Magazine article Insight on the News

Starr Investigation Targets Law-Enforcement Complicity

Magazine article Insight on the News

Starr Investigation Targets Law-Enforcement Complicity

Article excerpt

An ongoing money-laundering probe, led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, is churning up details of possible state and law-enforcement ties to criminal misconduct in Arkansas.

In the late 1980s during the swirl of Iran-Contra allegations about narcotics trafficking and weapons shipments, senior officers in the Arkansas State Police began a methodical operation to destroy sensitive documents linking some of the state's most prominent political and business figures to illegal activities - spin-offs from Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North's covert arms-for-hostages deals.

Arkansas connections to Iran-Contra were, at the time, obscured nationally. Attention was riveted on Washington, Ronald Reagan and North's manic shredding of files detailing the "enterprise" that provided arms for the release of American hostages in the Middle East and guns for the Nicaraguan Contras. Arkansas seemed a long way from the action in the nation's capital.

Until Bill Clinton ran for president an Arkansas dimension to Iran-Contra remained ignored by mainstream news organizations and federal officials. Now though, what happened in Arkansas in the 1980s has moved to center stage. It's not just shady land deals surfacing, but widespread wrongdoing by the state politico-business establishment that behaved as though it was above the law - and with the help of police officers, was allowed to be.

The conspiracy theorists, of course, have run riot and attempted to pin all the blame for misdeeds in Arkansas on Clinton. But what slowly is unfolding is a far more complicated story of negligence, opportunism and rank exploitation by a one-party political system that bent the rules and turned a blind eye to alleged criminal activity when it was carried out by some of its own.

Enter Kenneth W. Starr. As the independent counsel pursues the money trail of Clinton and his wife, Hillary, in a land deal called White-water, the inner workings of Arkansas government and law enforcement are coming under the spotlight. What Starr is finding, according to a former senior federal official familiar with the probe, is a good-ole-boy network of "corruption and obstruction" in a state seemingly awash in narcotics money - some almost certainly of Iran-Contra origin and some from more homegrown enterprises.

Insight now has learned that Starr's team of more than 125 FBI and IRS agents and U.S. attorneys are investigating what appears, on the surface, to be unrelated aspects of the White-water deal. His investigators are delving heavily into Arkansas narcotics and homicide cases, some of which have remained unsolved for years. And what is being uncovered, according to federal and state officials who agreed to be interviewed, is layer upon layer of complicity by state and local law-enforcement agencies and a maze of allegations that has investigators widening their inquiries at every turn.

One of the most startling discoveries so far is an extensive and regular pattern of document shredding in the late 1980s on the orders of senior state police officials. According to law-enforcement sources in Little Rock, the shredded documents were federal and state intelligence records and police investigators' files on prominent Arkansans. Some, such as businessman Dan Lasater, were significant contributors to Clinton's gubernatorial campaigns. Also shredded was material on the murky drug-running and arms-smuggling operation based at the Mena Intermountain Regional Airport (see Insight, Jan. 30, 1995).

The shredding, which was conducted in a tiny office in the state police headquarters, was furtive and known only by a handful of officers at the highest levels in the Arkansas State Police - that is, until Starr's investigators recently received a tip. A state law-enforcement source, who spoke to Insight on the condition of anonymity, says: "I was startled by what was going into the shredder. There were Lasater files and Mena files" as well as files on other businessmen with close ties to Clinton personally. …

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