Conrad spoke to PrimeTime in New York over the objections of the Customs Service.

MARK CONRAD We got in bed with Rodney Matthews and the importation of a humongous amount of narcotics coming into the United States.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) And the reason wasn't because they were dirty?

MARK CONRAD No. The reason is there's a great deal of pressure on agents in the field to make cases, to make the big one. And the bigger, the better.

FORREST SAWYER The customs agent involved, you, and the assistant US attorney overstepped their authority and offered too much, and once it became an embarrassment, what could you say except it didn't happen. "I don't care what those other guys say, it didn't happen"?

TOM GRIEVE No. They did a-they did an investigation. They did an internal investigation, and it's totally unfounded.

FORREST SAWYER Which is true. The Customs Service investigation did criticize Tom Grieve for a lack of control, but it found no evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, the 18-page report never even mentions the controversial words "carte blanche." The reason, Mark Conrad says there w as a cover-up that continues to this day.

MARK CONRAD We hide things. We cover them up. We don't-we're not honest a t times within our own organization, and we're clearly not honest at times with the media.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) You know, I think a lot of American people are going to be shocked to hear that letting drugs hit the street is what we really do in the drug business.

MARK CONRAD It would never be officially condoned. You'll never find any policy that approves of it, but it happens routinely in virtually every situation where you're dealing with informants.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In fact, more than a dozen agents and former drug enforcement officials told us that letting dope hit the streets is the co st of doing business, that while the Matthews case is extreme, it's just the tip of the iceberg. ( on camera ) Agents say, yes, they gave Rodney Matthew s a long leash. They really did believe he was out there working for them t o get you, a drug smuggler.

VIC STADTER Well, how stupid can they be? When Matthews ain't working and making any money at anything and flying million-dollar airplanes, now how stupid can they be?

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) As for the Customs agent in charge of Rodney Matthews in 1988, Tom Grieve was fired two years later. Not because of the Matthew s case, but because he had lied about the improper use of a government vehicle. And Rodney Matthews? His real problem wasn't in Texas anymore. I t was in Florida. And it was named Jimmie Ellard.

JIMMIE ELLARD One of the greatest shocks in my life is that day when I found out that Rodney Matthews had actually set me up.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In March 1990, Ellard was arrested in Vero Beach, Florida. Agents, who wanted Ellard to testify against his longtime partne r, showed him an old government report that proved Matthews was double-crossing Ellard since their pot-smuggling days.

JIMMIE ELLARD I read the report three different times, and I just kept reading it. And finally, the guy said, "Now, do you want to protect Matthews, or do you want to work with the government?"

TERRY THOMPSON, ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY Hi. This is Terry Thompson. I just wanted to 8A

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) The answer was easy. He accepted a deal from this man , assistant US Attorney Terry Thompson-plead guilty to hauling 28 tons of cocaine into the US and turn star witness against Matthews. ( on camera ) I s there a difference in kind between Rodney Matthews and Jimmie Ellard? Are they the same animal?

TERRY THOMPSON They're the same beast.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) With one very big difference.

DIANE SAWYER ( CLIP FROM ABC NEWSCAST ) In Colombia today, an explosion onboard a Colombian jetliner. All 107 people onboard died.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In November 1989, Pablo Escobar blew up Avianca Fligh t 203, just so he could kill two informants. And it was Jimmie Ellard who earlier advised Escobar on how to destroy an airliner and everyone on it. ( on camera ) Ought you to make a deal with somebody like Jimmie Ellard? He 's a bad guy.

TERRY THOMPSON Jimmie Ellard is a necessary evil, unfortunately.

FORREST SAWYER And is that right? Does that mean that the ends justified the means?

TERRY THOMPSON He made things possible, prosecution-wise, that probably would not have been possible without him.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Ellard made it possible for Thompson to go after his biggest target of all-dirty agents. It was a deal that had been offered t o Matthews himself when he was arrested in 1992, but he turned it down flat.

RODNEY MATTHEWS On the way to the courthouse, the Customs internal affair s agents said, "Look, we know you're a smart guy. You don't have to go to jail. Just tell us about the dirty agents."

