LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY

THE FEDS DESPERATELY WANTED THE CROATION IMMIRANT TO BE AN ILLEGAL GUNRUNNER. WHEN HE REFUSED, THEY BUSTED HIM ANYWAY.

At the same time Askins was pitching his "sting" operation plan, the other arms dealer, Vancouver's Allen Lever, was telling Customs agents in Phoenix about Kapetanovic's response to his magazine ad. Lever also offered to help investigate Kapetanovic, but because he lacked Askins' CIA-taught undercover skills, he was paid $10,000 simply to introduce Kapetanovic to his "partner"--in reality, a Customs agent named Thomas McCaffrey.

Soon McCaffrey was also trying to sell weapons to Kapetanovic.
Court records show that federal officials don't deny making the deals with Askins or Lever. What they do deny is Goode's suggestion that the arrangements were improper.

"Based on what Ivan was telling the informants, he was preparing to make a very major arms deal," Aspey says.

But Goode insists that agents misled Kapetanovic, then employed high-pressure tactics that veered dangerously close to entrapment.

@rule:
@body:First, Goode says, came the bait and switch. Kapetanovic had approached both Askins and Lever with the intention of getting information--and possibly arranging a buy--on weapons from Nicaragua and Hong Kong, as had been advertised. Had such a sale taken place, it would have been perfectly legal under U.S. law.

But almost immediately, both Askins and McCaffrey began the hard sell--trying to broker American weapons on American soil.

"Customs was setting up a snare," Goode says. "[Customs] made it look like they were talking about weapons out of the country and the minute somebody answers [the magazine ads], they start directing them back into this country, doing everything they can to make it look like you're doing something illegal."
Kapetanovic should have broken off his dialogue with the two dealers once he realized that they were proposing an illegal deal. But he says the information they were providing him was a strong incentive to keep the relationship alive.

During the winter and early spring of 1991, Kapetanovic accumulated a vast amount of data from the duo, asking for prices and technical information on an astonishing variety of instruments of mass destruction. He obtained price quotes on M-16 rifles, mortars, M-2 heavy machine guns, antitank rockets and grenade launchers. He threw a stream of weapons-related questions at Askins and McCaffrey, all information requested by the Croatian government.

The undercover agents would reply dutifully, often faxing responses the same day. Kapetanovic was scoring special points with his Croatian friends for supplying the price lists, which the Croats were comparing with prices quoted by other Asian and European gun sellers--thus ensuring that they weren't being cheated.

"The information I was getting was much appreciated [in Croatia]," Kapetanovic says. "I needed to get more."
Besides, he reasoned, there wasn't any harm in just talking. Once he had realized that Askins and McCaffrey were trying to sell him domestic weapons, he had made a point of telling them, time and again, that any purchases would have to wait for permits that could only be obtained after official U.S. recognition of Croatia.

As far as Kapetanovic was concerned, obtaining permits was a vital prerequisite to discussing any possible weapons sale. "Otherwise, [we can] ship nothing out," Kapetanovic forcefully told McCaffrey. According to transcripts of taped conversations released by the U.S. Attorney's Office to New Times, it was a theme Kapetanovic repeated at least a half-dozen times in the first months of conversations with undercover agents.

The agents were undeterred. When Kapetanovic would mention the need for legal permits, Askins and McCaffrey--seemingly upset with his insistence on obeying the law--would often reply with a grunt, or an "uh-huh." They would then quickly change the subject to "alternate" options, such as moving arms illegally by a "fleet of boats" Askins claimed to own that could sneak up next to the Croatian coast.

When Kapetanovic failed to bite on such suggestions, agents took to pushing his emotional hot buttons, probing into sensitive areas that might provoke him to subvert the law.

On one occasion, McCaffrey persuaded Kapetanovic to talk about the massacre of 21 Croatian police officers by Serbian gunmen, mentioning he had seen "something" about it in that day's newspaper. The policemen, in one of the first documented atrocities of the war, had been tortured. A few had been drawn and quartered.

Kapetanovic, whose nephew is in the Croatian National Police, says he could feel the bile rising in his soul. He raved against the brutality of the "socialist Yugoslavian Army." Afterward, agents noticed, he seemed more receptive to their schemes to deliver weapons to Croatia immediately, with or without permits.

He also reacted vehemently when Serbia invaded parts of Croatia. On January 24, 1991, McCaffrey called Kapetanovic, who said he was "broken-hearted" after hearing news reports about fierce fighting and many Croatian dead. "[The Croatians] are just trying to defend themselves barehanded," Kapetanovic cried to McCaffrey.

The agent immediately mentioned that the fighting might further delay permits, and wondered how that might affect Kapetanovic's decision to wait for official okay before buying arms.

Kapetanovic, in a fit of emotion, replied that if things continued to worsen in Croatia, they might have to do something "around" to get weapons into the region.

During Kapetanovic's trial, prosecutors made much of the remark, saying it demonstrated his true intentions--even though in subsequent conversations, he would again mention the need for permits.

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