By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Only then did the FBI investigate the attempted bombing. An internal memo from the time reveals the self-protective mindset of the agency as it came to realize the extent of the former agent's crimes: "This investigation, which is being conducted by a special FBIHQ [headquarters] investigative team, has been severely hampered by recent developments indicating a strong likelihood that Mitrione is culpable in the attempted murder of Sandini."
The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office hid those suspicions from the public and never prosecuted Mitrione for the attempted bombing. On March 14, 1985, he pleaded guilty to narcotics and bribery charges and was sentenced to six years in prison (though he would serve only three). The plea bargain made national news. On the front page of the New York Times, then-FBI Director William Webster described the agent's downfall this way: "The corrupting power of drug money is one of the obvious reasons why this number one crime problem must be conquered in our country... This sad case illustrates our relentless determination to police our own ranks."
And that, in the end, was what the American populace was left with -- a vacuous story that kept the FBI from having to deal with an even bigger scandal. Many of Airlift's most prolific smugglers, including Krugh and Combs, were spared time in prison for cooperating with the feds. Sandini met the end he most feared: He was convicted of drug charges and died in prison in 1990.
During the following decade, more corruption would be exposed -- this time among those assigned to investigate Mitrione. Morris admitted to accepting bribes of wine and cash from murderous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger in exchange for ignoring the now-infamous fugitive's crimes. He was taking gifts even as he was in Miami heading the Mitrione investigation. In the end, Morris was spared prosecution for testifying against a lower-level agent named John Connolly, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for taking bribes.
Attempts to reach Buttino -- who received a commendation and a cash award for his work on Airlift -- failed. But a call was answered by Lou Buttino, the former agent's brother and co-author of A Special Agent. The professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington had startling news. "The book was a lie, and my brother is in hiding," he explained.
The lie, Lou Buttino said, wasn't about Airlift. Rather, it involved the central theme of the book, that the agent was drummed out of the agency because it was discovered by his superiors that he was gay. Though it made the former agent a hero in the gay community, Lou Buttino said that the book was full of fabrications designed to help his brother win a settlement from the Justice Department. When he realized A Special Agent was fiction, he says he sued his brother, whom he now is convinced is a "sociopath," for fraud and won a judgment of $300,000. "[Frank Buttino] went underground, I guess to avoid paying me, and nobody knows where he is today," the professor explained. "It broke my heart and destroyed my family."
Of the bureau, he added: "The FBI is almost like the Mafia. They adhere to omerta, the code of silence. They don't reveal the things that are going on."
Donna Weaver suffered in that silence for years. But the cover-up of the attempted bombing, the widespread corruption within the FBI, and the criminal nature of Mitrione convinced her that someone at the bureau knew what had happened to her husband. Particularly terrifying to her was the revelation that Mitrione's father had been accused of torturing people in the family's basement. She wondered if Gary had been tortured before he was killed, and the thought of it was almost too much to bear.
"They are supposed to help me, but they won't," she says of the FBI. "And all I can wonder is, 'Why? Why won't they do their jobs? Why won't they help me?'"
The stone wall extends to BSO as well. Donna tried for weeks to contact Brennan to glean some clues about Krugh. He ignored her calls. When contacted by New Times, BSO officials refused to discuss the case.
Without the help of the authorities, Donna was forced to conduct her own investigation, which led to a chief suspect and, ultimately, to the Bahamas, the place where her husband had disappeared.
Next week: Will Donna's case stand?