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Who were the agents they were after?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Cardwell and Nestoroff.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Matthews refused to turn on agents he says were innocent. But Bob Nestoroff, the Texas cop, was accused of taking bribes anyway. And Jimmie Ellard named Dick Cardwell as the dirty agent who sold those radar plane schedules.

DICK CARDWELL I couldn't believe it. It's just flat unbelievable. FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Would you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams , that the word of Jimmie Ellard could get an indictment against you?

DICK CARDWELL He's lied, money laundered, smuggled tons of dope. Conspira cy to kill folks. Blow up airliners. I mean, he's a PR nightmare. Yet they signed up to him.

FORREST SAWYER You don't think that any of the things that he told you might be lies?

TERRY THOMPSON If you're asking me if someone is capable of smuggling 55,000 pounds of cocaine into the country and incapable of lying, no, I'm not going to say that.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In fact, Thompson couldn't make Ellard's claims of corruption stick, but he tried the two agents anyway for perjury. On September 13, 1996, after a five-week trial, it took a Houston jury only two hours to acquit them. They called the case a joke, but the careers of Dick Cardwell and Bob Nestoroff were destroyed. DICK CARDWELL We were looking at 20 years for doing our jobs-for taking dope off the street and for telling the truth.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) And you're in here for how long?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Until deceased.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) On December 14, 1993, Rodney Matthews was convicted o f smuggling 28 tons of cocaine into the US He is now serving a life term in Leavenworth.

VIC STADTER So who takes the fall? Matthews. You don't see none of these agents in jail.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) You say these agents should be put in jail?

VIC STADTER Why certainly, they should. They're the thieves.

BOB NESTOROFF Maybe he's right.

FORREST SAWYER Maybe they are 8A

BOB NESTOROFF Maybe they are just as guilty. Maybe they are guilty of bringing the dope in because they authorized it.

FORREST SAWYER This includes you.

BOB NESTOROFF You bet. I'm partially responsible for it, and I accept tha t responsibility.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Even the judge who sentenced Rodney Matthews attacked the US Customs Service from the bench, saying its dealings with Matthews were "sick, symbiotic, manipulative and exploitive," an "embarrassment" f or which the United States government should be ashamed of itself. ( on camer a ) You know, there were a lot of losers in this case.

DICK CARDWELL Oh, yeah.

FORREST SAWYER Any winners?

DICK CARDWELL All you have to look at is Jimmie Ellard.

FORREST SAWYER The worse guy of all is the winner?

DICK CARDWELL Absolutely. Look at it. The facts speak for themselves.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) After pleading guilty to putting $6 billion of cocain e onto the streets and admitting his role in the Avianca bombing, Jimmie Ellard served only six years in prison. He was given his freedom on May 2 8, 1996. He still has millions of dollars made smuggling drugs.

SAM DONALDSON The head of the US Customs Service declined our request for an interview. In a letter, he stated it is not Customs policy to allow illegal drugs to disappear and said they learned valuable lessons from th e Matthews case. But public affairs officers at Customs were quick to tell us theirs is not the only agency to let cocaine hit the streets. A final note-Dick Cardwell resigned last year from the US Customs Service, saying he was disgusted with his agency's willingness to break the law to make their cases. And Rodney Matthews says he's fighting for his freedom from his prison cell in Leavenworth.

copyright 1998 ABC News

John Carman-Former U.S. Secret Service-U.S. Customs-SDPD Director-Carman Investigations California State License P.I.-008686 P.O. Box 3811 La Mesa, Ca. 91944 Pager: (619)601-9250 www.CarmanInvestigations.com

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Subject: U.S. Customs Embarassed by Smuggling Informant

Tod, Can you make a special link to this or link it

to another page so that we don't take up the whole page? Maybe start with a few

paragraphs and then link it? This is real important and it was previously

postedbut not present now?

