How Party Girl Dragged Down US Army Drug Enforcer

How Party Girl Dragged Down US Army Drug Enforcer
Posted by FoM on August 27, 2000 at 12:25:26 PT
By Tom Hays, Associated Press 
Source: Star-Telegram 
The colonel's wife loves cocaine. You can hear it in her voice -- part party girl, part drama queen -- as she recounts the time she bought a one-pound brick of the pure stuff. After snorting two lines, Laurie Hiett says, "I'm like, `Oh my God, I am so wired.' . . . It was this beautiful thing, you know?"Her escapade wouldn't mean much if she were just another coke addict.
But Hiett sampled her brick inside the women's restroom of the fortress-like U.S. embassy in Bogota, Colombia, where her husband, Col. James C. Hiett, was in charge of the Army's high-stakes antidrug operation.Two years later, Laurie Hiett, 37, is in a federal prison, serving five years for a cocaine and heroin smuggling scheme so amateurish that investigators found her name on shipping records. Her husband will begin a five-month prison term in January for joining his wife on a drug-money spending spree.Aside from ruining Col. Hiett's spotless 24-year military career, the case embarrassed the Pentagon at a time when the White House was pitching a billion-dollar plan to back Colombian forces battling cocaine and heroin producers.Col. Hiett, 48, has declined to talk to reporters while he waits to see if the Army will let him quietly retire. But court documents and a prison interview with his wife reveal a story mixing romantic tragedy with international scandal.Laurie Hiett said her husband felt his last shred of honor stripped away when a federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced him to jail last month. Prosecutors had predicted he would get probation, if only so he could care for the couple's two young sons.After the sentencing, the colonel told his wife, he pulled his car into a rest stop and spent the night there, contemplating suicide."My husband hasn't done anything wrong in his life," Laurie Hiett said in the visiting room in a women's prison on a former Air Force base in Fort Worth, Texas. As she spoke, she showed flashes of the vivaciousness that had charmed an older man into giving her the same devotion he once only gave the military.The femme fatale of the War on Drugs was a single woman living with her parents when she met James Hiett in the late 1980s.The daughter of a Panamanian mother and an American engineer, she worked as a secretary in the Canal Zone. Into her life walked a career military officer, newly assigned to the U.S. Southern Command and friendly enough to help her fix a broken printer."He was so sweet," she said. "And he had his life together."At the time the pair married in 1989, Laurie Hiett had experimented with drugs and alcohol, but not to excess. Still, compared to her by-the-book husband, she was a free spirit, not cut out for the role of military wife."I had to cook -- I didn't know how to cook. I had to entertain -- I didn't know how to entertain," she said. "I never fit in."During Col. Hiett's tours in Fayetteville, N.C., and Panama in the early 1990s, his impulsive spouse found comfort in a fast crowd and hard drugs. Her partying, once confined to weekends, spiraled out of control.As time passed, she also battled manic-depression -- "Believe me, I'm mostly manic" -- and was prescribed medications including Lithium, but wasn't always good about taking them.In Fayetteville, she taught high school Spanish by day and snorted away her salary by night."I had all sorts of people over to my house who were obviously not part of the military world," she said. "I had girlfriends who worked for escort services. I would drive them around to their calls."Embarrassed, the officer stopped including his wife in military social events. But they never discussed her dirty little secret until 1995, when she told him she wanted to enter rehab."If it's going to help you, I don't care," she recalls him saying. "So, high as a kite, I checked myself in."Laurie Hiett stayed clean for a few months, but her problem resurfaced. So did their domestic don't-ask-don't-tell policy.Once, while stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., a frustrated Hiett taunted her husband by snorting a line in front of him. He just walked out of the room."I thought, `How could you not see what was going on here?"' she said. "That's why I did that."In the spring of 1998, amid the mad mix of self-destruction and denial, the Army promoted Col. Hiett to chief of the Colombia operation.Even the colonel's wife knew Bogota was a bad idea."This is the ironic thing," she said. "I tried so hard not to go."The Pentagon assigned Col. Hiett to supervise the more than 150 U.S. troops training local forces to combat Colombian drug lords. After he asked for permission to take his wife and children along, an Army medical technician reviewed his wife's medical records as part of a routine screening process.The