The Cloud Over Lightning Strike

Did the U.S. government spend $2 million just to nail little guys like David Proctor?

"And they must have had 12 or 15 things that I had supposedly done. Things like bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud, income tax evasion," says Proctor. "And off to the side they had the [corresponding] number of years in prison and the fines. The time in prison added up to 60-something years and the fines were over $1.2 million."

But as Proctor continued to check his surroundings, the scene took on even more of a Orwellian air.

"They had pictures of me all over this room," he explains. "I'm not saying little pictures. They had blown-up pictures of me. Pictures like two-thirds my size. It was very surreal. Even now I can't believe it."

The black-and-white photos were mounted on foamboard and propped against the walls. They caught Proctor in seemingly innocent actions -- talking on a pay phone or picking up a computer from Verlander. Others had been shot through windows and revealed the interior of his home. Also in the room were boxes of audio and video tapes.

"I mean the room was just filled with the stuff," says Proctor. "I never knew if I was on any of the tapes or not."

After he had been in the room for what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a few minutes, the FBI agent returned and asked Proctor to accompany him to his office, where the walls were adorned with law enforcement plaques and medallions.

"He sits me down and then says, 'Well, what do you think?'" says Proctor. "And I say, 'Well, I don't know, you tell me.' And he says, 'Like I told you back there in Clear Lake, you're in a lot of trouble. But you have a choice. You can leave now. Or, after you see now what has happened, you can go with us and help yourself.'

"And I asked them what it meant to help myself. And they said, 'If you agree to help yourself, we're going to take you to another place here in a few minutes, talk to you, and then we'll tell you more about that. But you need to make a decision."

Proctor says at that point -- even though he still had not been directly told what he was accused of doing -- he told the agent that he thought that it was in his best interest to help himself.

"And he said, 'Okay. However, there are two ground rules. You cannot contact an attorney. If you contact an attorney, all deals are off. You will immediately be arrested and go to prison. The second thing is, you cannot tell anybody about this. If you tell anybody about this you will be arrested and go to prison. The only two people you can tell are your wife and your pastor, and we recommend neither."

For the next four months only his wife would know about the so-called "deal," which, as it turned out, didn't help David Proctor at all.

The series of events that brought Proctor to the FBI office in Houston actually had begun several years earlier in St. Louis with a consummate good ol' boy named Hal Francis. A stocky redhead with a deep drawl, the 35-year-old Francis was born and raised in Mantachie, Mississippi (population 800). He claims he still gets lost in Houston, although he's lived in the area for more than three years. But somehow you get the idea that such mild self-deprecation is all for show.

After a brief turn at Mississippi State, Francis joined the Air Force, where he says he demonstrated an aptitude for foreign languages. "The next thing I knew I was a part of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland," Francis explains. "Then I was doing my time for the government, so to speak, in Japan with a pair of headphones on, listening to Soviets talk back and forth."

Francis left the military in 1983, and went to work in sales and marketing for a defense contractor. But five years later -- about the same time David Proctor was joining NASA -- he was approached about a new joint operation by the National Security Agency and FBI to combat domestic terrorism. Coming off a bitter divorce and looking for a new challenge, Francis applied to, and soon found himself at, the FBI training center in Quantico, Virginia.

"I was hired almost specifically to work terrorism and foreign counter-intelligence and never worked a day of it," he laughs. Instead of being caught up in foreign intrigue, Francis wound up in St. Louis, where the FBI hoped to draw on his background in ferreting out corruption within the city's large defense industries.

For the next three years Francis was involved in developing and executing an undercover sting known as "Operation Brown Bag." At the conclusion of Brown Bag -- which resulted in guilty pleas by more than 30 defense contractors -- he was transferred to the FBI office in Houston.

"I walked into the office here, literally, and sat down with management," Francis says. "They were familiar with what I had done in St. Louis and asked me if I could do something similar to that down here in Houston."

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