Former drug agent Darnell Garcia, speaking out publicly for the first time in a federal corruption trial that rocked the Drug Enforcement Administration, took the stand Thursday and denied government allegations that he stole seized narcotics and cash.
Garcia produced his personal calendar books--beginning with the year 1982, when the government alleges that the scandal began--which contain detailed daily notations that the defendant and his attorneys believe contravene key prosecution evidence.
The 44-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes man is being tried on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and providing intelligence information to a fugitive drug agent.
Questioned by his attorney, Mark Overland, Garcia, in effect, attempted to persuade the jury that his journals prove he was involved in other activities, personal and professional, at times when government witnesses say he was committing crimes.
Two of the government's most sensational allegations accuse Garcia of participating with another former DEA agent, John Jackson, in the theft of almost $100,000 in cash from the agency's cashier's office on July 10, 1984; and the theft of a kilogram of heroin from the DEA's evidence vault in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 5, 1984.
"Were you anywhere near the cashier's vault that day?" Overland asked Garcia.
"No," Garcia replied.
"Did you . . . take any heroin out of that vault . . . ?" Overland asked.
Again, Garcia replied "no."
Garcia was put on the witness stand by his attorneys Thursday afternoon in the Los Angeles courtroom of U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. as his trial, which began Nov. 20, began heading down the stretch.
Dressed in a conservative double-breasted blue business suit, white shirt and dark blue tie, he testified matter-of-factly, at times almost in a whisper, and referred repeatedly to his calendar notations.
Assistant U.S. Attys. Joyce A. Karlin and Stefan D. Stein were shown the books for the first time last week when Overland and his associate, Mark Borenstein, opened Garcia's defense. The date books, covering a period from 1982 through 1987, have emerged as a key to Garcia's contention that he is innocent.
Two former DEA agents who were also indicted, Jackson, 41, of Claremont, and Wayne Countryman, 48, of Walnut, pleaded guilty last August to drug-trafficking charges. Both have testified at length that Garcia was heavily involved with them in stealing drugs and cash, and that he helped them funnel their profits into Swiss bank accounts.
Garcia testified Thursday that he began keeping calendar books in 1976, when he was walking a downtown beat for the Los Angeles Police Department and considering writing a book.
He said that on one occasion, in January, 1983, he took a flight to Miami to join a federal drug task force on a day when Jackson accused him of involvement in a drug sale.
On another occasion, in July, 1983, his date book showed that he was being examined by his doctor when Countryman testified that he was stealing cocaine, Garcia said.
Garcia must account for about $3 million he has on deposit in Swiss bank accounts in Luxembourg. The government alleges that the cash represents drug profits.
For his part, Garcia contends that the money represents commissions he received from an Italian jewelry firm, Oro Aurora, for helping the company smuggle gold chains past U.S. Customs. Again, Garcia relied on his calendar book notes to account for the commissions.
On Wednesday night, Karlin had a forensic document analyst from the U.S. Postal Service examine the calendar books dated between 1983 and 1987 to determine when the notes were jotted down. Then, on Thursday, she asked the court to release the books for detailed laboratory analysis.