Less than a week after he agreed with the government to tell the truth about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s worst scandal, former agent John Jackson admitted Friday that he lied to a DEA investigator about a fellow agent’s gold-smuggling scheme.
Jackson, a crucial government witness in the DEA corruption trial, also told a federal court jury that his former associate, Darnell Garcia, was able to smuggle gold for years past U.S. Customs at Los Angeles International Airport because Garcia had a key to a security door.
It was the second day of Jackson’s testimony after his dramatic description Thursday of a crime spree in which he, Garcia and another DEA agent stole narcotics and drug cash and deposited millions of dollars in illicit profits in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Responding to questions from Assistant U.S. Atty. Joyce Karlin, Jackson told a story of three agents who brazenly stole seized narcotics and money and made quick fortunes selling cocaine and heroin to drug dealers with nicknames such as “Corvette Man” and “Rambo.”
During the spree, which lasted from 1983 until the three were indicted in 1988, Jackson said, he even prepared seized narcotics for street sales at his desk in the DEA’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters. Most importantly for the government, Jackson implicated the lone defendant, Darnell Garcia, 43, of Rancho Palos Verdes in a number of drug-related crimes ranging from breaking into stash houses to harboring drug fugitives.
On Friday, Karlin completed her questioning, and Garcia’s defense attorney, Mark E. Overland, began cross-examining Jackson in an effort to compromise his credibility. It was the second week of the trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr.
Garcia is charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and conveying DEA intelligence information to a fugitive drug dealer. He was indicted two years ago along with Jackson, 41, of Claremont, and former DEA agent Wayne Countryman, 47, of Walnut.
Jackson and Countryman pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges last August and entered into agreements with the government to testify against Garcia in exchange for reduced prison terms.
Replying to questions aimed at undermining his testimony, Jackson recounted his lie to a DEA agent, Bradley Reed, Aug. 13. The defense emphasized the date because it was just five days after Jackson had agreed to cooperate with the government.
At the time, Jackson said, Garcia handed a bag full of cash to the owner of an Italian-based jewelry firm for whom Garcia worked as a gold smuggler.
“Was that the truth?” Overland asked.
“No,” replied Jackson.
Jackson suggested that he lied to support Garcia’s story that he earned his fortune smuggling jewelry, a crime for which he is not currently charged, rather than through drug trafficking.
“You were trying to help Mr. Garcia when you lied to Mr. Reed?” Overland queried.
“That is correct,” Jackson said.
Jackson also appeared to contradict what he said a day earlier when he recalled first discussing narcotics trafficking with convicted Brooklyn drug dealer Mahlon Steward. Steward, 60, has testified that he was a drug dealer for Jackson and Garcia.
On Thursday, Jackson told Karlin that he “discussed the possibility of selling drugs” with Steward in 1981, when he first met him while working as an undercover agent. But on Friday, responding to Overland, he said the drug talks did not begin until two years later.
The apparent contradiction was viewed as important by the defense in demonstrating that Jackson’s testimony is unreliable.
Jackson told jurors that, beginning in 1983 and lasting for about four years, he aided Garcia in smuggling gold jewelry past U.S. Customs inspectors on behalf of an Italian-based firm, Oro Aurora, which had an outlet in Los Angeles’ downtown jewelry district.
Garcia, Jackson said, would arrive from Italy at LAX’s Bradley International Terminal carrying “very heavy” leather shoulder bags containing gold chains. To avoid paying duty at the terminal’s U.S. Customs station, Jackson said he would meet Garcia at a security door--locked to the public--to which Garcia had a key.
This allowed Garcia to avoided Customs inspectors, he said.
“Do you know how he came into possession of such a key?” Hatter asked Jackson.
“I do not,” Jackson replied.