A Flash of Cash, Hot Sex and Cold Beer: Operation Lively Green, Part 3

Jul 24th, 2007 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Organized Crime, Politics
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THE BORDER REPORT

The lawyer for an Operation Lively Green defendant argued in court today that the FBI plied his client with cash, beer and sex to get him to run a load of cocaine.

The case of the latest defendant gives some pause to thought about the FBI’s motives behind the cocaine sting operation.

It’s the largest corruption sting in the history of the FBI; the agency told Congress that they were up to 99 cases now. But rather than an investigation, the sting case operated more like a peer-to-peer computer virus, spreading from one person to the next, flashing cash, setting up a drug run, then “flipping” the guilty into a snitch to co-opt yet more colleagues.

The entire sting has the air of a numbers-pump, beefing up the stats for Justice Department, or maybe a Milgram experiment, to see how far a person will go when presented with the depraved.

The formula was simple: take a group of young people, not too bright, ply them with booze and sex, then flash some cash around and see who takes the bait.Consider the case of Phillip Varona, sentenced this morning to 30 months in prison. A silvery chain manacled his ankles, his hands clasped behind him, his body shrouded in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, Varona apologized to U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson for a growing string of crimes.

“You’re out of control,” Jorgenson said. Varona, 24, is the meter-maid of the Nogales, Ariz. Police Department, convicted on conspiracy to commit bribery of a public official. He’s a mess and, on a side note, perhaps Justice Department should be looking at the hiring standards of municipal police departments instead of busting low-end suckers.

According to his sentencing: On June 12, 2002, Varona ran ten keys of cocaine from Tucson to Phoenix, in uniform, for which he was paid $7,000. A month later, he did it again, running another ten keys from Nogales to Tucson for $8,000. Then he recruited another cop, Eddie Rosas, to run more loads. Then in June 2004, he was sentenced to probation on a domestic assault charge. To top it off, Varona is currently facing charges in superior court for possession with intent to sell 120 pounds of dope; he was arrested in February 2005 on that charge. It’s hard to be sympathetic.

Until you consider the Lively Green set-up. Defense attorney Roberto Montiel argued that Varona was 19 at the time of the set-up. He was approached by Leslie Hidalgo, 26, a private first class in the Arizona Air National Guard. One thing led to another and soon, an informant named “Frank” and another man who claimed to be Hidalgo’s uncle (he was also a snitch), joined Hidalgo and Varona in Nogales, Sonora, drinking beer and setting up the deal. (Frank, I presume, is Frank Arvizu, identified in investigative reports as the informant who led a group of guys like Varona to Las Vegas where a woman was “possibly” sexually assaulted.)A few days later, Hidalgo called Varona and – depending on whom you believe, the United States or Varona’s lawyer – she either fell for Hidalgo and started sleeping with him, or, desperate perhaps to get out of her own hole, started sleeping with him under the encouragement of the FBI, using her body to ply him when he wavered.

“I’m not trying to excuse Philip, but the bait that was used, 19 years old, young man, alcohol; Phillip took the bait and he swallowed it, hook, line and sinker,” Montiel said.

“That makes Phillip guilty but I think the government should not be involved in baiting,” Montiel said.

Jorgenson dismissed Montiel’s claim that Varona suffered a learning disability, saying, “it was probably immaturity and impulisivity.”

But, she did call on prosecutor John W. Scott of the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, to answer the charges of the trip to Mexico.

Scott, who’s been working this case ever since former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton refused to take the case because of the dirty snitches the government was using, gave an interesting interpretation.

“Mrs. Hidalgo is a private citizen and Mr. Varona is a private citizen,” Scott said. “What they did together was their business.”

The arguments are shaky all around in Operation Lively Green. The defense argues that Varona was plied with liquor, cash and warm thighs. The prosecutor argues that Varona chose for himself when he took the money.

The premises are even more shaky. The defense argues that his client suffers from a learning disability and repeatedly referred to Varona as a child. The prosecutor argues that Varona was in control of his own decisions and demonstrated complicity by pointing out that Varona picked a spot in his own police cruiser where the cocaine could be safely stashed.

But Jorgenson chose an interesting argument with which to sentence Varona.Starting at level 32 of the sentencing guidelines, she could have subtracted three because he accepted responsibility, then added one for his prior criminal history (because he still hasn’t been sentenced for the weed offense, she couldn’t take that sentencing into consideration).Under normal guidelines, Varona faced 7.25 to 9 years in prison.

But the plea agreement called for a maximum 5 years while probation recommended a little over three. The low-end sentence was given, two-and-a-half years in prison, a $15,000 fine and three years probation.Her premise was fascinating, and seemed to acknowledge heavy government intervention in a fake coke sting.

“There was no risk of circulation of the cocaine … and it occurred in 2002 and here we are in 2007,” Jorgenson said.

In the end, Jorgenson fell beautifully between what Varona and the United States wanted.

Her acceptance of the plea agreement suggests two realities were at issue in the FBI sting:1) Operation Lively Green was never a corruption issue, it was a set-up by the FBI.2) In his mind, Varona thought he was running loads of coke for a drug cartel; his immaturity and foolishness makes him corrupt.

Operation Lively Green flashed a lot of cash around. The, ummm, less brilliant, took the bait. But does it weed out corrupt public officials or simply snatch the weak?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales once compared Lively Green to the busting of Jack Abramoff and the prosecution of former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio.

I disagree; Lively Green fell dangerously close to entrapment and suckered a lot of people prone to stupid decisions. Varona is no Abramoff.

Stay tuned for Part Four, where we look at how desperate the FBI became to build Operation Lively Green.