government says the technician alerted superiors to her history of mental problems and, because of privacy rules, nothing else. Those rules prohibited the superiors from seeing the medical records themselves.Laurie Hiett's attorney, Paul Lazarus, asserts that the current U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Oliver P. Garza, then a diplomat in Bogota, saw paperwork revealing her appetite for drugs. The lawyer also claims that Garza told Army brass he opposed letting her live in the country that supplies 80 percent of the world's cocaine.In court papers, prosecutors insisted that "relevant Army officials were unaware of the defendant's drug problem." They pointed out that in lobbying to take his wife to Colombia, Col. Hiett never mentioned her addiction.Both sides agree Col. Hiett assured his superiors that his wife was medicated and stable. She now says she was neither, but "nobody bothered to follow up on me."At home, she pressed her husband to let her and the boys remain in Texas. He changed her mind by showing her Bogota."I had cars, I had security, I was going to these beautiful parties, beautiful places for dinner . . . I mean, I was like a queen," she said, snapping her fingers. "So then I was like, `Oh yeah, I'm here."'Moving to Colombia in the summer of 1998, Laurie Hiett suppressed her dark side -- for a time. But the colonel often was away fighting the drug war, inviting trouble at home."I was bored," Laurie Hiett said. "It seemed like I was by myself all the time."So she found a companion: a charming embassy employee named Jorge Ayala, a Colombian assigned to be her driver. One day, Hiett asked Ayala to take her to a bar in La Zona Rosa, a red-light district declared off-limits to embassy personnel.There, she asked him: "I was just wondering if you could get me some cocaine?""Of course," she remembers him replying.She expected a gram, but an hour later, she was sitting in her Ford Explorer holding a brown-paper package the size of a videocassette."Oh, my God," she said. "Jorge, what is this?"A few minutes later, she was sneaking a small chunk of the pure coke into the bathroom of an embassy crawling with Marines and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.Once behind doors at home, "I precede to inhale as much as I can. And I continue to do this, and do this and do this," she said.The supply was so vast that it even spooked the addict, who thought about flushing it away. Instead, she decided to deliver it to her old drug buddies on a visit to the United States with her husband.She carried the drugs in a carryon bag. Her diplomatic credentials provided cover."I go through about four security check points in Colombia, and the ones in Miami and make it all the way through with an open pound of cocaine in my overnight bag," she marveled.An all-night binge with her friends, she thought, would be her last; but once back in Bogota, she told Jorge she needed more. He realized she had taken the brick on her trip."He said, `I knew you did it! I knew you did it!,"' she said. "Now I have a business idea for you."'The plot was hatched in the spring of last year in a restaurant in La Zona Rosa.At a table were Laurie Hiett, Ayala and a friend of his who had flown down from Queens, Hernan Arcila. They agreed Ayala would buy the drugs in Colombia, Laurie Hiett would ship them from the embassy and Arcila would receive the packages for New York City dealers.On April 13, 1999, Laurie Hiett walked into the embassy post office with a small package wrapped in brown paper. She filled out a customs declaration identifying the contents as a T-shirt, candy, coffee -- whatever popped into her head. She was too wired on drugs to be nervous that she was really mailing 2 pounds of cocaine.Over the next six weeks, Hiett shipped five more packages. In all, 15 pounds of cocaine and heroin made it to New York, where it had a street value of about a half million dollars.How much the conspirators made is unclear, although courts papers show Laurie Hiett received at least $25,000. For a couple drowning in debt created by her free-spending ways, the easy money was another narcotic."I was thinking heroin is such a bad drug," she said, "but I just wanted to pay these bills."Laurie Hiett flew to New York City twice in the spring of 1999 to collect her share from Arcila, stashing bundles of cash in her luggage. Records show that after her trips, the colonel bought nearly $13,000 in money orders made out to a dentist, five credit card companies and other creditors. She claims he was too busy and trusting to pin her down on where the money came from."I'd say, `Don't ask me, you don't need to know,"' she said. "You proceed like that. Or you think you can."For a while, she got away with it despite her carelessness. Once, she stashed some heroin in an embassy video store where she worked."All my customers were DEA agents, FBI, and I have this kilo here on the floor," she said. "Wasn't that