By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Abbott's own paranoia has become self-fulfilling. He wonders who is following him or listening from the next table. He carries a pager and calls people only from pay telephones.
Once a hotshot pilot running at the edges of drug deals and political intrigue, Bo Abbott is now adrift, a middle-aged man and washed-up drug smuggler, seeking his own orbit within the intertwining constellations of conspiracy nuts who gather each Tuesday at the Regal Row Ramada Inn.
"Every time I get up, I wonder if they're going to put me back in the pen," Abbott says. "I know if I hit them with the real truth about what I saw happen, I'll be dead."
Basil Norris Abbott III is a Virginian, born and raised in Richmond. His father worked for the railroad, and his mother, ironically, was a secretary for the U.S. Department of Justice, the DEA's institutional parent.
Though he left Virginia in his late teens, Abbott still carries a certain Southern gentility, with his pleasing manners, soft voice, and gracious hazel eyes. His high cheekbones and fine, graying hair make him look vaguely Scandinavian.
He has one sister, married and living in Louisiana. She has a "bunch of degrees," Abbott says, though he never managed to get even one.
When he was 21, Abbott left Richmond in a stolen car, according to court records. He says he wanted to enlist in the Army, and the local recruiting station was at quota and wouldn't take him, so he had to go someplace else to sign up.
He was placed on probation for stealing the car, and about two years later was arrested for petty theft after being found with two stolen tires in his possession. That charge was dismissed after Abbott paid restitution, but he was arrested again the next year in Beaumont--where he was attending college--for forgery of a credit card sales slip. Abbott spent a few months in jail on that charge, which he blames on some friends.
He moved to Houston, married, had a daughter, and began what would become a long and lucrative partnership with federal drug authorities.
As Abbott tells it, he spent the 1960s as a "hustling businessman," working various jobs for the Olivetti typewriter company and running his own import-export business in Scandinavian sweaters.
His business often took him to Sweden, he says, where intrigue would occasionally simmer. Abbott claims that, for several years, he fed a CIA agent in Stockholm named "Axel" information on Communist agents who were trying to buy advanced U.S. computer equipment.
In the late 1960s, Abbott says, he spent most of his time back in Houston and had opened a motorcycle shop. He made arrangements, he says, to import bikes directly from England and Japan, bypassing the normal distributors, which allowed him to sell more cheaply than other shops.
One day in 1972, some "biker types," as he calls them, came to his shop, and one of them offered to swap his girlfriend for a motorcycle. "This guy was gonna trade his number two old lady for a motorcycle," Abbott says. "I went home and told my wife. She was shocked, and I was shocked--by this type of existence where someone would trade a motorcycle for a woman."
Abbott declined the offer, and a few days later his shop was broken into. He figured it was the biker gang, and told police so.
One thing led to another, and he began talking to a local DEA agent named Ron Gospodarek. They struck a deal under which Abbott would feed the DEA information on biker customers and their drug activities and get paid in return.
(The DEA's Washington office declined to comment on Abbott's claims, and wouldn't forward a request to Gospodarek for an interview. In at least one 1976 drug case out of Houston, however, court files show that Abbott was Gospodarek's informant. Leon Hirsch, a Houston attorney who represented the defendant in that case, also remembers that Abbott was an informant and key witness against his client.)
As time went on, Abbott says, he became more and more involved as an informant, and spent less time on his own business. Snitching paid better. He claims to have traveled across Texas and the Southwest acting as a middleman for drug deals and helping the DEA set up dealers and buyers.
"I found out very quickly that I was very good undercover," Abbott says. "I was making case after case after case. They were paying me. I got to do unbelievable things."
While the details cannot be confirmed, the government would later reveal in court records that Abbott was a "Documented DEA Cooperating Individual," who had worked with several different DEA agents and offices on drug cases during the 1970s.
The arrangement was lucrative in a second way, Abbott allows. A recreational marijuana user himself, he says, the DEA let it be known they didn't care if he ran a little dope on the side.
"They were interested in heroin, cocaine, speed, and pills, the hard stuff," Abbott says. "I was smuggling pot myself, and the DEA knew it. They weren't paying me enough, so they were willing to turn a blind eye and let me deal."