Former DEA Agent Recounts Tales of Stolen Cash, Cocaine : Trial: Witness says onetime colleague was the driving force behind a wide variety of crimes. Darnell Garcia is charged with drug trafficking and money laundering.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former federal drug agent who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges testified Friday that he and Darnell Garcia, a former colleague accused of narcotics trafficking, stole bundles of cash and drugs from drug dealers and stole a pound of cocaine while taking it to a drug lab for analysis.

Wayne L. Countryman, a star witness in what has become the worst corruption scandal in the history of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said he made more than $1 million between 1982 and 1987 by stealing cash or cocaine and selling the drugs to dealers.

Countryman is a key government witness against former DEA Agent Garcia, 44, of Rancho Palos Verdes. A former karate champion, Garcia is charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and conveying intelligence information to a fugitive drug dealer.

In a daylong session of dramatic testimony in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Countryman said Garcia was the moving force behind the conspiracy, orchestrating and helping carry out many of the thefts with the help of Countryman and another colleague, John Anthony Jackson.

Jackson also is cooperating in the government's case against Garcia. Jackson gave two days of graphic testimony last month.

Garcia "told me he preferred to steal money rather than drugs because he could claim it was his," Countryman said. "I told him I would rather steal money also."

Countryman accused Garcia of participating with him in a wide range of crimes.

In measured tones, Countryman methodically described how the agents used secret DEA surveillance information to locate and steal 400 pounds of cocaine, valued at $36 million, from Colombian drug kingpins operating a stash house in Pasadena. He also described a two-day trip to Zurich, Switzerland, in which the three brought carrying cases filled with $2 million in cash. The money was deposited in untraceable bank accounts.

Countryman, a stocky man with neatly trimmed gray hair, said that he overheard Garcia and Jackson gloating that they had stolen almost $100,000 from a DEA cashier's office while guards were nearby.

Countryman said he did not see the agents steal the money, but overheard Garcia and Jackson congratulating themselves. "He (Garcia) said that stealing the money was sweet, and John (Jackson) said, 'It sure was,' " Countryman testified.

Countryman's testimony corroborated Jackson's on many of the alleged thefts. Jackson and Countryman testified that their crime rampage was so audacious that they cut cocaine for illegal street sales at night in the DEA's offices at the World Trade Center in downtown Los Angeles, then spent hours drinking at a hotel across the street and planning their next move.

Countryman also testified about previously unpublicized alleged crimes. On one occasion, while helping another agent carry confiscated drugs and cash into DEA headquarters, Garcia stole "a bundle of money" and put it in his desk, Countryman said. He said he and Garcia split the bundle, each receiving $8,000 in cash.

On another occasion, Garcia told Countryman to stop by his house in Torrance before bringing 10 kilograms of cocaine to a DEA analysis lab in National City, Countryman said. At the house, he said, Garcia ripped open the evidence bag, took out a pound of cocaine and replaced it with baking soda.

Countryman said Garcia used his expertise in money laundering to help the three agents cover up their profits by depositing the money in Swiss bank accounts and shell corporations.

Countryman has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and drug conspiracy charges and agreed to testify against Garcia in exchange for leniency during sentencing.

Garcia, who has maintained his innocence, sat silently through the hearing Friday, at times glowering at his former colleague on the witness stand, and at others doodling on a legal pad.

Countryman, 47, of Walnut, spent more than five hours detailing the secret meetings and clandestine plans that he, Garcia and Jackson allegedly orchestrated while stealing drugs and selling enough to become millionaires.

After Countryman was transferred out of the DEA's Los Angeles office to Riverside in 1984, he said Garcia chided him for not stealing drugs from that office too. "He'd needle me about not stealing a safe" that contained more than 22 pounds of recently seized cocaine, Countryman said.

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