Chance Led To Side Job as Arizona Drug Runner 

Chance Led To Side Job as Arizona Drug Runner 
Posted by FoM on January 20, 2000 at 07:27:05 PT
By Dennis Wagner,The Arizona Republic
Source: Arizona Central
Betty Lindstrom-Callahan literally stumbled into her first drug load. Smugglers, apparently spooked by law enforcement agents, stashed marijuana on her border property near Bisbee Junction. Lindstrom mulled it over awhile, then hauled the stuff to Phoenix. Soon, she was making regular runs, taking drugs north and coming home with cash. 
A dozen years later, Lindstrom, wearing a pink sweatshirt with "MOM" emblazoned across the chest, smiles innocently. "I'd get money, and I'd go skiing with it," the Doris Day look-alike says. "It was only for the extras." For years, Lindstrom's life seemed as scripted as a 1950s movie. She grew up in the Valley of the Sun and graduated from Tempe High School when she was just 16. She attended peace vigils during the Vietnam War but was hardly a hippie. She went to college and earned a bachelor's degree in zoology, along with a teaching certificate. Then she married a physician, moved to southern Arizona, raised kids, volunteered at school. Enter Gary Patrick Callahan, a Border Patrol agent and Vietnam vet who also defies the narco-profile. Lindstrom and Callahan became friends, then romantic partners. In Bisbee Junction, a Mayberry-like town on the edge of Mexico, the homemaker and lawman turned outlaw. They got drugs from smugglers and took them to William Bartel, Lindstrom's brother and a Paradise Valley dentist, who sold the stuff. During a 1989 raid at Bartel's home, investigators found 81 pounds of cocaine. They arrested a dentist who was willing to avoid prison by testifying against his divorced sister and her boyfriend. And that's only half the story. Eventually, Lindstrom was convicted, married Callahan and served two years in prison. Callahan fled to New Zealand. He was hunted down, returned to the United States and sentenced to 27 years in an Arkansas penitentiary, where he whiles away the days filing appeals and doling out legal advice to fellow inmates. Callahan also helped found the November Coalition, one of the nation's most prominent organizations dedicated to overthrowing the drug war. As for Bartel, he never spent a day in prison. He pleaded guilty to drug charges and, in return for cooperating, got probation and a $5,000 fine. He has resumed practicing dentistry. Ivan Abrams, an assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute the case, quit his job and agreed to write a book with Callahan and Lindstrom. Their theme: America's drug war is an unwinnable, hypocritical, expensive police action that violates the U.S. Constitution. The book deal collapsed after Abrams ran for Cochise County attorney and issued campaign fliers touting his prosecution of Callahan and Lindstrom. Abrams lost the election. He has a private practice now, defending drug offenders and other clients. Fighting Back:Gary Callahan has plenty to say about the drug war, and plenty of time to say it. He contends that politicians have played the public for fools, using anti-drug hysteria to win votes. The anti-drug campaign, he argues, has systematically squandered tax dollars, eroded civil rights, destroyed families and transformed America into the world's biggest gulag. His November Organization puts it this way: "From the very onset, the war on drugs was fashioned as a political tool, but it has been hammer-forged in the ensuing years into a weapon that is wreaking havoc on our lives." In a 10-page letter written from prison, Callahan elaborated, "The drug war is destroying families at a pace that far and away outstrips the damage that drugs do. Just go into any prison visiting room on the weekend to see what this war is doing. It is a thing unprecedented in American experience." Callahan's cynicism is born of gung-ho idealism. His dad fought at Guadalcanal with the U.S. Marine Corps, then became a U.S. immigration officer in charge of the Bahama Islands. Callahan followed suit, joining the Marines out of high school while other young Americans protested the Vietnam War. He learned to track the Viet Cong, watched buddies get killed and earned a couple of Purple Hearts. "I wanted to go," he explains, "mistakenly believing that it was a valid cause. . . . I arrived in my company with 13 others. Seven were killed. Five were shipped home shot or blown to bits." After the war, Callahan signed up for a new tour of human hunting, this time with the Border Patrol. But he grew just as disillusioned chasing poor Latin Americans through the desert as he had chasing the Viet Cong in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Callahan says his job was to defend America from illegal immigration, but agency commanders were obsessed with making dope seizures for publicity and federal money. He mocks those who say the drug war is winnable. Inspectors can check only a fraction of the vehicles crossing U.S. borders. The mass deployment of agents and money is laughable, he says. And then there's the insidious corruption . . . Dope Justice?Because of pending appeals, Callahan won't discuss his crimes. He was accused of stealing marijuana and cocaine from smugglers at the border, then transporting the stuff to Bartel for sale. Since his conviction on two charges, Callahan has claimed that federal agents and prosecutors made their case with unlawful searches, perjured testimony and illegal interrogations. "You think you've got rights?" he says. "Better think again. . . . I would never on Earth receive a fair trial." Callahan claims that is why he skipped bail, fled to New Zealand and lived on a sailboat. Today, the bitterness is rivaled only by his melancholy over being banished from three sons. "We had been very close," he says. "I haven't seen them in years because the feds send you as far away from home as they can . . . to punish you and destroy the very fiber of your life." Callahan compares drug conspiracy statutes with Soviet anti-thought laws. He accuses government prosecutors of routinely bribing witnesses with money or coercing them with threats of prison. He decries the incarceration of non-violent criminals and points out that taxpayers spend billions to build prisons for drug offenders while public schools fall apart. "The staggering number of families destroyed. . . . Has it worked?" Callahan asks. "That is the question that most needs an honest answer." She Didn't Inhale:Betty Lindstrom says she tried marijuana in the '60s, "but I