Finding Gary, Part 2

A rogue FBI agent, tons of smuggled drugs, a wife in search of her husband's corpse

Editor's note: This is the second in a four-part series. See the first installment at newtimesbpb.com.

After reading the article, Donna Weaver only thought, maybe.

Maybe her missing husband had been caught up in Operation Airlift, an FBI drug-smuggling investigation gone haywire. Maybe Airlift would supply clues about Gary, who had disappeared in the Bahamas the day before their first anniversary, in 1983. Maybe this was the answer.

FBI agent Dan Mitrione Jr. found a father figure in murderous criminal informant Hilmer Sandini (pictured) after his own dad was kidnapped and murdered in Uruguay.
Donna Weaver
FBI agent Dan Mitrione Jr. found a father figure in murderous criminal informant Hilmer Sandini (pictured) after his own dad was kidnapped and murdered in Uruguay.

It was pure happenstance that she ever learned of the FBI operation. While working as a bartender in a Fort Lauderdale drinking hole in May 1999, she happened to pick up a New Times newspaper that contained a lengthy article about Airlift. Gary Weaver wasn't mentioned in the story, but the time frame and place fit his disappearance. Some of those depicted were murderous -- and she'd become convinced her husband had been killed by drug runners. Donna also thought that the involvement of a corrupt FBI agent might explain why she'd been ignored by authorities for so many years.

So Donna did what she'd done hundreds of times over the years: She made a cold call, trying to find a snippet of information that might lead to the truth. She asked a New Times reporter if there were any names in the Airlift records that didn't appear in the article.

One of the first names mentioned was Randy Krugh.

"Oh my God," she said. "He was the best man at my wedding."

And with that, Donna had new hope of discovering what happened to her husband, and Airlift had a new mystery.

She scoured FBI, DEA, and court records on Airlift, and it became clear that some of the worst crimes committed during the operation were never prosecuted. She believes one of them was the murder of her husband. Donna also learned the truth about Krugh, Gary Weaver's boss and childhood friend from Ohio who'd sent him to the Bahamas ostensibly to work on boat and plane engines. During the early 1980s, Krugh was one of the most prolific drug-smuggling pilots in South Florida and a government informant who'd made many mortal enemies.

One of those enemies, she learned, was Daniel A. Mitrione Jr., the undercover FBI agent who'd become a high-rolling drug smuggler while orchestrating Airlift. Mitrione. The name haunts her. For Donna, it has come to symbolize not only her husband's terrible fate but the darkest part of her country's heart. The story begins not with the former agent but with his father, a man who has been both hailed as a national hero and accused of being one of the worst torturers in America's history.


Daniel A. Mitrione Sr. was never an FBI man; he was a small-town Indiana police chief who helped lead a covert war on leftist groups in Latin America.

In the late 1950s, Mitrione Sr. was officially employed by the U.S. State Department, though the CIA was deeply involved in his work. He was first sent to Brazil and then Uruguay to teach what the State Department termed "public safety" to police. Traveling with him were his wife, Henrietta, and nine children, including young Dan, who was born in 1947 and basically grew up in South America, learning Spanish and idolizing his father.

But in 1970, after more than a decade in foreign lands, disaster struck the Mitrione clan. Dan Sr. was kidnapped by the Tupamaro guerrilla group in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. As the family -- and America -- anxiously waited and watched the national news reports on the ordeal, he was held for 11 days. The group demanded the release of numerous political prisoners, but the Uruguayan government refused to negotiate. On August 10, Mitrione's bound and gagged body was discovered in the trunk of a stolen 1948 Buick convertible on a Montevideo street. He'd been shot twice in the head.

In the United States, the fallen father was hailed as a hero and martyr for freedom. President Richard Nixon sent his son-in-law, David Eisenhower; Secretary of State William Rogers; and a red, white, and blue commemorative wreath to the funeral in Mitrione's hometown of Richmond, Indiana.

"Mr. Mitrione's devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere," White House spokesman Ron Ziegler announced.

Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis flew to Richmond and put on a benefit concert that raised $20,000 for the family. "I never met Richmond's son, Dan Mitrione," Sinatra said to the crowd after Lewis warmed them up. "Yet he was my brother... as all of us in America are brothers."

What the general public didn't know was that Mitrione Sr. had been doing far more than teaching helpful police tactics in South America. Former Uruguayan police officials and CIA operatives claimed Mitrione had taught brutal, deadly techniques of torture in the cellar of his Montevideo home. They alleged he electrically shocked his victims' mouths and genitals. In one of the most disturbing revelations, reported by a CIA operative from Cuba named Manuel Hevia Conculluela, Mitrione Sr. was said to have practiced on beggars picked up from the capital's streets, four of whom reportedly died while serving as human guinea pigs.

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