By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
She found Danny, on the other hand, "mellow and nice." Locie says she didn't know what either of them did for a living, just that they always had lots of cash and always seemed ready to have a good time.
While Mitrione and Sandini lived like kings, their chief pilot, Krugh, was the courtier. In late 1982, the pair sent Krugh to Colombia to visit a drug lord, possibly Jorge Ochoa. There, he was taken to the jungle, where he was shown a cocaine production lab and familiarized himself with a remote airstrip by riding a mule on it.
Krugh's counterpart was Luis Bernardo Sanchez-Castro, a retired colonel in the Colombian Air Force. Sanchez, who went by the alias "Hernando," was so respected in his country that he served in the early 1980s as George H.W. Bush's escort during a fact-finding mission on cocaine production in Colombia, according to FBI records. Sanchez spent weeks at a time in South Florida, mostly with Mitrione and Krugh, helping to coordinate shipments and handle money.
Yet the smuggling operation was still a bungled mess. Loads of drugs were routinely lost and stolen, often by authorities in the Bahamas or the Colombian Army. At one point, three pilots were kidnapped (and later released) by Colombians who believed Sandini and Mitrione had stolen their cocaine.
The duo still managed to make millions on their illegal activities -- right under the bureau's nose. Internal FBI reports indicate that Mitrione received little to no supervision. Numerous signs that the agent had gone bad were either ignored or condoned. For instance, Mitrione rarely ever wore a wire, and he always seemed, mysteriously, to become unavailable when the FBI wanted to bug Hangar 24. He would also become sullen and refuse to speak with his case agents for days at a time.
In January 1983, almost a year after Airlift began, then-agent Christopher Mazzella, now Miami-Dade County's inspector general, reviewed the Airlift file and found that it was in "shambles," according to reports. Word reached Mitrione that headquarters was talking about shutting down his operation. On March 5, 1983, he and Sandini made a bold move to appease the FBI brass: They stole 200 kilograms of cocaine from a Colombian shipment in Memphis and delivered it to authorities as proof that they were getting the job done.
The bureau gave the cocaine to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, making it the largest seizure of that drug in that agency's history. It was the top news story of the day in Broward County; then-Chief Leo Callahan posed for pictures with the seized white bricks and fabricated a story for the media about how one of the department's drug dogs sniffed out the cocaine in a Fort Lauderdale parking lot.
What the FBI wouldn't learn until much later was that Sandini and Mitrione stole 42 kilos for themselves before handing over the cocaine to the bureau, a skim that netted the agent and his informant about $1 million each.
The seized shipment, however, wasn't enough to save Airlift. On April 20, 1983, the FBI terminated the operation. Two months later, Mitrione resigned to become a business partner with Sandini, who kept the drug-smuggling operation going.
Soon, Mitrione was buying property, boats, and cars. He also took his wife, Janet, on long vacations to Yellowstone Park, Maine, Rio de Janeiro, and London. Sandini stashed millions in offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands.
And the greatest law enforcement agency in the world still apparently had no clue that its agent had gone astray.
Before Gary disappeared, Donna Weaver had several brushes with Airlift. She just didn't know it.
Donna was close to Krugh, her husband's boss and buddy. She regularly attended barbecues at Krugh's house and went to Tupperware parties thrown by his wife at the time, Liz. But Donna says it never occurred to her that Randy Krugh might be a drug smuggler; she just thought he ran a successful excavation company.
Krugh had invited Donna and Gary to his sister's birthday party on the Zaca. Two months pregnant with the twins at the time, she stayed home while her husband boarded the yacht, she recalls. Gary came home, happily drunk, she remembers, and told her the people on the boat were great -- rich but down-to-earth at the same time.
Donna also recalls a Colombian named Hernando, who she believes is the Colombian Air Force major named in FBI reports. Hernando accompanied Krugh around town, even bringing him to her daughter's christening. She recalls that her husband's boss treated Hernando like royalty. It was the same Hernando who would later meet her at the Hollywood Amtrak station and tell her to quit speaking with police about Gary's disappearance.
But she says she was completely clueless about Gary's involvement -- whatever it may have been -- in the drug trade. When Krugh sent Gary to the Bahamas in fall 1983, it never occurred to Donna that he might be working on the fringes of a Colombian cocaine cartel. "I was so dumb," says Donna, who was a 23-year-old mother of 6-month-old twin daughters when her husband vanished.
Krugh didn't seem the criminal type to Donna. She remembers him as a goofy bald guy, always joking and playing pranks. She agonizes over what Gary might have known when he went on those three trips. She's certain, however, that he couldn't have understood the kind of trouble Krugh was in or how dangerous that made it for Gary.