JC 
 
 

Doublecross: U.S. Customs Embarassed by Smuggling

Informant

URL: href=3D"http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n546/a05.html">http://www.mapi nc.org/drugnews/v98/n546/a05.html
Newshawk:

Marcus-Mermelstein Family
Source: ABC News -

Primetime
Transcript: Produced by Federal Document Clearing

House
Contact: href=3D"http://www.abcnews.com/onair/email.html">http://www.abcnews.com/o nair/email.html
Website:

href=3D"http://www.abcnews.com/">http://www.abcnews.com/
Pubdat e:

Thu, 8 Jul 1998
Note: This is an unedited, uncorrected

transcript.

DOUBLECROSS: U.S.  CUSTOMS EMBARASSED BY SMUGGLING

INFORMANT

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS - Last month, President Clinton

called for cooperation among nations in the fight against drugs.  But

what if the people who are supposed to be keeping drugs out of the United

States instead are putting the government smack in the middle of dealing

drugs? Tonight, a six-month PrimeTime investigation reveals how agents of

the US Customs Service turned a pot smuggler into a big-time cocaine

kingpin and then turned a blind eye while he poured billions of dollars of

cocaine on to the streets of America.  Tonight, Forrest Sawyer talks

to Rodney Matthews, a smuggler turned top informant who became one of the

biggest embarrassment s in US Customs history.

FORREST SAWYER, ABC

NEWS ( VO ) New Year's Eve, 1988.  When Rodney Matthews touched down

at his private airstrip in Damon, Texas, hauling a ton of pu re cocaine,

he wasn't working alone.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes.  By all means,

I'm a drug smuggler.  The government authorized me to smuggle. 

And the government paid me to smuggle.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera

) Did you have the feeling that they knew how mu ch cocaine could hit the

streets?

RODNEY MATTHEWS I'm sure they must have realized it.



FORREST SAWYER And that would be how much?

RODNEY MATTHEWS

Tons.

DICK CARDWELL, FORMER US CUSTOMS AGENT Have you ever seen a

picture of 1,800 pounds of coke? That's a lot of dope.  That seizure

of 1,800 pounds of coke was a big seizure.  And we got the guy that

was doing the deal, Rodne y Matthews.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO )

Houston Customs agent Dick Cardwell had gotten wind o f an unauthorized

plane heading toward Matthews' airstrip.  US Customs and Texas police

set up a stakeout.  When they saw a truck pulling out, they chased it

down Rural Road 1462.

RODNEY MATTHEWS The Texas highway patrolman

pulled me over, asked me what was on the truck.  I told him 700 kilos

of cocaine.  He got a little excite d.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO )

Trooper Billy Frank Teague 8A

BILLY FRANK TEAGUE, TEXAS STATE

TROOPER He's trying to tell us that, "Hey , I'm one of you guys.  I'm

working with you." And at that point, I placed t he shotgun at the back of

his head and ordered him to be still so that we could handcuff him.



RODNEY MATTHEWS And I'm trying to tell him, "Hey, this load is for

you."

BILLY FRANK TEAGUE And he's still trying to tell us, even

after he's handcuffed, "Hey, I'm working for you guys.  This is for

y'all.  I'm one of you." And we weren't buying it.

FORREST

SAWYER ( VO ) And neither was Dick Cardwell, who knew Matthews was working

as an informant for the US Customs Service.  But he was convinced

Matthews had been running loads of cocaine behind the government's back.



DICK CARDWELL I knew he was a smuggler.  And I knew he was

working outside of law enforcement.  The problem was trying to catch

him doing it.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Now Cardwell had proof. 

Matthews caught red-handed wi th the biggest load of cocaine in Texas

history, a load that no government agency had approved.  Matthews was

going down, until, just as he was being booked, the order came to let him

go.

DICK CARDWELL We just caught this guy with 1,800 pounds of

coke, and we'r e going to turn him loose.  And he did.  He

walked out of the door, got into a yellow cab and went home.



FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Because of a deal that agents from

your own agency had made?

