Longform

Snitch Vs. Snitch

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Banzer's first reign as president lasted roughly seven years. During that time, according to the Los Angeles Times, members of Banzer's family were involved in the sale of drugs. In May 1989, the newspaper reported that one of his daughters had openly peddled cocaine on the campus of the American Cooperative School in La Paz, and that his physician son-in-law had been arrested carrying a suitcase full of cocaine in Canada.

Trouble eventually found Arroyo as well. In 1982, he left Bolivia to study English in Houston. In July of that year, he was convicted of possessing less than half a gram of cocaine and placed on eight years' probation. With financial help from his father-in-law, he went into business selling empanadas wholesale. When the business failed, he filed for bankruptcy.

De La Garza, on the other hand, had no high-and-mighty family connections. He grew up in Corpus Christi, the eldest of six children, and started his adult life as a military police officer. His enormous size -- then, as now, he weighed approximately 300 pounds -- made him a force to be reckoned with. When he left the service in 1978, he started a company called International Bodyguards.

As a bodyguard, De La Garza traveled with entertainment figures and foreign nationals visiting the U.S. In 1982, he was twice indicted on two counts of theft over $10,000; each time, the charges were dropped. According to an investigator involved in the probe, some of De La Garza's clients used the aircraft-fueling services of a company called Universal Weather and Aviation. De La Garza, the investigator says, somehow managed to divert the payments his clients wired into his own bank account. The court records have been sealed, and De La Garza denies the allegations. But the investigator believes that the criminal suits, as well as a civil suit by Universal, were dropped because De La Garza agreed to make restitution.

Arroyo would later claim that De La Garza used the bodyguard business as a front for dealing drugs. De La Garza denies that allegation as well, saying that he never used drugs, and purchased them only in his role as a DEA informant.

De La Garza says that he developed an informal relationship with the agency through a friend who worked for the Houston Police Department. The Fifth Circuit ruling suggests another connection as well. Harvey Davis, an old friend of De La Garza's from Beaumont, is described by the court as a "drug addict and double-dealing informant." After Davis was busted for coke in Phoenix, he arranged to have the charges dropped; in exchange, he moved back to Houston and began informing for the DEA. Somehow, De La Garza was included in the deal, and both he and Davis were assigned to DEA Special Agent Roger Norman.

In the summer of 1984, Davis and De La Garza were told to gather information about Arroyo, who claimed to be able to obtain large quantities of cocaine through his family connections. Norman, De La Garza and Davis obtained an introduction from two alleged drug dealers, Guillermo Nino and Jackie Higgins. Then, for several months, the trio met with Arroyo to discuss purchasing as much as 100 kilos of powder. They proposed various schemes for smuggling the contraband into the country, ranging from high-concept (hiding the dope in the flange plates of jets flown here for repair) to downright ordinary (De La Garza and Arroyo would meet a Bolivian "mule" in Mexico, then simply drive the coke across the border).

During this time, Nino and Higgins, the pair who'd introduced Davis and De La Garza to Arroyo, disappeared. Dealers are not the most reliable of people, but none-theless, De La Garza was alarmed. He and Davis filed a complaint with the DEA accusing Agent Norman -- their own contact -- of robbing, then murdering, Nino and Higgins. (The Fifth Circuit does not probe the truth of this claim, but notes dryly that neither Nino nor Higgins was later available to testify.)

Nonetheless, De La Garza continued to work for the DEA. And in September 1984, he and Arroyo planned to go to Bolivia themselves and bring back cocaine chemically bonded to cardboard inserts inside a briefcase. Before leaving for South America, De La Garza arranged for Arroyo to be busted upon their return to the States.

Things didn't go entirely as De La Garza planned. As he and Arroyo traveled back to the States, Colombian authorities in Bogota detained De La Garza; he says he wasn't told why. Although De La Garza was never charged or tried, he remained incarcerated for the next two years. According to his attorneys, he is convinced that his arrest was an act of revenge engineered by Agent Norman. (Norman, now based in Sacramento, did not return calls from the Press.)

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Steve McVicker