U.S. Commander's Wife Arrested in Drug Case!

U.S. Commander's Wife Arrested in Drug Case!
Posted by FoM on August 07, 1999 at 09:31:38 PT
By Norman Kempster, Times Staff Writer
Source: LA Times
WASHINGTON--The wife of the commander of U.S. military forces that fight drug trafficking in Colombia has been arrested on charges of sending cocaine into the United States, federal prosecutors said Friday.
   Laurie Hiett, 36, who is married to Army Col. James Hiett, was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics after several parcels of cocaine that she had allegedly sent from Bogota, Colombia, via the U.S. Embassy post office--at least one with her own return address on it--were discovered in the mail. The parcels were addressed to recipients in New York, the prosecutors said.   Lee Dunst, assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said that Hiett, who had been brought back to the country as part of the investigation, surrendered Thursday and was released on a $150,000 bond. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison. She was ordered to turn in her passport and was told not to leave the United States, he said.   In an interview with investigators, Hiett said she did not know the contents of the packages and that she mailed them as a favor to a Colombian who worked at the embassy.   Upon learning of his wife's arrest, James Hiett stepped down as commander of about 200 U.S. soldiers who advise the Colombian military on counternarcotics programs, according to an official of the U.S. Southern Command, which includes the Colombia operation.   Although military investigators found no evidence to link the commander to his wife's alleged plot, he requested a reassignment from the sensitive post he has held for about a year, an Army official said.   Court documents allege that Laurie Hiett mailed six packages, each containing about 3 pounds of cocaine, between April 13 and May 26.   That amount is miniscule compared with the hundreds of tons of drugs that move every year from Colombia to U.S. cities. But the case clearly will embarrass--and perhaps hamper--U.S. efforts to fight the drug trade in Colombia.   With such charges pending against the wife of a senior military commander, it likely will become more difficult for U.S. advisors to persuade poorly paid Colombian soldiers to stay away from narco-corruption.   Bob Weiner, a spokesman for Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said it would be improper to prejudge Hiett's case. "We're not going to comment on the specific case, but drugs are a very corrupting influence, and it is why we are working so hard to control them," Weiner said Friday.   Earlier in the day, McCaffrey told a House Government Reform subcommittee that Colombia faces a growing emergency with dramatically increased cocaine production, a major economic crisis and violence from guerrilla groups. He called for a $1-billion increase in counternarcotics aid to the Bogota regime.   Colombia now receives $289 million, all of it earmarked to combat drugs. That ranks Colombia in third place among recipients of U.S. foreign aid, behind Israel and Egypt.   According to court papers, Hiett told investigators that she mailed the parcels through the Army Post Office in the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. The service permits government employees and their families to send mail from overseas without having to use foreign postal services. The mail is handled from post box to delivery in the United States entirely by U.S. postal workers.   Nevertheless, mail sent from overseas requires customs documents. Investigators said that Hiett filled out customs declarations for the parcels, using her own name. She also enlisted two friends to mail packages for her, although investigators said they did not know what the packages contained.   Hiett told investigators that she received the drugs from Jorge Alfonso Ayala, a Colombian citizen and longtime embassy employee who was working as her husband's chauffeur.   Ayala told investigators that Hiett was a cocaine user. He said that he obtained packages of drugs for her from an unknown man on the street and an unknown woman in a taxicab outside the embassy.   Prosecutors said that Hiett has denied using drugs   Like U.S. soldiers the world over, troops assigned to Colombia are subject to random drug testing. But there is no requirement for tests of family members.   Clinton administration policy permits U.S. troops to help the Colombian military combat the narcotics trade, but it does not condone assistance to Colombian soldiers fighting a powerful, 25,000-strong leftist insurgency.   But McCaffrey, during his congressional testimony Friday, acknowledged that--because the rebels are heavily involved in the drug trade--the line is often difficult to draw.   "In Colombia, the melding of guerrilla movements--or in some cases, paramilitary groups and international drug trafficking organizations--has created an unprecedented threat to the rule of law, democratic institutions and the very fabric of society," he said.   Republicans on the panel complained that the administration was unwilling to commit the force required to stop the narcotics trade. Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Ind.) said that, like U.S. assistance to South Vietnam in the 1960s, military aid to Colombia "is just enough to never quite win."   House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.) complained that only two of 30 Black Hawk helicopters authorized by Congress for Colombia in 1996 have been delivered.   But McCaffrey contradicted him, insisting that seven have been delivered to the Colombian Army and 13 to the Air Force.   Times staff writer Josh Getlin in New York and special correspondent Ruth Morris in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this story. August 7, 1999Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. The Narco-Guerrilla War - August 06, 1999
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