DICK CARDWELL They gave probably one of

the best smugglers in the country , they gave him the keys to the-to the

candy store.  They gave him permissio n.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO

) How Rodney Matthews became one of the biggest embarrassments in US

Customs history, revealing that the government makes loose and sometimes

illegal deals with informants, allowing tons of cocai ne into the

country-that story begins four years earlier, 40 miles and a wor ld away

from Houston.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Fort Bend ( ph ) County, Mayberry,

USA.  Everybody knows everybody.  Everybody knows everybody

else's business.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Now, I would think

everybody and his brother would know exactly what you were flying in.



RODNEY MATTHEWS There was some suspicion.

FORREST SAWYER (

VO ) Then 40 years old, Matthews had spent most of his adu lt life flying

planeloads of marijuana into a little airstrip he had built i n the middle

of a cow pasture.  He was making millions, until Valentine's Da y,

1984, when Bob Nestoroff, a sergeant in the Texas Department of Public

Safety, busted him with 600 pounds of pot.  Matthews quickly made his

firs t deal-his freedom in exchange for information.

SGT BOB

NESTOROFF, TEXAS STATE POLICE His usefulness to us was to go out and set

up deals where we could seize loads.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera )

Delivered you four cases?

BOB NESTOROFF Yes, sir.

FORREST

SAWYER With a ribbon on them?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct.



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Drug agents soon realized that Rodney

Matthews was a natural snitch, who not only knew the smuggling business

inside-out but w as willing to take chances for them.  Just when he

could walk away a free man , US Customs agents in San Antonio asked him to

start playing a bigger game.  But to get to Matthews, they had to go

through Bob Nestoroff.  The Texas c op was the only handler Matthews

trusted.

BOB NESTOROFF Narcotics, Nestoroff.

FORREST

SAWYER ( on camera ) And Bob, if you got involved in a Customs

investigation with your informant and it worked out, that would be good f

or you, right?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct, it would be.



FORREST SAWYER Nice career move?

BOB NESTOROFF Yes, sir.



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And their target was legendary Texas smuggler Vic Stadter, chased for half a century by Customs agents who call

him "the original cocaine cowboy." To this day, Stadter swears he's a

smuggler all right-gold, whiskey, exotic animals, anything but

drugs.  ( on camera ) You just got through telling me that you're one

of the best smugglers in the whole 8A

VIC STADTER, US CUSTOMS

TARGET I am.  I am.

FORREST SAWYER You've never smuggled

drugs in your life?

VIC STADTER Never had anything to do with

drugs in my life, and there's nobody knows it better than the US

government and their damnable agents.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Agents

convinced Stadter ran an international cocaine ring that helped build his

350-acre ranch out in Texas hill country.  ( on camera ) We have

talked to these guys.  They appear to be sincere in their belief that

you are in the drug smuggling business in a very big way.

VIC

STADTER Well, why don't they back it up?

FORREST SAWYER That's

what they were trying to do.

VIC STADTER By getting a rat to set

me up?

RODNEY MATTHEWS I didn't know if this guy was about to blow

up the White House or why there was so much interest.  I did know

that he had embarrass ed them a few times.

FORREST SAWYER Not that

he was the biggest drug smuggler around, not that he was a danger to the

community, just that he was embarrassing the agent s?

RODNEY

MATTHEWS Right.  That he had beat them and rubbed their face in it.



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In 1986, US Customs agents decided to turn

Matthews into a cocaine kingpin.  To get close enough to catch

Stadter red-handed with a load of coke, they allowed Matthews to do what

no drug agent is permitted, break the law.

RODNEY MATTHEWS And it

was clear that smuggling cocaine in and letting it hit the street was part

of that deal.  And making money on the side was pa rt of that deal.



FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Am I wrong? Did they just set you up

in busine ss?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes, by all means.  I made it

very clear that I'm in this for the money.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO )

And make money, he did.  Suitcases full, with the government looking

the other way.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Over that period that I worked with

the government, I'm sure $10 million passed through my hands-ranches, real

estate, airplanes, at least a dozen airplanes.  Some of them

expensive airplanes.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) And making money right

along with Matthews, his longtime friend and partner, Jimmie Ellard ( ph

).