insane?"A random search of incoming Bogota parcels by Customs agents on May 23, 1999, in Miami would end the insanity.By the time the Army Criminal Investigation Division summoned Laurie Hiett in June, the case against her was overwhelming.An undercover agent posing as a postman had delivered the heroin shipment intercepted by Customs to Arcila's Queens address. They arrested him trying to slip out the back door, and he confessed he had received six such packages.Investigators had found the customs declarations Laurie Hiett had filled out when she mailed the packages.They had found Ayala's name on paperwork in Arcila's home. When they questioned him, Ayala blamed it all on Laurie Hiett. He remains in a Colombian prison, fighting extradition.Army investigators say that when Hiett was first asked about the shipments, she insisted Ayala had asked her to send them as a favor, but that she didn't know what was in them.Questioned separately, Col. Hiett denied knowing what his wife was up to. In private, he finally demanded some answers."Laurie, I need you to look at me in the eye," he began, as she describes the moment. "Did you ever send a package to New York?"'"Yes I did. But I didn't know what was in it.""OK, Laurie, I believe you."Laurie Hiett surrendered to federal authorities in Brooklyn in August. By then, her husband had requested a transfer that landed him in a desk job at Fort Monroe, Va.Though Hiett pleaded innocent to drug conspiracy charges, she soon agreed to tell prosecutors what she knew in a bid to avoid a 10-year prison term. She regrets that her words were used against her husband.Shortly after the couple learned they were under investigation, she admitted, her husband joined her on a trip to Florida carrying $11,000 in cash. By then, there was no denying it was drug money, but the colonel used it anyway on hotel and credit card bills, and to deposit in bank accounts. This was, he admitted later, an attempt to launder the cash.Hiett told a judge at sentencing in May that if she had known her exploits "were going to destroy my husband, I would have never done it. . . . I'm ashamed and devastated."Hiett tries to comfort her sons, ages 12 and 8, by telling them their family "is on an adventure." The boys will live with an uncle once their father goes away.And the marriage?The couple left court holding hands when Col. Hiett pleaded guilty in April. She said she wants to spend the rest of her life with the man who always knew "exactly how to hold me and rock me" whenever drugs left her drowning in despair.In one of those moments, she recalled, "I said, `Where's Laurie? Where's Laurie?' And he said, `Laurie's in there somewhere, and one day she'll be back."'"Here, I'm back," she said, "and I'm in jail."Distributed by The Associated Press (AP) Pubdate: Sun, 27 August 2000Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)Website: letters star-telegram.comCopyright: 2000 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, TexasForum: Articles:The Corruption of Col. James Hiett of U.S. Army Colonel to Plead Guilty Two Lives CannabisNews Articles - Hiett
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on August 27, 2000 at 14:20:09 PT:
Kid glove treatment...for a possible murderer
Col. Hiett was the man in charge of US/Colombian operation against the narcos. Which gives the lie to 'limited involvement'; hell, we are ORCHESTRATING the whole show, down there. Just like we tried to do in V-i-e-t-n-a-m.But even worse, he was also in charge of intelligence operations. He would have known that Captain Jennifer Odom and her crew had been painted several times by hostile radar. But he sent her and her crew out to an area known to be controlled by the narcos. She and her crew were experienced spook pilots; smashing into a mountainside due to weather is just a little too pat. Her plane 'crashed' (conveniently, no specifics were ever given as to why) and the US Special Forces team sent to the area seemed more interested in destroying any trace of evidence as to what happened to the plane than they were in removal of the remains of the crew. All while Laurie Hiett is consorting with the enemy, turning her nasal passages to bloody concrete, and sending her nose candy to El Norte. Am I the only person to consider this just a little too 'coincidental'? For an intelligence man, Hiett is one major boob; the first signs counter-intel types look for in spies is someone spending beyond their means. Hiet certainly put himself on the radar screen with that move. That the Army simply kept looking the other way until civilian LEOs got involved also causes me to wonder what they were really up to; was this a diversion, a bone to throw at the media to cover something even bigger? Like what happened to Jennifer Odom? And what we are *really* doing down there? (Here's a hint; it has nothing to do with drugs. Try sweet crude, and lots of it.)
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