LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY

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

Goode mocks the weight given to the comment. "He said several things he now wishes he hadn't," Goode says. "There are certainly embarrassing moments there.

"But saying it is not the same as doing it. The Constitution protects our freedom of speech, so that we can say things in anger."
Kapetanovic explains. "I have closest relations in Croatia. Anybody brings that subject and remind me of that, touches my emotions."

@rule:
@body:Although agents had some evidence they believed showed Kapetanovic was intent on smuggling arms, by May 1991--four months into their sting operation--they had failed to stir their target to action. Kapetanovic simply refused to place an order for weapons.

At this point, logic might have dictated that the investigation was a dry hole. But agents decided to keep digging, driven on, Goode says, by simple economics. Not only did Askins have a financial interest in catching Kapetanovic in wrongdoing, so did Customs.

"After months of investigating, months of making tapes, Customs didn't have anything," Goode says. "They had sunk hundreds of man-hours and lots of money into the sting, and they needed to justify the expense by arresting someone."
Agents saw their chance to break the case when Kapetanovic told Askins and McCaffrey that his "Croatian contacts" would soon visit, bringing a substantial amount of cash with them. The agents leaped upon the information, asking Kapetanovic if the "contacts" would make a buy.

Kapetanovic couldn't truthfully say yes. But he didn't want to say no, either. His business sense told him not to lose contact with Askins or McCaffrey. There were signs that U.S. recognition of Croatia was closer than ever, and if recognition came, he thought the two arms dealers would give the Croats the best prices on badly needed weapons.

Perhaps, Kapetanovic said, his friends would be willing to make a buy.
The story wasn't a complete lie; there were elements of truth. Belinic, along with a Croatian National Police officer named Zeljko Vusir, were coming to visit Kapetanovic. And they were bringing nearly $500,000 of Croatian government money with them.

The purpose of the visit, however, was not to buy arms, but to meet with Scottsdale gun-shop owner Marty Mandall about the possibility of the legal purchase of a bullet-making machine. In addition, they had plans to journey to the Ruger gun plant in Connecticut for talks with the company's management about constructing a munitions factory in Zagreb, Croatia.

But the single-minded federal agents didn't know about Mandall, or about the Ruger meeting. All they saw was the opportunity they had been waiting for.

Askins invited Kapetanovic and friends to meet his weapons supplier, a man named Beau. "If your friends come," court transcripts quote Askins telling Kapetanovic, "they can put their hands on [the guns] and play with them if they want. They might even, if they are interested, shoot some of the stuff." Provided, of course, they brought their money.

It was a wonderful offer, Kapetanovic says. Belinic and Vusir would get to examine close-up some of the very state-of-the-art weapons the Serbs were using against their troops. They would be thrilled. And, of course, they could then politely decline to purchase weapons, offering whatever excuse seemed most appropriate.

Would they come to San Antonio, Askins asked? Yes, replied Kapetanovic. They would love to come.

@rule:
@body:It was a dusty, 20-minute ride outside of San Antonio to the isolated "ranch" where Kapetanovic, Belinic and Vusir would meet Beau. It was a hot, windy day, and as Askins drove his crowded car up the long driveway, overgrown with thick grass, the men began to get nervous.

In a fax a few days earlier, Askins had written Kapetanovic that his "source," Beau Sutherland, was "uneducated and unsophisticated," but very knowledgeable about the kind of military equipment the Croatians might want. But court records show that on the way out to the ranch, Askins dropped a bombshell. Not only was the "source" crude and dimwitted, but also a "crazy man" when drunk, a "drug dealer" who can "get awful unpleasant."

Beau had "12 Mexican wives" in a nearby border town, Askins said, and was a wild character. It would be best to treat him gently and do what he wanted. And what he wanted, Askins reminded them, was cash. Today.

The scene at the ranch, actually a vacant home then being brokered by a real estate company owned by Askins' wife, heightened Kapetanovic's anxiety. A shotgun-toting guard met the car at the property gates, grimly waving it forward. They found Sutherland near a pickup truck loaded with weapons.

A hulking, potbellied man, Sutherland was actually Askins' Customs agent supervisor. But today he was acting as a gunrunner, and he played the role with a dark gusto. He greeted his visitors, introducing a group of men around him (also Customs agents) as former Green Berets and Navy SEALs who "take care of problems for me." He projected a menacing presence.

Sutherland allowed Belinic and Vusir to examine some rifles and a few other weapons, and then got down to business. What guns did they want, and where was their money?

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