JIMMIE ELLARD We've moved about $6 billion worth of drugs over

a five-yea r period, about $6 billion.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Back

in the spring of 1985, Matthews had recruited Jimmie Ellard as a

pilot.  Ellard was busted one month later.

JIMMIE ELLARD I

felt that Matthews was the only family I had at that time.  One of us

had a problem, the other one was there.  That's the way it alway s

was.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Out on bail, Ellard fled to

Colombia.  His friend Rodn ey said he would help set him up in

business.

RODNEY MATTHEWS So I gave him a couple of names and off

he went.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) How did he do?



RODNEY MATTHEWS Eventually, he-he did very well.  He moved

up.

FORREST SAWYER How far?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Right up to

the top.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) To the very top, becoming one of

the biggest transporters for the man who was then the world's most powerful cocaine baron, Pablo Escobar.

JIMMIE ELLARD Pablo Escobar

was a billionaire.  When we ended up in 1990, I was a

multimillionaire.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Running flights and

organizing others for Escobar, Ellard claims he was making up to $5

million a week.  And Rodney Matthews? He and Ellard were busy building one of the biggest cocaine trafficking rings in the country.



AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER Second tower, roger.  Make straight (

inaudible ) app roach.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) By 1988, their drug

flights into Fort Lauderdale executive airport were so routine, they were

calling themselves the "Federal Express of cocaine." ( on camera ) You

figure as far as the government's concerned, that's just fine?



RODNEY MATTHEWS Yes.

FORREST SAWYER It sounds like nobody's running things.  It's, you're off-well, you're off

smuggling.

RODNEY MATTHEWS Well, that's what I was supposed to be

doing, off smuggli ng.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Three years, 50

flights in broad daylight, low and sl ow across the Gulf of Mexico. 

Never once intercepted.  Never even fearing the radar planes put up

to catch them.  Rodney Matthews had Ellard and the Colombians convinced they could buy the radar planes' flight schedules fr om

him.  The asking price? Six million dollars.  ( on camera ) What

was the real value of what you were selling them?

RODNEY MATTHEWS

Zero.

FORREST SAWYER Because?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Because I

didn't have any inside information.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) It was

all just one more Rodney Matthews double-cross.  No information about

the radar plane flights, he claims, no dirty agent, nothing but raw nerve

and $6 million in his pocket.  ( on camera ) And you were just

gambling that those radar planes were not up?

RODNEY MATTHEWS

Right.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER We have a contact here.



FORREST SAWYER You are not unaware of the Colombians'

reputation-if you g ot caught, what would happen?

RODNEY MATTHEWS

Death-sometimes a slow death.

DICK CARDWELL This guy walked a

tight rope.  I mean, he walked a tight rop e not only with law

enforcement.  He walked a tight rope with the cartels as well.



FORREST SAWYER And played them both against each other?



DICK CARDWELL Oh, absolutely.  And was making money on both

ends of the fe nce.

FORREST SAWYER Now, that's a hell of a game.



DICK CARDWELL He was good.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Good at

making money, but lousy at catching Vic Stadter.  Three years after

he started his Customs investigation, Rodney Matthews had turned up

exactly nothing.  ( on camera ) How close did Matthew s get in his

efforts to bust you?

VIC STADTER He dated my secretary.  And

outside of that, the one time I me t him, that was it.

FORREST

SAWYER Well, let me see if I got it straight.  He brings in tons o f

cocaine 8A

VIC STADTER Yeah.

FORREST SAWYER 8A to get you,

and it comes down to 8A

VIC STADTER Dating my secretary. 

Yep.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) So what did US Customs agents decide to

do next? Federal prosecutors say that instead of shutting him down,

Customs turned Rodney Matthews completely loose, giving him "carte blanche" to break virtually every US drug law to nail Stadter.



RODNEY MATTHEWS Well, it was like a 007 license.  I didn't

know the government did that.  It was hard to resist.

FORREST

SAWYER ( on camera ) What could Rodney Matthews have done that woul d have

been breaking the law with such license?