– Michel Marizco

5 comments
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  1. From everything I know the government crossed all lines of entrapment.

    I don’t understand why these people are going to jail for such serious amounts of time when in every case it was their first offense. When the government determined the size of the load as well as the location, and when the drugs never made it anywhere.

    It makes no sense. In No way did these people SEEK to do this. It was presented to them in a malicious up manner, and there are situations where the people refused to do the runs but the snitch blackmailed them into doing it, as well as blackmailing them into “recruiting” people.

    I think it is retarded that the government did this. They wasted our tax money for such an unintelligent operation, and are sentencing people who just needed some cash and did something stupid. There are people judging them all over the world and no one knows the whole story because it didn’t go to trial so special circumstances never came out.

    The judge wanted to “Make an Example” of these people, but the stupid part is most of these people were in no way connected to drugs before or after the event, and the ones that were connected were very deep in the operation and snitched out their friends to get themselves off. They only received probation. So what is the government saying with that. They are stating that if you know people who deal/traffic drugs then it is ok to deal/traffic drugs only if you roll over on your friends.

    Where as the other people either wouldn’t roll over on someone or didn’t know anyone to roll over on because they were NEVER connected to drugs in any way before. That is the stupidity of the whole thing.

    Why don’t they do this in a rich white community in nebraska or somewhere. Those people are useless anyway. They targeted the poor minority.

    Some crap people were sentence to prison but a lot of very decent people were ripped from their families, children, friends and loved ones because the government wanted to say they did something great that wasn’t great at all.

    In essence this whole sting was set up by the government by corrupt people to corrupt people who weren’t corrupt to begin with. They were just living their life day by day and working hard to make a decent living then the government came a long and shit on their doorstep. In all cases the person who recruited them was very familiar to them and in all cases this was their first offense.

    I would like information on who to write and who to pester to plea against this insanity and get at least one of these people out of prison.

    In all of my life I have never been so disappointed with my government and its allocation of its assets.

    They literally wasted millions of dollars to ruin decent peoples lives. and spend more millions housing them in jails for no reason.

    I wish more people read this column. So that they could know what really happened. It is my hope that someone can veto this whole stupidity because it is something that should never have existed. I would like to tell people not to judge any of these people from only the things they read because they don’t know the whole story. I am 100% sure that none of you know the true story but you just sit here and judge in your ignorance. From only what the federal government wanted you to know because you live your lives from what TV and newspapers make up because they want you to feel the drama and the oooh and the ahhh.

  2. WOW ! WHOEVER WROTE THAT RESPONSE IS RIGHT.
    THEY DO NOT KNOW THE STORY AND THEY ONLY PRINT OUT WHAT THEY WANT.
    I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AND IT SUCKS ! THE GOVERNMENT SUCKS! I WISH I KNEW WHO SENT THAT…GOD BLESS U

  3. To the World or who ever will listen

    I was a former Arizona Army National Guard recruiter, directly involved with former SSG Damien Castillo, the former SFC Darius Perry, Former SSG Raul Portillo, and also the informant Frank Arvizu who was also a member of the Arizona Army National Guard. Castillo, Perry, Portillo, myself to include SFC Doyle Morrison all of us worked together in the same recruiting office on Valencia Road in Tucson, AZ, I remember Frank Arvizu when he came to recruit me to work as what he described as working for the FBI, making money, but not on the Payroll. I asked him how can this be done, and he said our job is to set up dirty cops, border patrol agents, immigration officers and other law enforcement officials, He never went in details, but he gave me his name number and address hand written on a piece of Arizona National Guard memo note paper which I still have today. The address was in Yuma Arizona. As far as Perry, Morrison, Castillo, none of these soldiers displayed any facets or behaviors having to with drug running. For the first year I was assigned as a recruiter I drove the Government Car that was assigned to SFC Perry, often I would have to open the trunk and transport prospective applicants personal belongings, other than spare tire and associated equipment for the spare tire and recuiting materials there was nothing else in the trunk. None of these former soldiers of the Arizona National Guard presented any negative behavior that would be characteristic of Running Drugs. Our office enviorment was very close. One could not conceal very much working as closly as we worked. I find it very interesting that the FBI never contacted me concerning this case especially since I was so closley involved with at least three of their suspects. I even contacted the FBI and no one ever called back. I dont believe the Government was concerned about fairness or ethics as long as there was a 100% conviction rate. I dont believe the Government wanted any of these cases against all individuals concerned to ever come to trial, or else investigative errors would have surfaced. I know a good man was torn from his family, for a mistake that was made, yes by him, but in this case I do not believe the crime deserves the time, There was no drug cartel, the Government had to either use confiscated drugs or purchased the drugs with tax payer money. I remember when Perry introduced me to Fank Arvizu, we were both told that this was an operation to catch dirty law enforcement officials.
    Some one did flip as the investigators accurately described it, but it was not those arrested or presently serving time.
    It was the Government. I would like my voice heard in defense of my friend

  4. Come on… look at these guys! I can guarantee one thing… they probably are all on welfare doing drugs and not supporting the 10 kids they have out of wedlock. Statistics is a bitch. What is Varona doing now???? I would put money that he is still selling drugs, doesn’t have a respectable job, with a couple kids he doesn’t support. Look him and see what you find. That is of course if he isn’t already in prison. Stop defending these losers. They go exactly what they deserve. At least if they are in jail, they are spending our tax dollars on unemployment or welfare for their bastards!

  5. Oh yea and these guys werent doing or selling drugs before this operation????????????? Who the fook are you kidding? Like i said, look at any of these guys; particularly Varona and see what you find. They are losers and will always be losers.

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