A convicted drug smuggler told Congress Thursday that he was paid up to $200,000 per load for flying illegal drugs into the United States and, on one occasion, flying weapons into El Salvador.
The weapons included grenade launchers and anti-ship mines and were flown from Florida to the Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador in May 1983, according to Gary Betzner.He said he was working for a drug ring operating out of the Bahamas. He did not say who paid for the weapons shipment.
Betzner told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that after delivering the weapons he flew on to Colombia where he picked up a load of marijuana to be returned to the United States.
Betzner was unclear about whom the weapons were intended for or their origin,but he said he was met at the air base by an American man whom he knew only as "Chris." He said he did not ask for any identification but told the subcommittee he assumed that the American worked either for the Central Intelligence Agency or for the Department of Defense.
Betzner also said he flew marijuana and cocaine from Colombia and Jamaica to several sites in the Bahamas and Florida from 1981 through 1983. He said he was paid up to $200,000 per planeload. Betzner said he also was paid $200,000 for flying the weapons to El Salvador.
Betzner, 47, a native of Arkansas, was arrested two years ago in Florida and is now serving a 27-year prison term for importing cocaine.
Betzner testified before a subcommittee chaired by Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. The panel will examine portions of the diaries kept by former White House aide Oliver North, Kerry said.
North is under federal indictment on charges of conspiring to divert proceeds illegally from the U.S.-Iran arms sales to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
The Contra link came up Wednesday when the panel heard that the State Department hired a firm with ties to drug smugglers to ferry aid to the Contras.
Investigators for the congressional Iran-Contra committees have told the narcotics panel that the State Department selected Vortex from a list of transport companies provided by the CIA, according to a Senate committee source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Michael B. Palmer, an admitted former drug pilot who worked for Vortex, testified that the Miami-based air transport company signed a series of contracts with the State Department totaling more than $300,000 two years ago.
The State Department's Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Organization wanted humanitarian aid flown to the rebels, but Vortex was too small to handle the amount of supplies and had to lease a bigger warehouse, Palmer said.