Files Not Found

Thousands of missing FBI documents in the Timothy McVeigh case? It comes as no surprise to the survivors of Operation Lightning Strike.

"Frankly, a defense attorney is never going to be happy that they've gotten everything they wanted," says Dogium, "and they shouldn't be. And I don't say that sarcastically. I mean, God love 'em. They want every doggone thing they can get. And I don't blame them."

The bureau, Dogium adds, feels no special need to defend itself with regard to the turning over of information beneficial to defense lawyers. Ironically, Dogium was one of the undercover agents involved in the City Hall sting. But perhaps Dogium should pay closer attention to the words of a former FBI agent deeply involved in the McVeigh investigation.

In 1995 Rick Ojeda was working as an agent with the bureau's field office in Durant, Oklahoma. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, Ojeda, along with all other agents in the state, was called into Oklahoma City to help with what would become the McVeigh investigation. This past May in an interview with 60 Minutes II, Ojeda accused the FBI of ignoring some of his reports that would have helped McVeigh's defense. Specifically, Ojeda says he worked a lead that implicated other suspects in the bombing.

"I never saw anything brought to light about that," says Ojeda. "It ends up that after I came public with it, that that lead was turned over…Lo and behold, they found it. And the funny thing about it is, I never mentioned in the 60 Minutes program what the lead was. But somehow the FBI figured out what lead it was, and they turned it over the next day."

Ojeda claims that he himself has been victimized by the FBI's refusal to turn over documents. He says he was fired from the bureau after allegedly conducting an unauthorized investigation against one of his bosses. In his termination hearing, Ojeda says, the agency never produced the complaints that had been filed against his superior, which were the motivating reason for his probe. Represented by DeGuerin, Ojeda, who now works as a private investigator in Austin, is suing the FBI for reinstatement.

Earlier this month, President George W. Bush nominated veteran federal prosecutor Robert S. Mueller to be the next FBI director. Ojeda believes whoever replaces Louis Freeh needs to rectify the problems in the agency, not just improve the bureau's tarnished image.

If Mueller is confirmed, not only will he face problems in his new job, but according to another former federal law enforcement officer, he also will leave behind old ones. Ronald Woods is a Houston criminal defense attorney who was part of the defense team for Terry Nichols. However, from 1990 to 1993, Woods served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. During that time, Woods says, he emphasized the importance of conducting the most thorough investigations possible, and then letting the evidence determine whether prosecution was warranted. But these days, he says, there's an attitude among some federal prosecutors of obtaining convictions at all costs, evidence be damned.

"There are some within the U.S. attorney's offices across the country who are so career-oriented -- and they know careers are based on victories, not losses -- they often cut corners to assure those victories," says Woods, "oftentimes by withholding exculpatory evidence."

Still, Woods believes that most of the blame for failing to make that evidence available rests with the FBI. "It's been a problem for the 36 years I've been dealing with the FBI," he says.

Every morning Dale Brown raises the American flag outside his home, and he thinks about the fact that he will never achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut and perhaps hoisting that flag on the moon. When he's not getting therapy on his gimpy right leg and arm, he spends much of his time behind a large computer. In a bizarre twist, Brown now makes a living by auditing NASA contracts.

Many of the rooms in Brown's house are filled with boxes containing thousands of documents related to Operation Lightning Strike. A picture of Hal Francis is pinned to his wall. More than six years after his trial, Brown is still obsessed with his battle with federal authorities. He and his former partners sued the FBI for allegedly destroying their business, but the case was dismissed by both the Fifth Circuit Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. In its ruling, the Fifth Circuit stated that evidence indicated intentional indifference by the FBI with regard to the potential harm Operation Lightning Strike posed to people and businesses with no predisposition to be involved in a crime. However, the court dismissed the case on the grounds that the agents were not afforded due process. The court did say, "The facts, as pleaded, establish at least that level of federal agent culpability as Operation Lightning Strike evolved into a disastrous boondoggle." Still, Brown hopes to eventually tell his story in a book and movie.

Meanwhile, Sharon Hogge has adopted a different approach in putting her life back together. These days, she and a couple of family members have their own consulting firm. Unlike Brown, she is working to put Operation Lightning Strike behind her, but she concedes it's not easy. Even though she was found not guilty, she does not believe the system worked. If it had, she says, she would never have been in federal court in the first place.

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