Drug Smuggling Fugitive Pilot Sentenced in Dallas After Two Decades on the Lam

Anthony Harrison Bell trafficked cocaine, marijuana and cash in his Cessna 210 and 310L planes.
Anthony Harrison Bell trafficked cocaine, marijuana and cash in his Cessna 210 and 310L planes. Photo illustration by 355A/ images courtesy DEA/Shutterstock
Anthony Harrison Bell was a fugitive from law enforcement for 17 years before his capture. Known as “Pajaro,” or the “Bird,” the 58-year-old drug smuggler disappeared shortly after he pleaded guilty in 1995 to his role in the Jose Paz Garcia drug trafficking organization. He was convicted along with 26 other defendants.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas wouldn’t explain exactly how Bell, a former Dallas resident, escaped law enforcement’s custody or how he was able to stay on the run for nearly two decades. The press release simply points out he “absconded” and remained so until his arrest in south Florida in 2013. “Our office is unable to comment any further other than what is in the press release,” says Lisa Slimak, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Bell’s 17-year run from punishment ended last week when Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn of the Northern District sentenced him to serve 168 months in a federal prison.

The Jose Paz Garcia drug trafficking organization rose to prominence in the early ’90s in Dallas and expanded its distribution outlets to Detroit, Topeka, Kansas City and Chicago. The organization was directly tied to the Amado Carrillo Fuentes Organization and later become known as the Juarez Cartel. Fuentes took over after his boss Aguilar Guardo was killed in Cancun in 1993, and he turned the cartel into a well-structured machine. Killers got to Fuentes in the late ’90s while he got plastic surgery.

Garcia hired Bell as the organization’s private pilot shortly after Fuentes took over the Gulf cartel. His duties were simple enough: smuggle marijuana, cocaine and cash in a Cessna 310L across state lines. It was an arrangement that would only last a year.

FBI and DEA special agents began investigating Garcia’s organization in April 1995 as part of a larger investigation along the Texas/Mexico border into three of the largest cartels in operation at that time: Amado Carrillo Fuentes Organization, the Arellano Felix Organization and the Juan Garcia Abrego Organization. According to court documents, they began intercepting telephone calls from seven different phones and tracing and recording the conversations between Garcia and his co-conspirators known by names such as “Flaco, “Sealed Dft. 26,” “Don Juan,” “Juanito,” “Chaparro,” “Don Chepe” and “Guero.” Most of them hailed from the El Paso area.

Federal agents set up surveillance and wiretap observations of the conspirators at various motels, residences and automobiles in and around Dallas, El Paso, Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. They collected cellphone, hard line and pager activity, installed tracking devices on automobiles much like the gulf cartels are known to do now, observed conspirators transporting and delivering suitcases and executed searches that yielded marijuana, scales, packaging material and narcotic notes, according to court documents.

Scott Stewart, the vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence agency, says the drug cartels continue to use planes to traffic cocaine, but also use tractor-trailer semi trucks, trains, individuals and the large volumes of traffic crossing the southern U.S. border on a daily basis. “That’s why the cartels fight so hard for control of the border,” Stewart says.

Stewart says it’s the reason why border wars sometimes will erupt in the Juarez or Laredo areas, “but you don’t see them fighting for the empty desert because the big volumes are coming up Interstate 35.” They also fight for control of port cities on the Pacific coast because they use them to receive shipments of chemicals from Asia which they use to make meth.

Mexican authorities claim the drug cartels earn more than $64 billion feeding the drug habit in the U.S. In comparison, Mexico’s Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna claims Mexicans spend an average of $431 million annually on illegal drugs.

Through the course of their investigation of Garcia’s organization in the mid ’90s, federal agents were able to establish that Bell transported 10 kilograms of cocaine from El Paso to Dallas on June 1, 1995; 140 pounds of marijuana from Dallas to Nebraska, Colorado and Ohio for redistribution; 104 pounds of marijuana from Dallas to Columbus, Ohio, for redistribution on June 30, 1995; and 173 pounds of marijuana from Dallas to Detroit on July 12, 1995.

They also witnessed three of Garcia’s men at the Denton County Airport loading suitcases into a van. They later stopped the van and discovered 169 pounds of marijuana in the suitcases. But they didn’t just use suitcases. They also used Igloo coolers.

Authorities arrested Garcia shortly after he paid El Paso Deputy Sheriff Larry Guerra who was undercover at the time more than $79,000 for five kilos of cocaine. It created a domino effect, and a string of arrests soon followed in August 1995. A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Garcia, and 26 other co-defendants were charged in count one with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Garcia was also charged with unlawful re-entry into the U.S. because he had been previously deported.

Nearly all of them pleaded not guilty but the trial ended with one of Garcia’s drug dealers turning evidence against Garcia, who received a life sentence in federal prison.

Bell pleaded guilty in October 1995 to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana as part of a plea agreement to turn evidence against his former employer. He would only need to serve five years in a federal prison if the judge agreed to the deal.

On Wednesday that sentence was changed to 14 years.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.