BOB NESTOROFF Well, I

seriously doubt they would condone murder.  I sure hope they

wouldn't.

FORREST SAWYER But drug smuggling is fine?

BOB

NESTOROFF I believe so.  That's correct.

FORREST SAWYER That

puts the United States government smack in the middle of dealing drugs.



BOB NESTOROFF They're authorizing the man to do something that

they're fighting.  But the fact remains that they did it.

SAM

DONALDSON For Rodney Matthews, it was as good as it gets, but there would

be one more double-cross still to come.

ANNOUNCER In a moment,

Matthews' most loyal ally turns against him, and federal agents run for

cover.

DICK CARDWELL We were looking at 20 years for doing our

jobs-for taking dope off the street and for telling the truth.



ANNOUNCER When PrimeTime continues.

( Commercial Break )



ANNOUNCER Did US Customs agents allow one of their own informants

to floo d drugs onto the streets?

MARK CONRAD We got in bed with

Rodney Matthews.

ANNOUNCER The insider who says it's not an

isolated case.

MARK CONRAD It happens routinely in virtually every

situation where you'r e dealing with informants.

ANNOUNCER When

PrimeTime continues, after this from our ABC stations.  ( Station

Break )

ANNOUNCER PrimeTime continues.  From Washington, Sam

Donaldson.

SAM DONALDSON After Rodney Matthews had been caught

red-handed with a ton of cocaine destined for the streets of Miami, New

York and Philadelphia, it still looked like he'd played the informant game

and won-until his deal with Customs came under fire.  And as Forrest

Sawyer learned, the agents w ho had cut Matthews loose started to feel the

heat.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) When Rodney Matthews walked away from

the biggest bus t in Texas history a free man, it didn't play too well in

the local newspapers.  ( on camera ) And there were a lot of people

who were embarrass ed?

RODNEY MATTHEWS Very embarrassed.  The

idea that the United States Justice Department and US Customs would

authorize cocaine to be smuggled into the United States.

FORREST

SAWYER ( VO ) And things got even worse when Matthews told Texas co p Bob

Nestoroff that a week earlier, he had brought in yet another half ton of

cocaine that did make it to the streets.  ( on camera ) You figured

he wa s just on the job?

BOB NESTOROFF That's correct.



FORREST SAWYER You mean flying in 1,800 pounds of cocaine that is

going t o hit the streets of America is part of his job?

BOB

NESTOROFF That's correct.  If he was taking huge advantage of it, so

b e it.  He still was doing what he was told he could do to get into

the Stadt er organization.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) That was the

central problem.  No one had the authorit y to let Rodney Matthews

break the law.  And now, the deal they had given hi m was coming

under fire, which sent the Customs agent who was supposed to b e

controlling Matthews running for cover.  That agent was Tom

Grieve.  ( on camera ) Was he told he could do whatever was necessary

to fly cocaine and bust Vic Stadter?

TOM GRIEVE, FORMER US CUSTOMS

AGENT No.

FORREST SAWYER Was there anything said, anything that

could have been in your wildest imagination misinterpreted to mean that

Rodney Matthews coul d bring in a load and let it hit the streets?

TOM GRIEVE No.  Not hit the streets.  No, no, no,

no.  No.  See, that's-no, n o.

FORREST SAWYER Tom Grieve

says that there was no carte blanche, nothing like carte blanche.



MARK CONRAD, US CUSTOMS INTERNAL AFFAIRS Tom Grieve is simply a

liar.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Mark Conrad runs internal affairs for

Customs in Houston.  A 27-year veteran, Conrad spoke to PrimeTime in

New York over the objections of the Customs Service.

MARK CONRAD

We got in bed with Rodney Matthews and the importation of a humongous

amount of narcotics coming into the United States.

FORREST SAWYER

( on camera ) And the reason wasn't because they were dirty?

MARK

CONRAD No.  The reason is there's a great deal of pressure on agents

in the field to make cases, to make the big one.  And the bigger, the

better.

