Fighting to prove innocence led 3 to stiffer sentences
November 23, 1998
The three men were all about 60 years old, successful in their careers, active in their communities.
They were snared in three government stings. Two are serving long prison terms. The third expects to begin serving his sentence soon.
Their lives are ruined, their assets gone. Two say they have little hope of leaving prison alive.
The government offered them deals if they would plead guilty to minor criminal offenses. They would have done little, if any, prison time, but all steadfastly maintained their innocence, and because they fought for that innocence, they are paying dearly.
They say they cannot understand how their government could have lured them into situations that federal prosecutors would then describe as crimes.
They say they have learned one thing from the shadowy world of government sting operations: The line between guilt and innocence is a shifting one, and federal law enforcement officers control the strings.
Loren Pogue, an Air Force veteran and co-founder of a home for orphans, is serving 22 years in prison on charges he conspired to smuggle drugs into the United States and launder drug money.
Pogue never bought drugs, never sold them, never held them, never used them, never smuggled them. But a government informant with an alcohol and drug habit, who would later lie at Pogues trial, managed to snare Pogue in a 1990 government sting operation that had little else to show for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost.
A real estate agent and Missouri native whod made a second home for himself and his family in Costa Rica, Pogue admits hed had a previous scrape with the law. In the 1970s, he served 14 months for tax evasion related to an ill-fated business venture.
His life since had been free of trouble.
Pogue and his wife, Delores Jean, have 27 children, 15 of them adopted. Friends, neighbors and preachers have written letters to the federal government detailing his contributions to their communities and their outrage at his treatment.
Federal prosecutors said he set up and completed a deal to sell a parcel of land in Costa Rica to drug dealers who intended to use it as a stopover airstrip for illegal drug shipments to the United States. He denied the charges vehemently.
After his conviction, Pogue obtained government documents that showed the key witness in his case committed perjury at his trial, weaving a web of lies that convinced jurors of Pogues guilt.
The witness, Mitchell Henderson, was a government informant, a disgraced ex-police officer, an abuser of alcohol and drugs whom the Drug Enforcement Administration had promised $250,000 to set up a sting operation to try to snare Latin American drug dealers.
Henderson testified that a high-ranking official of the Cali Cartel in Colombia had arranged to buy the land for the airstrip. However, DEA documents that Pogue obtained after his conviction show Henderson never met the cartel official, and the DEA knew it.
Henderson also testified that Pogue, from the start, knew that the land sale was connected to Colombian drug runners, a key point in proving conspiracy charges. But at a later trial, Henderson testified that Pogue knew nothing about the deal until the day he showed up to close the agreement on the land.
The DEA documents alsomake clear that government officials knew Henderson was lying at Pogues trial. Neither Pogue nor the court was informed of that fact, despite discovery rules that require it.
DEA tapes show Pogue balked at the land deal when the subject was first raised in the Tampa hotel room where the deal was to be closed. Pogue admits he finally agreed to sell the land, partly out of fear of what the supposed drug dealers might do to him if he did not.
Pogue says he knew something else about the property they did not: No one could build an airstrip on the land. It was a rocky parcel on a steep hillside with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Building an airstrip there would be nearly impossible.
Because he listened for a little more than two hours to undercover agents talk about the thousands of pounds of cocaine that would go through this airstrip and the thousands of dollars in drug money they would use to pay for it, the federal charges he faced were major: drug and money laundering conspiracies. His lawyer says the jury believed the lies of the governments key witness because at one point, Pogue told the supposed drug smugglers he didnt care where the money came from.
The 11th United States Court of Appeals upheld Pogues conviction, not even issuing an opinion after its judges had peppered attorneys in the case with questions.