didn't inhale because I didn't want that stuff in my lungs." She grins at the Clintonesque irony, adding, "I was in college. It was cool. All the other people were doing it. . . . We were just playing at it, same as I was playing at being a drug dealer." Now 52, Lindstrom acknowledges how naive that sounds and how she threw away a life that many would describe as the American ideal. She had a successful husband and three healthy kids; she worked part-time at her husband's medical office, directed a school play, helped run a service station. Like anyone who lives along the border, Lindstrom occasionally saw people carrying suspicious loads on their backs. She'd report them to drug agents. But when she chanced on two bundles of dope in an arroyo, she decided to leave the stuff and see what would happen. Days passed. Cows ate most of the dope. Lindstrom took the remainder to her brother. Easy money. She began watching for other stashes. She was friends with several Border Patrol agents and listened for scuttlebutt, knowing that drug runners often stash their dope before getting busted or running back to Mexico. "I would walk my dogs the next morning and look for things they (agents) missed," she says. "It was fun. I never thought of the consequences." Over time, Lindstrom says she and Callahan teamed up. They weren't drug users or big-time dealers, she insists, just opportunists. "I don't think I had a political thought in my head," she says. "That's why I didn't realize that what I was doing was so serious. . . . It was a game, a bad game." Unequal Justice:When the game ended, Lindstrom and Callahan went to jail. Lindstrom is convinced that federal prosecutors were trying to make an example of a drug ring that involved a federal lawman, a dentist and a housewife. "They were awful to me," she says. "They wanted to break me." She served most of her 2 1/2-year sentence at a Phoenix prison for women, working yard maintenance for 12 cents an hour. "You go to the bathroom when they say. You stand in line to eat. The only way you can know what it's like is to be there." Today, at a 20-acre ranchette on the Mexican line, Lindstrom lives with her parents, an invalid uncle, chickens and dogs. It is a peaceful place where she thinks of prohibition as the great conspiracy. Marijuana kills no one, she says, but alcohol and tobacco are lethal. "You tell me what the most dangerous drug is," she says. If people fear crime, Lindstrom argues, they should hate a drug war that increases the value of narcotics, empowers the narco-cartels and makes criminals of harmless users. "You can't legislate morality. I wouldn't use cocaine if it was available in Safeway," she says. "But there are some people who will use it whether it's legal or illegal." Lindstrom ridicules the idea of prison as an antidote to drugs, pointing to her husband and her brother as examples. Bartel, a former drug dealer, served no time behind bars. Today, he's a productive member of society. Callahan will spend 27 years in a federal penitentiary, away from his kids, producing nothing but anti-government essays. "You'll spend $23,000 a year to keep him there," Lindstrom says. "You can't warehouse people and say, "Well, but we're doing good in this country.' Empty lives. Empty boxes. Empty Christmases. Just people sitting around, waiting for their time to be up." Today, Lindstrom takes solace in her own grown children. One son works for the Cochise County Attorney's Office and ran for justice of the peace. The other, a college football player, tried for a pro contract. Her daughter is a nurse. None use drugs. "The problem today," she says, "is most parents don't stay home to tell their children. . . . I'm not saying I'm the greatest mother in the world. I certainly made mistakes, but . . ." Second Thoughts:Former prosecutor Abrams, 52, shares a law office next to a Texaco station on the Naco Highway in the drug smuggling hub of Arizona. His walls are adorned with letters of recognition from his days with the U.S. Attorney's Office. Abrams changed sides in the drug war 10 years ago during a midlife crisis. He moved from Phoenix to the border and began to see not just the misery caused by drugs but the impact of America's enforcement campaign. "We are one screwed-up nation," Abrams says. "I mean, "the drug war'? What is that? A social problem. . . . The drug war benefits few people and creates more tragedies than identifiable victories." He recalls running into Callahan's ex-wife at the local market. "I broke into tears. I said, "I'm sorry, so sorry. Not for prosecuting him. I'm sorry for the whole bloody mess.' " In Vietnam, innocent casualties were listed as "collateral damage." Abrams wrote a screenplay about similar victims in the drug war, then agreed to collaborate on the book with Lindstrom and Callahan. He's seen impoverished Mexicans sucked into the smuggling vortex, dragged away from weeping families while kingpins remained hidden, protected. "Crossing the drugs is a business where people are used and thrown away by drug lords," Abrams says. The result: Parentless kids become gang-bangers. More lives are wasted. More drugs pour into America. Through it all, enforcement agents risk their lives for nothing, he says. Many become robots - working to keep a job, collect a check. Some grow jaded, breaking the law to make cases. A few sell out, taking bribes. "It corrupts everything," Abrams says. "There's a tremendous amount of cynicism in law enforcement, and it's well-placed." Abrams admits he has reservations about legalizing hard drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. But that may be the lesser of evils. "I would prefer to err on the side of legalization because I think the costs to society are less," he says. He shakes his head and says Americans have surrendered their legacy of freedom to the gods of drug control. He says the nation has embraced unjust sentencing laws, racketeering statutes that violate property rights, searches based on ethnicity. "The main reason cars get stopped down here," Abrams says, "is because the people driving 'em have brown skin." "Everything is intertwined," he adds. "Yet we have one solution. It's called jail. And do you know who makes out? The people who build jails." BISBEE JUNCTION Published: January 20, 2000Copyright 2000, Arizona CentralRelated Articles:Old-Time Methods Have Place in Fight - 1/19/2000 Contest of Wits at U.S. Border - 1/18/2000 is Pipeline for Illegal Drugs - 1/17/2000 Losing Drug War - 1/16/2000 
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