By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"We started hearing about a DEA agent who was able to fly airplanes and who was involved in the smuggling of controlled substances into the U.S.," Murphy says. "We began investigating it, secretly."
As the investigation progressed, one name kept popping up--Bo Abbott. "It became apparent that Bo Abbott was the guy who was the link to the agent," Murphy says. Needless to say, authorities began looking for the man.
By late 1982, Murphy says, officials believed that the wayward agent they were seeking was Bill Coller, who had been stationed at Addison airport for several years as part of the DEA's flight operations. Coller and Abbott, he says, were partners in a smuggling ring.
According to later court testimony, agents staked out the home of Abbott's parents in Richardson and searched his ex-wife's apartment in Houston. They had investigators keeping an eye on Abbott's house in Colorado.
But for months, there was no sign of the elusive federal informant. Abbott claims that at least twice while he was being hunted he attempted to surrender to the DEA--and that his attorney was repeatedly told Abbott was not being sought.
One of the DEA agents investigating the case would later testify that Abbott's name was not entered into the DEA computer precisely because he was suspected of being involved with a rogue DEA agent.
The break for investigators came in June of 1983, when Abbott was arrested in Cancun, Mexico, supposedly for traveling with false papers and violating Mexico's immigration laws. When they heard of Abbott's arrest, Murphy and several DEA agents flew to Cancun to question their prime suspect.
"We wanted to prosecute him, and we were also hoping he would identify who the agent was," Murphy says. "We went down there and tried to get his cooperation, but he was as uncooperative as he could have been."
Abbott claims--though he cannot prove it--that the Mexican authorities arrested him on orders of the U.S. government. While in Mexican police custody, he says, he was beaten repeatedly and tortured by agents who sprayed carbonated water up his nostrils.
Murphy says Abbott provoked his own beatings. "He acted as foolishly as you could imagine. He was foolhardy. He was stupid," Murphy says. "In the presence of the Mexican police, he called them 'fucking thieves' and screamed that they had stolen his 'fucking money.' Anybody who's been in the real world knows if you're in the custody of the Mexican police, you don't do that.
"If he was tortured, we didn't cause it. To the contrary, we tried to warn him about making those kinds of accusations."
Unable to secure Abbott's cooperation in their investigation of Coller, Murphy says, the U.S. authorities left Abbott to the Mexicans. About two weeks later, Mexico threw Abbott out of the country and shipped him back to the United States.
Federal agents awaited his arrival and arrested him when he stepped off the plane. By that time, Abbott and nine other alleged smugglers had been indicted on various drug offenses.
Abbott himself faced nine counts of smuggling and attempting to distribute marijuana and cocaine. According to a later pre-sentencing report, Abbott and Coller were flying some of the cocaine and marijuana shipments right into the DEA's air operations base at Addison airport.
All of Abbott's co-conspirators pleaded guilty or were convicted by juries for their parts in the scheme. Coller, now a former DEA agent, pleaded guilty in 1983 and was sentenced to three years for his role.
Ken Wincorn, one of two Dallas attorneys who represented Abbott after his arrest, says Abbott was caught in an unenviable bind. He had served for years as a government informant. But he had also fallen in with Coller and others in a smuggling scheme that far exceeded the bounds of criminality.
"He was encouraged to do illegal acts, and he went beyond what was condoned and sanctioned," Wincorn says.
Until that time, Abbott says, he had always counted on the DEA to handle any problems--like they had when the earlier drug charges in Colorado had simply gone away.
But with Coller in jail there was clearly no protection to be had, so he agreed to plead guilty to one count of the indictment. He was hoping to get three years, like Coller had, which didn't seem so bad under the circumstances.
While he was in prison awaiting trial, Abbott's common-law wife, who had returned with their daughter to Stockholm, was found dead on a railroad track in Berlin, Abbott says.
The death was ruled a suicide, but Abbott says he believes she was murdered by the government to send him a chilling message.
"They know I've been working for the government," Abbott says. "I said I'd promise to keep my mouth shut."
But instead of three years, U.S. District Judge Fred Shannon sentenced Abbott to eight years in prison, followed by highly restrictive parole.
Abbott was ticked off.
"I figured I was getting shafted," he says. "So I appealed."
John Augustine, an Austin attorney who was appointed to handle Abbott's case on appeal, says Abbott's plea "was not voluntarily given," because Abbott was under pressure to keep quiet about his activities as an informant.