FORREST SAWYER The customs agent involved, you, and the

assistant US attorney overstepped their authority and offered too much,

and once it became an embarrassment, what could you say except it didn't

happen.  "I don't care what those other guys say, it didn't happen"?



TOM GRIEVE No.  They did a-they did an investigation. 

They did an internal investigation, and it's totally unfounded.



FORREST SAWYER Which is true.  The Customs Service

investigation did criticize Tom Grieve for a lack of control, but it found

no evidence of wrongdoing.  In fact, the 18-page report never even

mentions the controversial words "carte blanche." The reason, Mark Conrad

says there w as a cover-up that continues to this day.

MARK CONRAD

We hide things.  We cover them up.  We don't-we're not honest a

t times within our own organization, and we're clearly not honest at times

with the media.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) You know, I think a

lot of American people are going to be shocked to hear that letting drugs

hit the street is what we really do in the drug business.

MARK

CONRAD It would never be officially condoned.  You'll never find any

policy that approves of it, but it happens routinely in virtually every

situation where you're dealing with informants.

FORREST SAWYER (

VO ) In fact, more than a dozen agents and former drug enforcement officials told us that letting dope hit the streets is the co st of doing

business, that while the Matthews case is extreme, it's just the tip of

the iceberg.  ( on camera ) Agents say, yes, they gave Rodney Matthew

s a long leash.  They really did believe he was out there working for

them t o get you, a drug smuggler.

VIC STADTER Well, how stupid

can they be? When Matthews ain't working and making any money at anything

and flying million-dollar airplanes, now how stupid can they be?



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) As for the Customs agent in charge of Rodney

Matthews in 1988, Tom Grieve was fired two years later.  Not because

of the Matthew s case, but because he had lied about the improper use of a

government vehicle.  And Rodney Matthews? His real problem wasn't in

Texas anymore.  I t was in Florida.  And it was named Jimmie

Ellard.

JIMMIE ELLARD One of the greatest shocks in my life is

that day when I found out that Rodney Matthews had actually set me up.



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In March 1990, Ellard was arrested in Vero

Beach, Florida.  Agents, who wanted Ellard to testify against his

longtime partne r, showed him an old government report that proved Matthews was double-crossing Ellard since their pot-smuggling days.



JIMMIE ELLARD I read the report three different times, and I just

kept reading it.  And finally, the guy said, "Now, do you want to

protect Matthews, or do you want to work with the government?"



TERRY THOMPSON, ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY Hi.  This is Terry

Thompson.  I just wanted to 8A

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) The

answer was easy.  He accepted a deal from this man , assistant US

Attorney Terry Thompson-plead guilty to hauling 28 tons of cocaine into

the US and turn star witness against Matthews.  ( on camera ) I s

there a difference in kind between Rodney Matthews and Jimmie Ellard? Are

they the same animal?

TERRY THOMPSON They're the same beast.



FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) With one very big difference.

DIANE

SAWYER ( CLIP FROM ABC NEWSCAST ) In Colombia today, an explosion onboard

a Colombian jetliner.  All 107 people onboard died.

FORREST

SAWYER ( VO ) In November 1989, Pablo Escobar blew up Avianca Fligh t 203,

just so he could kill two informants.  And it was Jimmie Ellard who

earlier advised Escobar on how to destroy an airliner and everyone on

it.  ( on camera ) Ought you to make a deal with somebody like Jimmie

Ellard? He 's a bad guy.

TERRY THOMPSON Jimmie Ellard is a necessary evil, unfortunately.

FORREST SAWYER And is that right?

Does that mean that the ends justified the means?

TERRY THOMPSON

He made things possible, prosecution-wise, that probably would not have

been possible without him.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Ellard made it

possible for Thompson to go after his biggest target of all-dirty

agents.  It was a deal that had been offered t o Matthews himself

when he was arrested in 1992, but he turned it down flat.

RODNEY

MATTHEWS On the way to the courthouse, the Customs internal affair s

agents said, "Look, we know you're a smart guy.  You don't have to go

to jail.  Just tell us about the dirty agents."

FORREST

SAWYER ( on camera ) Who were the agents they were after?

RODNEY

MATTHEWS Cardwell and Nestoroff.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Matthews

refused to turn on agents he says were innocent.  But Bob Nestoroff,

the Texas cop, was accused of taking bribes anyway.  And Jimmie

Ellard named Dick Cardwell as the dirty agent who sold those radar plane

schedules.

DICK CARDWELL I couldn't believe it.  It's just

flat unbelievable.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) Would you ever

imagine, in your wildest dreams , that the word of Jimmie Ellard could get

an indictment against you?

DICK CARDWELL He's lied, money

laundered, smuggled tons of dope.  Conspira cy to kill folks. 

Blow up airliners.  I mean, he's a PR nightmare.  Yet they

signed up to him.

FORREST SAWYER You don't think that any of the

things that he told you might be lies?

TERRY THOMPSON If you're

asking me if someone is capable of smuggling 55,000 pounds of cocaine into

the country and incapable of lying, no, I'm not going to say that.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) In fact, Thompson couldn't make Ellard's

claims of corruption stick, but he tried the two agents anyway for perjury.  On September 13, 1996, after a five-week trial, it took a

Houston jury only two hours to acquit them.  They called the case a

joke, but the careers of Dick Cardwell and Bob Nestoroff were destroyed.



DICK CARDWELL We were looking at 20 years for doing our jobs-for

taking dope off the street and for telling the truth.

FORREST

SAWYER ( on camera ) And you're in here for how long?

RODNEY

MATTHEWS Until deceased.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) On December 14,

1993, Rodney Matthews was convicted o f smuggling 28 tons of cocaine into

the US He is now serving a life term in Leavenworth.

VIC STADTER

So who takes the fall? Matthews.  You don't see none of these agents

in jail.

FORREST SAWYER ( on camera ) You say these agents should

be put in jail?

VIC STADTER Why certainly, they should. 

They're the thieves.

BOB NESTOROFF Maybe he's right.



FORREST SAWYER Maybe they are 8A

BOB NESTOROFF Maybe they

are just as guilty.  Maybe they are guilty of bringing the dope in

because they authorized it.

FORREST SAWYER This includes you.



BOB NESTOROFF You bet.  I'm partially responsible for it, and

I accept tha t responsibility.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO ) Even the

judge who sentenced Rodney Matthews attacked the US Customs Service from

the bench, saying its dealings with Matthews were "sick, symbiotic,

manipulative and exploitive," an "embarrassment" f or which the United

States government should be ashamed of itself.  ( on camer a ) You

know, there were a lot of losers in this case.

DICK CARDWELL Oh,

yeah.

FORREST SAWYER Any winners?

DICK CARDWELL All you

have to look at is Jimmie Ellard.

FORREST SAWYER The worse guy of

all is the winner?

DICK CARDWELL Absolutely.  Look at it.  The facts speak for themselves.

FORREST SAWYER ( VO )

After pleading guilty to putting $6 billion of cocain e onto the streets

and admitting his role in the Avianca bombing, Jimmie Ellard served only

six years in prison.  He was given his freedom on May 2 8,

1996.  He still has millions of dollars made smuggling drugs.

SAM DONALDSON The head of the US Customs Service declined our

request for an interview.  In a letter, he stated it is not Customs

policy to allow illegal drugs to disappear and said they learned valuable

lessons from th e Matthews case.  But public affairs officers at

Customs were quick to tell us theirs is not the only agency to let cocaine

hit the streets.  A final note-Dick Cardwell resigned last year from

the US Customs Service, saying he was disgusted with his agency's

willingness to break the law to make their cases.  And Rodney Matthews says he's fighting for his freedom from his prison cell in

Leavenworth.

copyright 1998 ABC News



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
John Carman-Former U.S. Secret Service-U.S.

Customs-SDPD
Director-Carman Investigations
California State License

P.I.-008686
P.O. Box 3811
La Mesa, Ca. 91944
Pager: (619)601-9250
href=3D"http://www.CarmanInvestigations.com">www.CarmanInvestigations.com
 
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